Unsurprisingly, a microbiologist is a scientist who works in the field of microbiology. These guys specialise in everything micro, specifically micro-organisms. A number of microbiologists are employed by the NHS or the Health Protection Agency (HPA). They might work in diagnostic laboratories and pathology departments, studying bacterial, viral and other forms of infections.
The food and pharmaceutical industries also employ microbiologists who perform a variety of different tasks, such as:
- Taking and examining samples
- Checking for contamination in batches of medicine
- Leading new research and helping to develop new products, such as vitamins or hormones
- Evaluating new products in clinical trials
- Growing microbial cultures.
Microbiologists might be at the forefront of preventing the spread of a disease, pioneering research or developing that ground-breaking new product. Before you get too excited, you need to know that microbiologists spend most of their time in a laboratory, although they might make trips to sites to take samples.
Salary & benefits
Salaries will vary depending on the employer. Clinical scientist trainees working for the NHS will earn somewhere in the region of £25,000 to £34,000 a year. Consultant clinical scientists (e.g. the guys at the top of their game) earn salaries in the range of £50,000 and £100,000
Those doing research and development work in other organisations might earn between £27,000 and £38,000 a year (this will usually increase with experience), whilst those at the very bottom of the career ladder might earn between £16,000 and £25,000.
Most microbiologists work pretty traditional hours, doing nine to five-thirty, Monday to Friday. However, longer hours might be required, particularly for microbiologists keen to progress in their career.
Microbiologists usually have a degree in an area such as microbiology, biology (specialising in microbiology), biological sciences, molecular biology, biomedical sciences and applied biology – although it isn’t necessarily mandatory.
To become a clinical microbiologist, the clinical scientist route is open to top-notch graduates. The Scientist Training Scheme, run by the NHS Trusts, offers 200 posts in physics, life sciences and engineering and physiological sciences.
Those wishing to enter microbiology can apply to the infection sciences pathway of the scheme, and if accepted, will be placed on a three-year training programme and study for a Master’s degree.
It’s extremely competitive to get onto this training scheme, even with a life sciences or biomedical degree. Strong academic results and relevant work experience will really help your application. Some gain an MSc or a PhD in a relevant subject to try and improve their chances.
Training & progression
Training will really vary depending on both the industry and your employer. Trainee microbiologists might work towards a qualification or membership of a professional body and/or train on the job.
Otherwise, microbiologists will never really stop training. They’ll constantly be learning to keep abreast of new research and developments in the field.
In the NHS, there is a clear-cut career path for clinical microbiologists, with most aiming at becoming consultants. Industry microbiologists might progress to more managerial roles, whilst in academia, microbiologists might seek lectureships and eventually ascend to the professorial level.