Microbiologists study the biology and chemistry of microbes. They apply their knowledge to solve problems in areas like agriculture, food production, the water industry, medicine and pharmaceuticals, and to manage and protect the environment.
Also known as
- Biologist - Microbiologist
- Microbiology Analyst
- Microbiology Specialist
Video: - Leanne: Microbiologist
Some microbes cause illnesses such as flu, food poisoning, tuberculosis and malaria. However, most are harmless - and many play an essential role in environmental protection, food production, farming, health care and industry.
As a Microbiologist working in pure research, you will study a particular microbe, investigating things like cell structure and genetics. Your findings can then be used outside the laboratory to solve a variety of problems.
Microbiologists have a very important role in health care. In hospitals, Microbiologists who work as Biomedical Scientists and Clinical Scientists find out which microbes are responsible for patients' illnesses.
You will examine samples taken from patients. Your analysis will help Doctors to make diagnoses and plan treatments. You can alert a Doctor if a particular microbe has become resistant to antibiotics.
The Health Protection Agency (HPA), part of Public Health England, operates all over the country. In this area you will help to identify microbial infections and look at how they spread across the UK. You can supply your information to help health authorities deal with outbreaks of disease.
The HPA also tests food and drink to make sure it is not contaminated with diseases such as salmonella. Here, you will investigate food poisoning, tracing outbreaks to their source, for example, to factories, farms or restaurants. You'll regularly analyse samples of food, water and milk to make sure they do not contain harmful microbes.
In the pharmaceutical industry, you will research diseases. You'll develop and test vital medical products such as antibodies, vaccines and artificially produced hormones.
As a Microbiologist working in farming, you'll investigate the role of microbes in the soil. You will research microbes that cause diseases in plants and livestock; sometimes you can use other microbes to control pests, diseases and weeds.
Microbiology is very important to a variety of industries, for example, in the production and quality testing for products such as antiseptics and types of disinfectant. Another example is the use of microbial enzymes in washing powders, to break down stains and allow clothes to be cleaned at lower temperatures.
In the cosmetic and toiletries industries, you might help to develop and test products such as creams to treat acne and anti-dandruff shampoos (some fungi cause minor infections such as dandruff).
In environmental protection, you might use microbes to break down industrial waste. Or you might investigate the part microbes play in climate change. For example, as the world gets hotter, microbes in the soil start to break down decaying plant and animal matter at a faster rate. In turn, this releases more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere, which increases global warming.
Microbiologists are also currently working alongside Technologists and Engineers to develop alternative sources of energy from urban and industrial waste - an exciting field to be involved in!
Outside the laboratory, you could work in a wide range of roles, including in education, museums, marketing, journalism and public relations.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Microbiologist, you'll also need:
- an enquiring mind and problem-solving skills
- a methodical, logical approach to experiments and research
- attention to detail
- organisational skills to plan experiments
- the ability to use technical equipment and computers
- written and oral communication skills
- teamwork skills
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £27,500 - £30,000
- With experience: £35,000 - £41,000
- Senior Microbiologists earn £44,500 - £50,000
Hours of work
Microbiologists usually work 35-39 hours a week, Monday to Friday. However, in some posts, such as hospital laboratories, you might have early starts, late finishes, shifts and weekend work.
Where could I work?
Employers include universities, hospital laboratories, medical schools, research institutes, pharmaceutical and food companies, and veterinary research stations.
Some Microbiologists use their skills in related jobs outside the laboratory, including in teaching, technical support, scientific sales and publishing.
Opportunities for Microbiologists occur in towns and cities throughout the UK.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Vacancies are advertised in science magazines such as New Scientist (which also posts jobs on its website), on specialist job boards, and in national/local newspapers.
Social media websites, such as LinkedIn, Twitter or Facebook, are a great way to network, find vacancies and get in contact with possible employers. Make sure that your profile presents you in a professional manner that will appeal to potential employers.
Take a look at our General Information Article
GreenJobs is a job board aimed at people interested in green careers:
Entry Routes and Training
Usual entry to this career is with a relevant degree. There are a number of specialist courses in microbiology, including sandwich courses.
Some universities offer degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
Another great way into this career is from a healthcare science Degree Apprenticeship. You will be able to earn while you learn.The following universities are currently offering this course and this list could grow further:
- University of the West of England
- University of Cumbria
- Sheffield Hallam
Entry can be possible with a relevant HND or foundation degree, although this is often into a technician-level post. Technicians may then be able to study part-time, up to degree level.
For some posts, particularly in academic research, you'll need a postgraduate qualification. If your first degree is in a general biological science subject, you might choose to take a specialist postgraduate qualification in microbiology.
There are two career paths into the healthcare sector:
- the Biomedical Scientist route
- the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP)
To become a Biomedical Scientist, you must usually have an honours degree in biomedical science or healthcare science (life science) that is accredited by the Institute of Biomedical Science (IBMS). These courses are approved for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC). You might be able to study for your healthcare science degree from a degree apprenticeship (see above).
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
You'll usually have training on-the-job, for example, in laboratory techniques and specialist equipment. Some employers enable Microbiologists to study for postgraduate qualifications while working.
Biomedical science graduates usually need to enter a trainee position for at least a year, achieving the IBMS Certificate of Competence. They must then apply for registration with the HCPC.
Most accredited courses are full-time, including some sandwich courses. The sandwich placement year can meet the practical training requirements needed to achieve the Certificate of Competence and registration with the HCPC. This depends on whether or not you spend your placement year in an approved training laboratory and you complete the registration portfolio.
There are also accredited co-terminus degrees. These incorporate the practical training needed to achieve the certificate and HCPC registration through placements in laboratories that are approved by the IBMS.
If you enter the NHS through its Scientist Training Programme, you'll receive a salary while training. You'll work towards an accredited MSc and certification of workplace training in infection sciences (including general microbiology).
The programme takes three years to complete. The first year involves gaining experience from a range of settings, with specialisation in infection sciences beginning in the last two years.
You could progress to a supervisory or lab management position, or move into research or teaching.
Previous experience working as a Laboratory Technician, or through industrial work placements would be really useful for this career.
For entry to a degree in microbiology, the usual minimum requirement is:
- 2/3 A levels, including biology and also chemistry can be a preferred subject
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs at grade C/4 and above, including English and maths
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check college/university websites very carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
Some entrants have developed skills and knowledge through working as laboratory technicians, or through industrial work placements.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree, foundation degree or HND course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
Some universities run a foundation year (or 'year zero') before the start of science degree or HND courses. This is for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed to enter the course.
Part-time degree courses in microbiology are available at the University of Wolverhampton, the University of Nottingham, Staffordshire University and Edinburgh Napier University.
Funding for postgraduate study and research is available, through universities, from research councils such as the Medical Research Council (MRC) and the Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC).
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Biotechnology and Biological Sciences Research Council (BBSRC)
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Medical Research Council (MRC)
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Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC)
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Tel: 0845 3006184
NHS Education for Scotland (NES)
Address: Westport 102, West Port, Edinburgh EH3 9DN
Tel: 0131 6563200
Royal Society of Biology
Address: Charles Darwin House, 12 Roger Street, London WC1N 2JU
Tel: 020 7685 2550
Society for General Microbiology (SGM)
Address: Marlborough House, Basingstoke Road, Spencers Wood, Reading, Berkshire RG7 1AG
Tel: 0118 9881800
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales