Microbiologists use microscopes to study micro-organisms, such as bacteria, viruses and algae.

What does a microbiologist do?

A microbiologist may work across many different environments. As a clinical microbiologist in a healthcare setting, they’ll identify pathogens that cause diseases and help to protect the community from the spread of infection. Alternatively, this role may work in research and development for the pharmaceutical and food industries, in agriculture, the environment, education or the emerging biotechnology industries.

The type of work will vary depending on the job role. On a day-to-day basis a microbiologist might be expected to:

  • monitor, identify and help to control infectious diseases
  • use molecular biology techniques to develop and test new medicines and treatments for disease
  • investigate how micro-organisms produce antibodies, vaccines, hormones and other biotechnology products
  • assess the use of microbes for use in food production, crop protection and soil fertility
  • monitor the quality and safety of manufactured food and medical products
  • use micro-organisms to control pollution and break down toxic substances
  • create ways to dispose of waste safely

This work can often include presenting the findings of research, supervising the work of support staff and carrying out administrative tasks. If working as a researcher and lecturer in a university or teaching hospital, this role may also be involved in tutoring, mentoring and supervising students.

What do I need to do to become a microbiologist?

Most new microbiologists have a degree in a relevant subject, such as microbiology, biology, or another biological science with a strong focus on microbiology. Some employers may also prefer you to have a relevant postgraduate qualification and some work experience.

To get onto a degree in microbiology you will usually need five GCSEs (A-C), including science, English and maths, as well as at least two A levels, including biology and preferably chemistry. Check with course providers because alternative qualifications may also be accepted.

There is a wide range of bioscience degrees, and it’s worth doing some research to find one that is right for you. Some universities offer a common first year for a number of degrees. This means that you can study some bioscience before deciding which area you would like to specialise in.

Integrated master’s qualifications such as MBiolSci, MBiol or MSci can also be studied at university. These courses incorporate more independent research and are designed to lead directly onto further postgraduate study, such as a PhD.

It may improve your career prospects if you have work experience before applying for your first job. You may be able to get this through a work placement as part of a sandwich degree course, or by arranging work experience with companies during the holidays. Your university or local NHS Trust may be able to give you further advice about voluntary opportunities.

The Society for General Microbiology and the Society for Applied Microbiology offer a range of grants to support students looking for work experience.

It may also be possible to get into microbiology by working your way up from a laboratory technician position. This would involve studying part-time for a relevant degree. 

Related skills

  • Analytics
  • Attention to detail
  • Communication
  • IT
  • Leadership
  • Problem solving
  • Teamwork

Academic route

  • Five GCSEs (A-C), including science, English and maths
  • Two A levels, including biology and preferably chemistry

Related subjects

  • Biology
  • Chemistry

Essential qualifications

  • A degree in a relevant subject, such as microbiology, biology, or another biological science with a strong focus on microbiology

Where to find out more

Where could I be working?

The majority of your work will take place in a laboratory. You’ll usually wear protective clothing, such as gloves, a laboratory coat, and safety glasses to help prevent contamination.

There may be some travel involved in your work, for example, to attend scientific meetings and conferences.

Contains public sector information licensed under the Open Government Licence v3.0

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