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What is a Microbiology Degree?
Microbiology degree programs teach how diseases work (their ‘pathology’) and how they are diagnosed, treated, and cured. Students studying to become microbiologists learn about single-celled organisms like amoebas, the colonies they form, their genetic make-up, and how they interact with other life forms.
Specializations in the field include:
- Bacteriology – the study of the growth and other properties of bacteria and the effects that bacteria have on plants, animals, and humans
- Mycobacteriology – the study of fungi like yeast and mold and how they can be used to benefit society
- Virology – the study of viruses: their structure, development, and effects on infected organisms
- Environmental Microbiology – the study of microorganisms and how they interact with the environment and with one another
Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology – Four Year Duration
Holders of a Bachelor’s Degree in Microbiology often find positions as assistant researchers or further their studies at the graduate level. Bachelor’s programs introduce students to the detailed work of studying microscopic organisms like bacteria, plankton, and viruses.
Courses at this level include:
- Microbial Physiology – the study of the growth and metabolism of microbial cell structures such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, and parasites in living organisms
- Physics – the study of matter, energy, and the interaction between them
- Organic Chemistry – the study of the structure, properties, composition, reactions, and preparation of carbon-containing compounds
- Immunology – the study of the immune system, which protects living organism from infection through various lines of defence
- Statistical Analysis – how to analyze a statistical sample, a representative selection drawn from a total population
Master’s Degree in Microbiology – Two Year Duration
Graduates of master’s degree programs in microbiology generally qualify for positions as senior microbiology research associates, lab supervisors, and college instructors. At this level, classes are more specialized and students can choose a concentration like cellular structure, viral replication (the formation of viruses during the infection process in target host cells), or gene expression.
Examples of courses in master’s programs are:
- Microbial Genomes
- Microbiology of Pathogens
- Advanced Cellular Structure
- Advanced Microecology (microecology is the study of the ecology of a microhabitat, such as the human gut)
Doctoral Degree in Microbiology – Five to Seven Year Duration
With a Doctorate in Microbiology, many graduates become research directors, university professors, or senior managers. Throughout their doctoral studies, students are expected to publish research papers, teach classes, and complete a dissertation.
Coursework at this level is heavily influenced by the student’s chosen field of research. The following are examples of possible courses:
- Advanced Genetics – special topics in genetics: DNA, blood group, genes mutation, cloning
- Molecular and Cellular Immunology – the molecular and cellular aspects of the immune systems of vertebrate species
- Advanced Immunology – examination of how immune cells develop and function in health and disease
- Microbial Pathogenesis – study of the regulatory mechanisms of pathogens
- Microbial Informatics – how to design experiments and statistical approaches for sets of data; how to use statistical programming software
Degrees Similar to Microbiology
The focus of biochemistry is the chemical reactions that happen within the body.
Biomedical Engineering / Biotechnology
Students of biomedical engineering and biotechnology study engineering and the life sciences, with the goal of engineering new products, such as vaccines, medicines, food additives, and growth hormones for plants.
This degree field is focused on how the chemical, biochemical, and physical properties of substances can be changed to turn them into something else. Examples of this work are making plastic from oil, developing synthetic fibers for clothing, identifying ways to mass-produce drugs, and finding ways to solve environmental problems.
Chemistry degree programs teach students how to apply math, theory, and experimentation to study how matter or physical substance behaves, down to the atomic level.
The connection between microbiology and genetics is DNA. Genetics is the study of how DNA is passed down from one generation to the next.
The field of molecular biology is concerned with genetics, with the structure and the relationships between four molecules in the body: proteins, fats, carbohydrates, nucleic acids.
Pharmacologists study how drugs and medicines work so they can be used in the right way. The work involves an understanding of chemical and biological interactions.
Toxicology is dedicated to investigating and monitoring how toxic materials and chemicals impact the environment and the health of both humans and animals.
Skills You’ll Learn
Through their research, experimentation, and use of equations and formulas, microbiology students develop several transferable soft skills:
- Extreme attention to detail
- Observation skills
- Research and analytical skills
- Math skills
- Ability to work both independently and in teams
- Information technology skills
What Can You Do with a Microbiology Degree?
- Medical Research / Pharmacology – conducting experiments to develop new or improve existing drugs or treatments
- Life Sciences Research – conducting experiments to broaden scientific understanding in general
- Clinical Research – conducting clinical trials to test drugs for benefits and risks
Agriculture and Food Science
Working in this sector, microbiologists look for ways to improve the safety, productivity, and sustainability of food crops and farm animals.
Conservation and Forestry
This field is dedicated to managing the land quality of forests, parks, and other natural resources.
Working in microbiology education, of course, is an option for microbiologists with the appropriate level of degree and significant experience in the field.
This field calls upon microbiologists’ knowledge of the natural sciences to protect the environment and human health.
Government agencies like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) hire microbiologists to study issues and help set policies in various areas.
This field is concerned with collecting samples and performing tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.
Science writers need to understand scientific information, research, and practices and they also have to be able to write clearly and concisely.
Water and Waste Management Companies
These companies may hire microbiologists to assist in maintaining water quality and developing wastewater treatment processes.
In this field, the microbiologist’s knowledge of genetics and how disease works is aligned with the zoologist’s study of animals and wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems.
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