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.
Pre-registration trainee clinical scientists working in the NHS start on Band 6, £30,401 to £38,046 a year, and post registration trainees are on Band 7, £37,570 to £44,688 a year. Consultant clinical scientists can earn more than £54,000 a year. The current pay scales are from April 2019.
Pay rates in the private sector vary.
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.
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.
accurate and careful when carrying out experiments and recording results
able to write clear and precise scientific reports
able to work on your own and as part of a team
responsible about health and safety.
You need to have:
a strong interest in science
excellent written and verbal communication skills
an enquiring mind and problem solving skills
a good eye for detail
good IT skills.
In industrial jobs training is normally on the job. It includes new laboratory methods, updating specialist areas of work and health and safety regulations.
Training with some employers may include postgraduate study for an MSc or PhD.
If you have an honours degree (2:1 or above) in a relevant subject you may be eligible to apply to train as a clinical scientist with the National Health Service (NHS). This three-year Scientist Training Programme (STP) combines various clinical placements with academic study in a specialist area and usually leads to an MSc or specialist postgraduate diploma and registration with the HCPC. Continuous assessment is recorded through the National School of Healthcare Science (NSHCS). Vacancies are usually advertised on the NHS Scotland Recruitment and NHS Education for Scotland websites.
The majority of training opportunities for health care science disciplines (including microbiology) with NHS Scotland are advertised in the early new year.
The alternative route, which is overseen by the Association of Clinical Scientists (ACS), is a six-year pathway that concentrates on achieving state registration by gathering evidence to support your experience. In addition to this, a few hospitals may offer training posts.
If you study for postgraduate and professional qualifications this could help you progress.
With work experience and further skills you may be able to become a lab supervisor or manager.
It also helps to be involved in research projects, publish your own work and keep up to date with new research.
Joining a professional body and networking with others in your field can also be helpful.
The Future Morph website www.futuremorph.org shows you some of the amazing and unexpected places that studying science, technology, engineering and maths can take you.
The Science Council provides the quality assurance system for those working in science. They set the standards for professional registration for practising scientists and science technicians across all scientific disciplines. Those scientists who reach the required standards are recognised by the following designations CSci, CSciTeach, RSci and RSciTech.