Microbiologist: job description

Microbiologist: job description

Microbiologists use a wide range of analytical and scientific techniques to monitor and study microbes such as algae, bacteria, fungi and viruses.
Microbiologists work in a range of areas such as healthcare and agriculture.

What does a microbiologist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Microbiologists undertake laboratory analysis and monitoring of microbial cultures, samples and new drugs using specialist computer software and a range of identification methods and clinical trials.

Responsibilities include:

  • planning and carrying out trials
  • tracking environmental microorganism development
  • growing microbe cultures
  • developing new pharmaceutical products, vaccines, medicines and compounds such as antiseptics
  • collecting samples from a variety of locations
  • recording, analysing and interpreting data
  • writing research papers, reports and reviews
  • keeping up to date with scientific and research developments
  • ensuring that data is recorded accurately in accordance to guidelines
  • observing high health and safety standards
  • inspecting food and drink manufacturing processes to check for possible contamination
  • managing laboratories

Typical employers of microbiologists

  • The Food Standards Agency
  • Water and waste management companies
  • Public and private sector organisations
  • Government agencies
  • Public Health England
  • Research institutions
  • Hospitals
  • Public health and private laboratories
  • Pharmaceutical, biochemical and biotechnology companies
  • Universities
  • Food and drink manufacturers

Opportunities are advertised online, by careers services, by specialist recruitment agencies, in newspapers, in relevant scientific publications such as New Scientist, Science, Nature, journals published by the professional institutions and their respective websites.

Qualifications and training required

You can only become a microbiologist if you have a relevant degree in a subject such as biology, applied biology, microbial science, microbiology, or biological or biomedical science.

Some employers may require a relevant postgraduate qualification. It is possible to do an integrated masters degree, such as an MBiolSci, an MBiol or an MSc. These are designed to lead to further postgraduate study (eg a PhD), and are particularly suited to those looking for a career in research.

To work within the NHS, you will need to complete the scientist training programme (STP) after your degree. The application process for the STP typically starts in January.

Scotland has separate training schemes, which also involve a three year STP or an equivalent programme.

After completing the STP, you can then apply for a certificate of attainment from the Academy of Healthcare Science. This will enable you to apply for registration with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

In order to practise as a clinical scientist in the UK, you must be registered with the HCPC. You will automatically be eligible to apply for registration if you have completed an HCPC approved course, but you will need to pay a fee for the HCPC to process your application, plus a registration fee, which is reduced by 50% if you graduated from an approved course within the last two years.

Paid or voluntary research and lab work experience is helpful. Some pharmaceutical companies offer paid summer placements, many of which are listed by the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI). The Microbiology Society and the Society for Applied Microbiology also both offer a variety of grants to support students who want to gain some work experience.

Key skills for microbiologists

  • Patience
  • Attention to detail
  • Decisiveness
  • Independence
  • Excellent IT skills
  • Numerical skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Teamworking skills
  • Communication skills