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Microbiologists study the growth, development, and other characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, and fungi.

Microbiologists typically do the following:
  • Plan and conduct complex research projects, such as developing new drugs to combat infectious diseases
  • Supervise the work of biological technicians and other workers and evaluate the accuracy of their results
  • Isolate and maintain cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms for study
  • Identify and classify microorganisms found in specimens collected from humans, plants, animals, or the environment
  • Monitor the effect of microorganisms on plants, animals, other microorganisms, or the environment
  • Keep up with current knowledge by reviewing the findings of other researchers and by attending conferences
  • Prepare technical reports, publish research papers, and make recommendations based on their research findings
  • Present research findings to scientists, non-scientist executives, engineers, other colleagues, and the public

Most microbiologists work in research and development. Many conduct basic research with the aim of increasing scientific knowledge. This may include growing strains of bacteria in various conditions to learn how they react to those conditions. 

Other microbiologists conduct applied research and develop new products or solve particular problems. Microbiologists who apply basic research to such problems may be developing genetically engineered crops or better biofuels.

Microbiologists use computers and a wide variety of sophisticated laboratory instruments to do their experiments. Electron microscopes are used to study bacteria and advanced computer software is used to analyze the growth of microorganisms found in samples.  

It is increasingly common for microbiologists to work on teams with technicians and scientists in other fields, because many scientific research projects involve multiple disciplines. Microbiologists may work with medical scientists or biochemists while researching new drugs, or they may work in medical diagnostic laboratories alongside physicians and nurses to help prevent, treat, and cure diseases. 

The following are examples of types of microbiologists:

Bacteriologists study the growth, development, and other properties of bacteria, including the positive and negative effects that bacteria have on plants, animals, and humans.

Clinical microbiologists study how microorganisms live and interact with their environments so that they can later be used to cause, cure, or treat diseases in humans, plants, or animals. Clinical and medical microbiologists whose work is directly researching human health may be classified as medical scientists.

Environmental microbiologists study the ways in which microorganisms interact with the environment. They may study the use of microbes to clean up areas contaminated by heavy metals or study how microbes could aid crop growth.

Immunologists study how plant and animal immune systems react to and defend against pathogens or germs.

Industrial microbiologists work in industry and study and solve problems related to production. They may study microbial growth found in the pipes of a chemical factory, monitor the impact industrial waste has on the local ecosystem, or oversee the microbial activities used in cheese production.

Mycologists study the properties of fungi such as yeast and mold, as well as the ways fungi can be used (for example, in food or the environment) to benefit society.

Virologists study the structure, development, and other properties of viruses and any effects viruses have on infected organisms.
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Microbiologists typically have an interest in the Doer and Thinker interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Doer interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinker interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws.

If you are not sure whether you have a Doer or Thinker interest which might fit with a career as a microbiologist, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Microbiologists should also possess the following specific qualities:

Communication skills. Microbiologists should be able to effectively communicate their research processes and findings so that knowledge may be applied correctly.

Detail oriented. Microbiologists must be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.

Interpersonal skills. Microbiologists typically work on research teams and thus must work well with others toward a common goal. Many also lead research teams and must be able to motivate and direct other team members.

Logical-thinking skills. Microbiologists draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgement.

Math skills. Microbiologists regularly use complex mathematical equations and formulas in their work. Therefore, they need a broad understanding of mathematics, including calculus and statistics.

Observation skills. Microbiologists must constantly monitor their experiments. They need to keep a complete, accurate record of their work, noting conditions, procedures, and results.

Perseverance. Microbiological research involves substantial trial and error, and microbiologists must not become discouraged in their work.

Problem-solving skills. Microbiologists use scientific experiments and analysis to find solutions to complex scientific problems.
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