Microbiologists use various types of microscope and other equipment to study the biology and chemistry of organisms (or microbes) too small to be seen with the naked eye, such as bacteria, viruses and parasites. Some microbes can cause infections but many are of benefit to humans. They may also be called clinical or medical microbiologists or clinical scientists.
You could be:
developing and improving antibiotics and vaccines to treat infections and combat resistant microbes affecting plants, animals or humans
using gene technology to modify microbes, to make medicines such as insulin
using microbes to produce biochemical enzymes for use in analysing DNA or use in the food industry
identifying and controlling diseases, such as swine flu, to help prevent an epidemic
analysing samples of food or water to check for microbes which might cause food poisoning
monitoring the effect of microbes in breaking down waste and working on the production of biofuels
studying how microbes affect climate and different habitats
planning and carrying out experiments and investigations, collecting and analysing data
writing reports and making recommendations based on your results.
The figures below are only a guide. Actual pay rates may vary, depending on:
where you work
the size of company or organisation you work for
the demand for the job.
The starting salary for new graduates is around £20,000 to £23,000. An experienced microbiologist, including those in research posts, may earn up to around £39,000 a year. Some microbiologists with high levels of responsibility earn more than £45,000 a year.
Registered clinical scientists (microbiology) in the NHS are generally on Agenda for Change Band 7, £40,872 to £47,846 a year. Principal clinical microbiologists are on Band 8a, £50,470 to £54,482 a year and Band 8b, £60,730 to £65,377 a year. Pre-registration trainees are on Band 6, £33,072 to £40,736 a year.
You could also work as a specialist biomedical scientist within the NHS on Band 6, £33,072 to £40,736 a year.
The current pay scales are from April 2021.
Depending on your job, you might work in a hospital, industrial or academic laboratory, a factory, an office or a classroom.
You would normally work regular hours but you might have to work some shifts or evenings and weekends.
You might have to travel to collect samples for analysis.
You may have to travel to conferences.
You need to wear protective clothing such as a lab coat, a mask or gloves.
You usually need a degree in microbiology, but other related bioscience degrees may be accepted. For entry to a degree you usually need 4-5 Highers, normally including at least 2 from Maths, Biology, Chemistry and Physics. Biology and Chemistry are often preferred. You usually also need Maths, English and a science subject at National 5.
It is important to check the course content to make sure the degree you choose and your final degree path is suitable for the work you want to do.
To train as a clinical scientist you would need a 2:1 Honours degree or above in a pure or applied science subject specialising in microbiology to be eligible for the NHS Scientist Training Programme (STP).
A small number of Higher National Certificate (HNC) or Higher National Diploma (HND) courses ask for 1-3 Highers and these may offer a progression route to a degree course.
In NHS Scotland the job title is clinical scientist and in order to practise in the UK as a clinical scientist you need to be registered with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).
Getting relevant work experience as part of your course or through an internship or work placement may greatly increase your chances of getting your first job.
Typical employers of new microbiology graduates are varied and can include the National Health Service (NHS), pharmaceutical and biochemical companies, brewing and food manufacturing, government agencies, universities and research institutions and private laboratories.
You can also work in a range of positions outside of the laboratory. You might work in technical writing or editing, finance, retail, management and teaching.