Microbiologists examine, analyse and interpret information about our world’s smallest organisms. They could work in a variety of settings, from medical facilities to laboratories and private companies.
What is a Microbiologist?
A microbiologist is a researcher. They closely examine the smallest living organisms we have, from bacteria to viruses, gathering vital information to be used to inform doctors, scientists and policymakers.
Microbiologist jobs are usually graduate-level positions, requiring a degree in microbiology or a similar subject.
You’ll usually work in a laboratory setting, receiving samples to analyse. This could be in a hospital setting, a medical research facility, working for an environmental company, or a university. Your work could be purely research-based, such as assessing virus mutations for medical studies, or it could be diagnostic, used to assess diseases or illnesses for patients undergoing medical treatment.
Your responsibilities as a microbiologist will vary depending on the setting you work in. There are some common duties you’ll be expected to perform, though:
- Analysing samples to classify what microbe they are, such as assessing what virus or pathogen something is.
- Creating detailed reports to summarise your findings to be used by other researchers, or medical professionals.
- Developing new methods for analysis.
- Gathering samples for analysis, such as collecting swabs.
- Using specialist technology and computer software for your research efforts.
- Wearing protective clothing to ensure you are not exposed to diseases or viruses.
- Working in a multidisciplinary team of researchers and medical professionals.
- Working on the development of new medicines or products based on your research.
A microbiologist salary will depend on your specialism, employer type and amount of experience. Many microbiologists go for NHS microbiology jobs, which has a standardised pay scale called the Action for Change agenda. As of 2022, a junior or trainee microbiologist will usually begin on band 6 as a biomedical scientist, with a pay rate £33,706 - £40,588. You’ll move up within this scale as your experience progresses.
A fully qualified microbiologist will likely be on grade 7 (£41,659 - £47.672). If you become a principal scientist or microbiology consultant, you could reach the grade 8 boundaries beginning at £48,526 and reaching up to 91,787.
If you work for a private research organisation, your salary can vary depending on location, role and company size. The average private microbiologist earns £77,726 per year. If you go into research and teaching, especially in higher education institutions, your salary could begin at around £40,000 and reach up to £90,000 as a principal lecturer.
Microbiologist jobs are usually graduate-level positions, requiring a degree in microbiology or a similar subject. This is based on the need for a sound academic understanding of the science behind microbiology. There are several different courses that would cover the knowledge you’ll need, including:
- Biochemistry degrees
- Biological Science degrees
- Biomedical Sciences degrees
- Microbiology degrees
- Molecular Biology degrees
You’ll need 2 to 3 A Levels to apply for a microbiologist degree, including Biology. You’ll also need a minimum of 4 to 5 GCSEs at grades 9-4 (A*-C) including Maths, English, and Sciences.
As microbiology is a graduate profession, the majority of your skills and knowledge will come from your academic study.
For more senior microbiology positions you may require a postgraduate degree. This could be a masters taught course, or PhD independent research. Taught masters courses in microbiology to include:
- Applied Biotechnology and Microbiology masters degrees
- Environmental Microbiology and Biotechnology masters degrees
- Immunology masters degrees
- Medical Microbiology masters degrees
- Molecular Biosciences masters degrees
- Virology masters degrees
If you aim to become a senior clinical scientist in the NHS, you’ll take part in the NHS Scientist Training Programme. This will include employment, and on completion, a master's degree.
Training and development
As microbiology is a graduate profession, the majority of your skills and knowledge will come from your academic study. This will be part of your degree, or your NHS Scientist Training Programme if you go down this route. You’ll also learn a great deal about the practicalities of microbiology research while you’re working. This will come from observing senior scientists.
As part of your degree study you will regularly analyse and report on microbiological specimens.
Many microbiologists undertake academic research, taking part in research studies and publishing their work. This could be independently, or as part of a study toward a PhD. Alongside training in your role and academic study, you could also take advantage of continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities provided by microbiology societies. These include the Microbiology Society and the Society for Applied Microbiology (SFAM). Both societies provide webinars, conferences, training and mentoring to support junior microbiologists in their career progression.
Your skills as a microbiologist come from your academic study and practical experience. Important skills you’ll need to develop throughout your career include:
- Excellent subject knowledge of microbiology and any particular specialisms you work in, such as immunology, virology or biotechnology
- Research skills.
- Excellent written and verbal communication, as you’ll need to provide detailed reports of your findings for medical practitioners and other researchers.
- Project management skills, especially once you reach senior positions where you may be responsible for large-scale research projects .
- Presentation skills, especially if you’re employed in a research or academic position.
- Ability to keep up to date with new research and developments in the profession.
- Excellent attention to detail, as you’ll be working with minute samples and organisms.
As part of your degree study you will regularly analyse and report on microbiological specimens. This will count as relevant work experience when it comes to applying for paid positions. It is worth, however, speaking with your course tutors to find out if there are any particular connections for shadowing within the NHS or private laboratories. This will bolster you application and give you a broader understanding of the wider context of microbiology.
If you’re applying for academic study, getting some hands-on work experience is helpful for your microbiology personal statement. You could reach out to your local NHS trust and ask if they offer short work experience placements or shadowing opportunities. You could also ask private organisations, higher education institutions and laboratories if they offer opportunities for potential microbiology students to shadow their staff.
You’ll usually work in a laboratory setting, receiving samples to analyse.
Some higher education institutions offer summer school programs and workshops. During these programs, you can visit their science departments and observe how their researchers work on a day-to-day basis. It’s worth researching what is available to you locally, to find out if there are particular schemes you could apply to take part in.
Microbiology is a highly skilled profession, so your career prospects are generally good. With time and experience, you could work your way up through the NHS bands, especially if you apply for the NHS Scientist Training Programme to be a clinical microbiologist or consultant microbiologist.
You could work towards specialising in a particular area of your field. Examples include applying for immunologist jobs, virology jobs, or environmental microbiologist jobs. This may require further study at master's or PhD level.
-  Microbiologist salary in United Kingdom — Indeed.co.uk Retrieved 26 August 2022.