The Work Activities and Career Prospects of a Microbiologist
By understanding microbes, microbiologists aim to solve a range of problems affecting our health, the environment, climate and food and agriculture. This can include the prevention, diagnosis and control of infections and disease, as well as ensuring that food is safe, understanding the role that microbes play in climate change, and developing green technologies.
Microbiologist may work in:
- the environment.
Work Activities of a Microbiologist
Tasks vary depending on your area of specialism. For example, clinical scientists working in microbiology will be involved in preventing, diagnosing and controlling the spread of infections, whereas those working in manufacturing may be involved in quality control, checking for signs of contamination.
Depending on your area of expertise, you’ll typically need to:
- monitor and identify microorganisms
- track microorganisms in a range of environments
- monitor and assess samples from a range of sources
- follow regular sampling schedules within a specific environment
- use a variety of identification methods, including molecular techniques, to test samples
- develop new techniques, products and processes
- develop and plan methods to prevent the spread of disease
- develop and register new medicines, vaccines, diagnostic tests and pharmaceutical products
- plan, implement and evaluate new products in clinical trials
- collect samples from different types of environments, such as agricultural sites
- develop products such as enzymes, vitamins, hormones and antimicrobials
- grow microbial cultures, e.g. for use in the food and drink industry or in agriculture
- work with specialist computer software to undertake studies and research
- manage and oversee laboratory work.
You may also need to:
- plan and organise resources and activities
- maintain accurate and up-to-date records
- write up research findings and produce reports
- keep up with new research and attend national and international conferences and other events
- liaise with colleagues from non-scientific departments
- provide information and advice to colleagues and external bodies.
Work experience of a Microbiologist
Having experience in a laboratory is useful when applying for jobs. If your degree doesn’t include a year out in industry or research, consider taking a research project over the summer. Student membership of a professional body will show your commitment and provide valuable networking and career development opportunities.
Career prospects of a Microbiologist
There are generally good opportunities for career progression. In the U.K, it’s possible to move from practitioner, to specialist, to team manager and then consultant. At more senior levels, you’ll be involved in staff management with more responsibility for the work of the laboratory. In some fields, you may need to be geographically mobile in order to progress. Specialisation in your degree course or in your choice of first job may affect your future career options.
Research in specialist areas such as bacteriology, virology, mycology and parasitology is possible, working with clinical colleagues or microbiologists working in industry. Networking at all levels is part of successful career development and will help increase your career prospects. It’s important to maintain a professional profile by presenting research at meetings, undertaking work exchanges abroad and applying for research grants.
Experienced microbiologists may progress into other fields of work that benefit from their specialist knowledge, such as pharmaceutical sales and marketing, patent work, teaching, scientific publishing or the legal profession.