How to Become a Microbiologist

November 23

Table of Contents

Medical professionals who work in the microbiology branch of science are referred to as microbiologists. They work to prevent, diagnose and treat diseases caused by these microorganisms. 

Some major microorganisms are familiar to us such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, etc. Microbiologists study the properties of these microscopic organisms and work with other medical professionals to provide the most optimal care for patients.

There are various options available to explore in a career as a microbiologist if you are interested. 

This article will explain what a microbiologist is, what they do, and how to become one so you can decide if this is the correct career path for you.

What is a Microbiologist?

Microbiologists assist and supervise the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of microorganism-caused diseases. In addition, they determine the appropriate treatment for specific infectious diseases and monitor patients after treatment. 

These medical professionals are responsible for surveying, locating, and collecting various samples for research and development. 

Moreover, they cooperate with laboratory scientists and doctors from various facilities for better care.

They provide management recommendations for patients and create treatment protocols for various illnesses. These medical professionals also play a significant part in ensuring that antibiotics are administered and utilized effectively. They take these steps partly to slow the development and spread of antibiotic resistance.

Additionally, they advocate for policies that stop and limit the transmission of illnesses, both inside medical facilities and among the general population. 

Suppose we were to explore their workplace and work opportunities. In that case, we see that they not only work in hospitals or labs but also in industrial settings and offices. They perform various tasks, such as experimenting with microorganisms and analyzing the result data.

How to Become a Microbiologist

Becoming a practicing microbiologist is relatively straightforward compared to other medical fields. 

A bachelor's degree is usually sufficient to land an entry-level job. However, a doctoral degree or PhD is required for advanced research and access to high-priority work. 

Here are the required educational qualifications:

  • A bachelor's degree in science.
  • A doctorate degree
  • A certification

Various organizations, such as the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists or the American Medical Board of Microbiology, provide the certifications required to continue long-term work. 

Steps to become a microbiologist:

  • Step 1: Earn an Undergraduate Degree
  • Step 2: Get Certified
  • Step 3: Obtain a Doctoral Degree
  • Step 4: Certifications Above Doctoral Degree

Step 1: Earn An Undergraduate Degree

The traditional medical school programs are not required to become a microbiologist. However, a bachelor's degree in microbiology is a foundation for aspiring students. You will get a fundamental understanding of the structure of microorganisms. 

The entire program is designed so that the major courses, such as microbial physiology, biochemistry, virology, and immunology, provide in-depth knowledge of microbiology.

Step 2: Get Certified

According to the American Heart Association, aspiring candidates will be able to secure their first job just after earning their bachelor's degree. 

However, certification is essential to explore better opportunities and continue progressing further in the field. Candidates who pass the certification exam qualify for the certification.

Step 3: Earn a Doctoral Degree

A PhD in microbiology is necessary for microbiologists who want to work in academic institutions or conduct their own independent research. These doctoral programs allow students to focus on a particular study area, like virology or immunology. 

Students must complete a dissertation and laboratory research in addition to their coursework. 

A doctoral degree will unlock the door of many possibilities for a microbiologist. Having a PhD means you get to work on important research work and earn at least twice that without a PhD.

Step 4: Certifications after Doctoral Degree

The American Board of Medical Microbiology (ABMM) offers certification to doctoral-level microbiologists -- for those who want to manage clinical laboratories. Thus, satisfying state licensing requirements may be essential for medical laboratory management. 

The NRCM also provides doctoral-level certification alternatives. However, every lawfully practicing microbiologist must renew/validate her certification after a specific time.

What are the Requirements to Become a Microbiologist?

As stated earlier, most entry-level microbiologists only require a bachelor's degree in microbiology. It often takes roughly four years to complete. It takes half the time to begin working compared to other medical fields. 

Therefore, the time barrier in this field is nonexistent. Even with a doctoral degree and advanced certifications, it will not take more than 8 years to become a fully licensed and lawfully practicing microbiologist. 

However, there are various other requirements for an individual to fulfill to become a proper microbiologist. 

  • A lab background: A lab background is necessary for prospective microbiologists, and postdoctoral research experience may be required for higher roles. This field's proficiency with spreadsheets, queries, and scientific applications is essential. 
  • Proficiency in specialized tools: A microbiologist needs to be proficient with a wide range of specialized tools, including gas chromatography and electron microscopes. 
  • Ability to take responsibilities: As they gain expertise, microbiologists often have more freedom and independence in their work. Through increased education, they also acquire more responsibilities.
  • Collaboration skill: Microbiologists with doctoral degrees typically supervise research teams and decide the scope and substance of studies.

How Much Does It Cost to Become a Microbiologist?

Around 127 colleges and universities in the USA offer programs in microbiology. 

The average tuition for colleges (the academic year 2021–2022) offering a microbiology program is $8,976 for in-state colleges and $52,080 for out-of-state private colleges.

More than 80 colleges in the United States offer graduate or master's programs. 

Here are the overall costs in USD:  


Average costs

Undergraduate degree (4 years)

Certification costs

Doctoral Degree cost

Important Qualities Needed to be a Microbiologist

There are various skills or qualities microbiologists should be able to acquire to conduct their working activities properly. These are not any medical skills. 

Instead, these skills help individual microbiologists to stand out among their peers. These are primarily interpersonal or people skills needed in their day-to-day working life.

  • Communication: One of the most important skills is communication skill. They must be able to adequately convey their research processes and findings for their work to be accurately implemented.
  • Ability to meet deadlines: When doing research and laboratory experiments, microbiologists are frequently required to meet deadlines.
  • Time management skills: They must manage their time and prioritize projects effectively while retaining their job quality. Thus, time management skill is essential as well.
  • Patience: One last important quality is patience. Their work often requires countless trials and errors; patience is an essential critical skill.

How Much Do Microbiologists Make?

According to Salary Explorer, the typical yearly salary for a microbiologist in the United States is roughly $206,000. The lowest salary is $107,000, and the highest is $315,000.

This is the typical annual pay after living, transportation, and other expenses. The salary for microbiologists varies greatly depending on factors including experience, aptitude, gender, and region. 

Here is an analysis based on location (major cities in the United States)


Average Annual Salary

Washington DC

New York



Final Thoughts

Microbiologists are more confined within their labs or workspace than ER doctors/nurses who work on the front line. However, they cooperate with other doctors to provide optimal care for patients and their bodies. 

The job market is still growing in microbiology, which is why aspiring medical professionals worldwide choose microbiology as their field of study and work. 

The vast majority of microbiologists appreciate their work environment, which likely contributes to the overall job satisfaction of a microbiologist. 

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), microbiologists' earnings often rise over time. Although, we should note that the ones with advanced degrees have a better chance of earning more significant pay. Those who work in fields like research typically earn the greatest wages. 

In contrast, those who work in educational environments like colleges or universities typically earn less on average.

We hope this article has provided you with the information and guidance regarding a career in microbiology. 

Additional FAQs – Becoming A Microbiologist

What is the Job Forecast for Microbiologists?

The profession of microbiology will undoubtedly expand alongside the sectors that use it. 

Therefore, many microbiologists will be needed in the coming years to work on the fascinating new projects that will undoubtedly emerge due to the remarkable rate of advancement.

How Many Years Does it Take to Become a Microbiologist?

The undergraduate degree is mandatory, but the graduate degree is optional. Thus, there is no fixed duration to becoming a practicing microbiologist. 

It can take anything from 4 to 8 years or more, depending on the level of employment you are seeking.

What are the Subspecialty Choices for Microbiologists?

The roles and responsibilities in microbiology differ depending on the subspecialty you choose. 

For example, a microbiologist who works in the industrial sector will have vastly different responsibilities than those who work in research labs. 

The core fields of microbiology are:

You're no longer alone on your journey to becoming a physician

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