A program that focuses on the scientific study of unicellular organisms and colonies, and subcellular genetic matter and their ecological interactions with human beings and other life. Includes instruction in microbial genetics, cell biology, cell physiology, virology, pathogenic microbiology, environmental microbiology, immunology, biostatistics, bioinformatics, and laboratory methods including microscopy.
Microbiologists study tiny living organisms that cannot be seen by the naked eye.
There is a whole world of microorganisms that include bacteria, viruses, certain fungi, and many more; they exist all around and even within us, going mostly unnoticed until they begin to affect normal function. Some microorganisms, such as gut bacteria, are essential to the health of larger beings or systems; others, like viruses, can have all kinds of unpleasant effects. Microbiologists seek to understand what microbes are and why they do what they do - and because there are so many, their work is never done.
Some microbes are better understood than others; scientists have found ways to counteract the disease-causing aspects of many bacterial strains and discovered near infinite uses for yeasts. However, some structures such as prions, which are misfolded proteins that can influence the structure and function of other proteins, have only recently been subject to study. Microbiology research stretches across disciplines from medicine to ecology, and there's no end to the exciting opportunities within the field.
Work in microbiology may include...
- Isolating microbial cultures for study and testing
- Monitoring growth and activity in samples and cultures
- Testing microbial specimens in various contexts
- Planning research and designing experiments
- Collecting, analyzing, interpreting, and presenting data
Many microbiologists work in labs, where they may run tests and conduct research. These labs are usually academic or medical research labs affiliated with hospitals and universities; they may also be run by government agencies or private companies. Certain microbiologists work with sensitive or biohazardous materials, and they must use appropriate safety measures and equipment to avoid contamination or exposure. Some microbiologists, particularly those who work in environmental science or public health and safety, will occasionally do field work to observe the impact of microbes in an area and collect specimens. Workers with knowledge of the field often teach, publish, or work in policy. Public health in particular employs many microbiologists, who may work in clinical contexts or in office settings.
The most straightforward path to a career in microbiology starts with a Bachelor's of Science. Students should focus their studies on biology and biochemistry, with supplementary coursework in virology, genetics, and statistics, and microbial physiology. It's important to have strong lab skills, and most four-year undergraduate programs provide plenty of opportunities for students to learn the appropriate techniques and etiquette. Graduates with Bachelor's degrees can occasionally find jobs in the field, but many pursue Master's programs or jump straight into PhDs. It's typical for any practicing research microbiologist to have a PhD, and most candidates will specialize in a subdiscipline before completing thesis work.
Our relationship with microbes is complex, but understanding their various aspects can help us to coexist safely. If you want to know what makes the smallest known forms of life tick, consider a career in microbiology.
For more information, please follow the links below:
- American Society for Microbiology (ASM) is one of the oldest and largest organizations in the life sciences and is dedicated to promoting and advancing the microbial sciences.
- The Microbiology Society is a membership charity for scientists interested in microbes, their effects, and their practical uses.
- Microbiology Research is the Microbiology Society’s community publication platform featuring new microbial research.