Microbiologists study microscopic organisms, with many specialising in how these organisms affect the environment, food, viruses or industrial processes. A Ph.D. is typically needed for those interested in independent research and development. However, those with master’s and bachelor’s degrees can find work as teachers or research technicians.
Microbiologists work mostly in well-lighted, climate-controlled laboratories, with some spending time in classrooms and offices. A few have to collect samples of soil, water and wildlife in the field. The work is rarely hazardous unless pathogens or poisonous microorganisms are involved. In those cases, protective gear minimises the risk. These scientists work a 40-hour week, with a median yearly salary of £43,300 and a range of £25,500 to £73,500 as of May 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
As of 2009, the industry offering the most job opportunities for the profession is scientific research and development, where microbiologists can engage in basic research. It boasts 28 per cent of the 16,260 total positions listed by the BLS. Salaries are better than average at £48,100. The employer offering the highest pay is the federal government at £63,450. However, it only comprises 15 per cent of these jobs.
Experience is an important factor in compensation. Those who have worked the longest in the field develop greater understanding of a highly technical subject that advances rapidly. New microbiologists earn £20,150 to £26,300 as of December 2010, according to a leading website Report. At five to nine years, that income is increased to £26,850 to £38,800, and at 20 or more years, the average pay is £34,200 to £56,800.
The BLS states that jobs for microbiologists will grow by 21 per cent from 2008 to 2018, which is faster than average for all positions. Demand comes from the growth of biotechnology, as well as increased interest in biological research. In addition, efforts to clean the environment will produce job growth, as microbiologists try to determine the environmental impact of pollution on microorganisms vital to life. Microbiologists are less likely to lose their jobs during economic downturns because they are engaged in long-term projects that are fully funded. However, budget cuts may affect the availability of funds for new microbiology projects.