"Microbiology is usually regarded as having no relevance to the feelings and aspirations of the man of flesh and bone. Yet, never in my professional life do I find myself far removed from the man of flesh and bone. It is not only because microbes are ubiquitous in our environment, and therefore must be studied for the sake of human welfare." -René Dubos
If you're like me, when you first heard the term microbiology in secondary school you were utterly dumbfounded. It's not a word you hear used in everyday conversation. Nonetheless, microbiology is briefly taught in the last years of secondary school and to gain a further understanding of this complex biological science discipline, interested ones must attend higher education classes.
However, what is microbiology?
Microbiology is a necessary academic discipline that includes the study of all living organisms that are too small to be visible with the naked eye; this includes bacteria, viruses, fungi, protozoa, and algae which are all collectively known as microbes.
Since the study of microbes is essential uncovering important discoveries, microbiologists are needed continuously in today's world. Therefore, in today's article, we will briefly consider the basic description of a microbiologist for those who want to pursue a career in microbiology, the benefits of studying microbiology at a further education level, the best microbiology programmes offered in the UK, and the absolute best jobs available to microbiologists.
A Basic Description of a Microbiologist
Microbiologists have a passion for the scientific world, are analytical, and use experimental techniques to monitor and study the microbes such as algae, bacteria, fungi, and viruses.
A laboratory is the most common workplace of a microbiologist, and their work tasks are varied from day to day. Some of their key responsibilities include the following:
- Planning and carrying out clinical trials,
- Developing new pharmaceutical products such as vaccines, medicines, and antiseptics,
- Collecting samples of organic matter from a wide variety of locations,
- Writing research papers, and conducting seminars to instruct the general public and coworkers about their research,
- Managing laboratories,
- Observing high health and safety standards in the community and the workplace.
Microbiologists have a wide range of employers such as public or private organisations, hospitals, and food & drink manufacturers.
A microbiologist undergoes many years of academic education followed by professional training to be up to date with the latest developments in biological sciences and to hone their skills to ensure job success.
Essential skills needed and exercised by those who pursue a career as a microbiologist include patience, attention to detail, independence, outstanding IT skills, teamworking skills, and communication skills. Successful implementation or acquisition of these skills make recent graduates of microbiology some of the best candidates for the most sought after jobs in the industry.
Famous microbiologists such as Edward Jenner, the creator of the first smallpox vaccination, Alexander Fleming, the man who discovered penicillin, and Harald zur Hausen, the man who discovered the connection between the papillomavirus and cervical cancer, have all been hailed modern-day heroes for their brilliant discoveries in the scientific field of microbiology.
The work of a microbiologist is extremely important since future discoveries in microbiology may create life-saving drugs and find solutions to maintaining food, water and energy on our ailing planet that will eventually secure the safety of generations to come.
Microbiologist are necessary members of the workforce that should never be taken for granted; who knows there scientific discoveries may save us one day!
The Benefits of Studying Microbiology
If you enjoy revising the scientific topics of biochemistry, biotechnology, genomics, and ecology, a career as a microbiologist is the perfect fit!
However, it is important to state that since many microbiologists work under a microscope in laboratories far from the public eye, they rarely receive the recognition they deserve for the hard work that they accomplish; unless they cure a disease!
Nevertheless, science enthusiasts should not shy away from a career as a microbiologist. There are many benefits and rewarding experiences to be had as a researcher in the field of microbiology. The following are some of the main reasons pre-university students should decide upon a career in microbiology:
- The Opportunity of Conducting Meaningful Research: if a dedicated microbiologist has the opportunity of working in a state of the art laboratory that is backed by a private organisation or government entity with endless funds, amazing things can be discovered. Microbiologists analyse microbes that are essential to solving major environmental and health problems that plague millions. Creating a new vaccine, finding ways to filter clean water, and cleaning up pollution are all goals that can be accomplished as a microbiologist. We hear so much about Marvel characters in spandex saving the world; however, who knew modern-day heroes are microbiologists in lab coats?
- A Better Understanding of the Planet We Live On: through their constant investigation of microbes, microbiologists develop a thorough understanding of the microorganisms featured on our planet that are invisible to the naked eye. By analysing cells, a microbiologist discovers the organisms that are necessary for life on earth.
It is also important that the salary of a microbiologist is quite lucrative and, to conclude, the scientific subject of microbiology is continuously intriguing and better than any desk job at a boring office!
Check out Superprof's additional articles about biology to learn the benefits of reviewing forensic biology, studying wildlife biology, and understanding more about the concepts of biological engineering.
How To Become A Microbiologist?
Now that we better understand what a microbiologist does, let's discover how to reach this milestone of becoming a scientist within this very important field.
Most people who wind up working in microbiology have graduated from university with a related scientific subject, like Biology, Microbiology or another subject matter with strong connections to the core focus of the science.
To be accepted on an undergraduate course in microbiology, you will most certainly need some reasonable GCSE grades, particularly in English, Maths and science plus A-Levels concentrating on Science. However, you can check the course entry requirements by visiting UCAS or your chosen university's website.
There are various degrees you can enrol on, so be sure to do some research and find out which is the best one for you and which gives the best opportunity to reach your long-term professional goals.
That said, there are normally opportunities to take a different path or switch areas after completing your degree, with numerous Masters degrees in Microbiology subjects allowing you to specialise further. These are normally classed as MBiolSci, MBiol or MSci. The next stage, should you require it, is to obtain a PhD in Microbiology.
Whilst applying for your course, it's wise to think ahead about incorporating some work experience into your studies, as this will put you ahead of others when entering the world of work following your graduation. See if your course can be taken as a sandwich course with relevant, hands-on work experience available for you to apply your new skills to and learn on the job. If not offered by your establishment, then there's no harm in enquiring with local businesses yourself to improve your job prospects after your studies.
Don't be afraid to take on some voluntary work, either with the NHS or with an independent company, as this will all be worth it in the end and could offer you invaluable opportunities. Also, the Society for General Microbiology and the Society for Applied Microbiology each offer students a range of grants to support them whilst they look for work experience.
When it comes to actually secure a post, however, some employers may insist that you have completed a specific course or have particular work experience.
If you have already completed some of your higher education but would like to take a sharp turn towards Microbiology instead of the path you were heading down, then you may be pleased to hear that there are some related subject areas that can still be applied to the field, such as:
- Information Technology, IT;
Furthermore, having skills such as attention to detail, excellent communication, good problem-solving and great teamwork can also work in your favour.
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Microbiology Programmes Offered in the United Kingdom
Since the United Kingdom has an approximate population of 66 million, there are various universities and colleges where further education programmes, in a wide variety of academic disciplines, are conducted.
Renowned academic institutes in the UK include the University of Oxford, the University of Cambridge, and the Imperial College London.
Therefore, to meet the demands of scientifically minded individuals, microbiology can be studied in various academic institutes throughout the UK. The following are Superprof's most highly recommended universities to acquire further understanding of microbiology:
- Imperial College London: one of the most renowned universities in the UK offers a BSc (Hons) in microbiology and students reviewing this course at the Imperial College London focus their study on all types of microorganisms to grasp the theoretical and practical skills needed to have a successful career in microbiology. This full-time microbiology course that is located on the South Kensington campus has a duration of three years. Each year students review new concepts of microbiology such as cell biology and genetics, applied molecular biology, bacterial physiology, medical microbiology, and epidemiology. Check out the Imperial College London's website to revise essential information before applying,
- The University of Manchester: the BSc (Hons) in microbiology has students review the biology of bacteria, viruses, protozoa, and fungi in a laboratory setting. According to the 2018 QS World University Rankings, the University of Manchester is ranked seventh in the UK for biological sciences. Before deciding if this university and this programme is the right fit for you, attend an open day. Take a peek at the University of Manchester's informative website to analyse what modules are reviewed each year, the course fees, the correct qualifications needed, and entry requirements to study microbiology,
- University of Surrey: the BSc (Hons) microbiology course is a great choice for students since it has been highly ranked for biological sciences in the UK. There is the option of taking this programme for three or four years; the only difference is that the four-year programme includes professional training. Many careers prospects are open to students reviewing microbiology at the University of Surrey since the information attained is world-class and the Royal Society of Biology recognises it. Check out their website to read more about the undergraduate curriculum from this microbiology course.
Since microbiology is a sought after further education course, there are many academic institutes offering microbiology courses for budding microbiologists; the options mentioned above are only some of the most highly recommended. Do your research and find a course that suits your learning style and correctly equips you for your occupation before settling.
To learn more about other biological subjects, take a look at Superprof's well-written article about four distinct types of biology.
The Best Jobs Available for Microbiologists
Alright, so you graduated from university with honours and have your degree in microbiology, now what?
Therefore, without further ado, to keep recent university grads far away from unemployment, Superprof has done their research and found the best jobs available for recent graduates of microbiology. The following are some of the best work opportunities directly related to a degree in microbiology:
- Biomedical scientist,
- Medicinal chemist,
- Water quality scientist,
- Technical brewer.
Neverthertheless, it is important to note that there are many employers, outside the scientific sector, that are drawn to individuals with a microbiology degree since they have spent years practising their scientific, analytical, and problem-solving skills.
Consequently, if after studying microbiology for a couple of years you decide that you need a break, here are some of the best employment possibilities for certified microbiologists that are not directly related to their expertise:
- Environmental engineer,
- Forensic scientist,
- Marine biologist,
- Physician associate,
- Science writer.
Remember that most employers are open to a wide variety of applicants that have degrees in other subjects so don't limit yourself to the previously mentioned jobs, there are many more to choose. It is important to note that a well-balanced employer highly values relevant work experience, training, and honed skills.
A career in the field of microbiology is a profession that comes highly recommended for those who have a scientific mind, enjoy diversity, and want to be continuously engaged at their place of employment.
A Real-Life Microbiologist To Aspire To
It's all very well working towards a career in Microbiology, but how can you know for sure it's what you want to do without any experience in the field? Academic site Prospects.ac.uk offers students the chance to hear from graduates working in a range of subjects, including Microbiology, to give you a taste of what it could be like if you found success after your university degree programme.
Case study: Assistant research scientist — Isobel Whitehead
Isobel, a microbiologist for Microbiotica, a company working to transform medicine with microbiome science, speaks to Prospects about her experiences and the choices that led her to be where she is now.
"How did you get your job?
I studied BSc (Hons) Microbiology at Nottingham Trent University, graduating in 2019. I then applied for the job through a recruitment agency after finding it advertised online.
I attended two interviews, during which I was asked to provide and deliver a PowerPoint presentation outlining my skills and experience. I found my interviewers friendly and they quickly made me feel at ease.
What's a typical working day like?
My regular tasks include using the polymerase chain reaction (PCR) method to amplify DNA, extracting DNA for next generation sequencing (NGS), managing clinical samples, data maintenance and the culturing and isolation of bacteria.
The balance between my laboratory and office-based work varies depending on ongoing projects.
What do you enjoy most about being a microbiologist?
I enjoy being part of a fantastic team who are supportive and share my passion for microbiology, as well as working for a company that contributes to the development of new therapeutics that will improve the lives of many.
How is your degree relevant?
My degree had a diverse range of modules that provided me with a core understanding of microbiology. My final year research project in particular provided me with specific knowledge useful for my current role. Being practised in delivering presentations is another useful skill.
The opportunity to gain experience working in a containment level 2 laboratory was definitely beneficial.
How has your role developed and what are your career ambitions?
Although I've only recently joined Microbiotica, I can see plenty of opportunities to invest in my personal development as a scientist, as well as to perform the work needed by my team. I expect to gain expertise in the fields of microbiology and genomics that will be valuable knowledge-based assets to me in the future.
The company's work is new and exciting and, as such, is currently attracting investment to fund continued growth. I therefore feel certain that there will be opportunities for career progression.
What are your top tips to other aspiring microbiologists?
Maximise the range of career opportunities available to you by working hard at university and acquiring a wide range of skills.
Apply for an industrial placement as this year out is excellent for self-development and provides many examples of relevant experience that inevitably generate discussions during job interviews. My placement motivated me to apply myself in my final year and made me realise that I wanted to pursue a career in industry, particularly in a research role.
If you have the opportunity to choose your research project or dissertation, pick a topic relevant to your interests and with your future career in mind because it may influence the next steps of your career.
Being able to fit in and perform within a team is very important. It also makes work so much more enjoyable. I believe that it helps to be able to demonstrate this to a potential employer."
Pioneers Of Microbiology
While it's good to know about what could be of your future, it's also very important to look back at how others have opened up doors for you. Ever wondered who the most influential microbiologists of all time were?
The Nobel Prize is the highest honour that a scientist can receive, so let us walk through the last century and see who has made a difference to the field of Microbiology and how, being awarded this huge honour.
With the first Nobel Prize awarded in 1901, many followed thanks to their contribution to the progress of microbiology, molecular biology and Immunology.
Timeline credit goes to the researchers at MicrobeOnline.com:
- 1901 Emil Adolph Von Behring: Developed serum treatment, especially in diphtheria and got Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1901.
- 1905 Robert Koch: The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1905 was awarded to Robert Koch “for his investigations and discoveries in relation to tuberculosis”.
- 1952 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1952 was awarded to Selman A. Waksman “for his discovery of streptomycin, the first antibiotic effective against tuberculosis”.Selman A. Waksman Discovered streptomycin
- 1953 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1953 was divided equally between Hans Adolf Krebs “for his discovery of the citric acid cycle” and Fritz Albert Lipmann “for his discovery of co-enzyme A and its importance for intermediary metabolism”.
- 1954 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1954 was awarded jointly to John Franklin Enders, Thomas Huckle Weller and Frederick Chapman Robbins “for their discovery of the ability of poliomyelitis viruses to grow in cultures of various types of tissue” and for making polio vaccine possible
- 1958 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1958 was divided, one half jointly to George Wells Beadle and Edward Lawrie Tatum “for their discovery that genes act by regulating definite chemical events” and the other half to Joshua Lederberg “for his discoveries concerning genetic recombination and the organization of the genetic material of bacteria”.
- 1962 F. H. C. Crick J. D. Watson H. F. Wilkins Elucidated the molecular structure of DNA, The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1962 was awarded jointly to Francis Harry Compton Crick, James Dewey Watson and Maurice Hugh Frederick Wilkins “for their discoveries concerning the molecular structure of nucleic acids and its significance for information transfer in living material”.
- 1965 The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1965 was awarded jointly to François Jacob, André Lwoff and Jacques Monod “for their discoveries concerning genetic control of enzyme and virus synthesis”.
- 1993 Kary Mullis has invented the Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) technique in 1980s. The PCR technique was a breakthrough in our ability to detect tiny amounts of DNA and then amplify them into sufficient quantities. For this invention Kary Mullis won Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1993 along with Michael Smith.
- 2008 Nobel Prize was shared between Harald zur Hausen, for his discovery that human papillomaviruses can cause cervical cancer, and Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier, for their discovery of HIV
Of course, many many more discoveries were made throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, which you can discover by visiting Microbeonline.com.