Job descriptions and industry overviews

Microbiologist: job description

21 Jun 2023, 15:39

Microbiologists use a wide range of scientific techniques to monitor and study microbes such as algae, bacteria, fungi and viruses.

 A cluster of small purple circles representing microbes under a microscope.

Microbiologist : Duties | Salaries | Employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Microbiologists (also known as clinical scientists and medical microbiologists) research, analyse and monitor microbes – microscopic organisms that include viruses and bacteria – in a range of settings, including healthcare, industry and pharmaceutical development.

Your responsibilities as a microbiologist will vary depending on the setting in which you work.

Typical duties include :

  • collecting samples from a variety of locations.
  • growing microbe cultures.
  • testing samples for a variety of purposes, such as to help other scientists and medical staff diagnose infections and track the spread of disease.
  • inspecting food and drink (and their manufacturing processes) to check for possible contamination.
  • planning and carrying out trials.
  • tracking environmental microorganism development.
  • developing and managing quality control processes.
  • developing new pharmaceutical products, vaccines and medicines.
  • 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 with guidelines.
  • managing laboratories.

Some doctors who specialise in microbiology are known as microbiologists or consultant microbiologists. See our advice on training as a doctor .

Graduate salaries

Salaries vary according to the setting in which you work.

The UK Government reports that starting salaries in pharmaceutical settings tend to be around £19,000. In the NHS, you’re likely to earn around £32,000 as a trainee clinical scientist – as reported by the NHS. As a microbiologist in an industrial setting (such as a food manufacturer), salary survey websites suggest that your starting salary is likely to be around £21,000.

Typical employers of microbiologists

Microbiologists can find employment at:

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

Opportunities are advertised by university departments and on science-related jobs boards. You may also see them advertised in journals published by professional institutions and on their respective websites.

The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Head to our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.

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 require a postgraduate qualification. You could consider 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. Check out our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

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. You’ll need a 2.1 or higher to apply. The STP leads to a masters-level qualification and will entitle you to apply for registration as a clinical scientist with the Health and Care Professions Council (HCPC).

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

Work experience will boost your job applications. This could be through industrial placements that form part of your degree, research projects, voluntary work or summer jobs. Some pharmaceutical companies – many of which are listed on the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) website – offer paid summer placements. The Microbiology Society and the Society for Applied Microbiology also both offer a variety of grants to support students who want to gain work experience.

Key skills for microbiologists

Microbiologists need:

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