From the discovery of penicillin to the mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, microbiology research has had a profound impact on how we meet global health and environmental challenges.
Microbiology research focuses on the pivotal role microorganisms play in our understanding of all living things. Knowledge and discovery in this area have had to evolve at a rapid pace to find solutions to health emergencies, a decline in the efficacy of vital drugs like antibiotics, and climate and environmental damage.
Encompassing a wide range of sub-disciplines and interests, microbiology research provides the basis for advances in pharmaceuticals, biotechnology, and disease prevention and treatment.
In this section of our Academic Jobs in Biological Sciences series of job profiles, we look at what it’s like to work as a microbiology researcher and routes into this exciting and rewarding academic career.
Microbiology Researcher Career Path
Your first step on the path to a microbiology research career would be the completion of a PhD in your area of interest – most jobs list a doctorate as an essential criteria. However, some jobs – such as research assistant or technician – may only ask for a biosciences undergraduate degree.
On gaining your doctorate, the next step would be to apply for postdoctoral research jobs on a project that aligns with your specialist area and experience. If you’re applying for a position linked to medical and/or pharmacology research, you might also be required to have clinical or industrial point-of-care testing experience as a biomedical scientist.
Most research jobs are offered on a temporary, fixed-term basis so you may need to complete several postdoctoral projects at the start of your career. Postdoctoral research will help you to hone your skills and build a publication record.
Further on in your career, you could choose to combine your research with teaching in a lecturing role, apply for a further research fellowship, or work as a research scientist in a non-university setting, such as a charity or public health organisation. Promotion to senior research positions depends on successful outcomes and your ability to work as part of a multi-disciplinary team.
Working as a Microbiology Researcher
What do microbiology researchers do every day? It’s a broad discipline, so you could be working on anything from developing cancer-fighting drugs or even studying the feasibility of life beyond Earth. There’s current emphasis on the following microbiology research fields:
- Cancer Biology
- Antimicrobial resistance
- Biotechnology and synthetic biology
- Microbial Ecology/Environmental Microbiology
- Drug discovery
Whether you’re conducting research in a university, research foundation or within biosciences or biomedical industries, it’s guaranteed that as a microbiologist you will spend most of your time in a laboratory environment.
Part of a microbiologist’s job is understanding the need to harness cutting-edge technology to make scientific breakthroughs. Biological scientists are now expected to acquire up-to-date technological skills and qualifications in bioinformatics, coding and programming throughout their careers in order to carry out research effectively.
You’ll be using specialist software and technical equipment such as centrifuges and powerful microscopes, to analyse samples and data. Some jobs might also involve working in diverse locations collecting microbial samples or in a hospital environment alongside clinicians and patients within a clinical trial.
Research is highly collaborative, so you are part of a multi-disciplinary team made up of senior academics, researchers, technicians, and partners in industry and the healthcare sector.
Depending on your field expertise, microbiology research typically involves the following duties:
- Collecting and testing samples, growing microbial cultures, and classifying microorganisms.
- Conducting experiments and analysing data in a laboratory environment.
- Managing own research and administrative activities.
- Contributing to wider project planning and further research proposals.
- Testing hypotheses using appropriate methodologies.
- Gathering, analysing, and presenting results.
- Contributing to funding proposals, scientific reports, and journal articles.
- Knowledge transfer activities, mentoring, and supervision of students.
Where to find jobs
Higher education research jobs rely on current and future funding and whether your research expertise aligns with a specific objective. Microbiology is considered a priority research area, particularly projects focused on biomedical sciences.
Research activities are funded through research councils (such as UKRI), charities and non-profits, government departments, and in partnership with the commercial sector. Having a breadth of knowledge about the current microbiology research landscape will help in your search for an opportunity that fits your expertise. You can find out more about current projects and their impact on the Research Excellence Framework (REF) impact case study database.
If you’re just embarking on a research career, be aware that contracts are often temporary, and you may need to move from job to job before securing a permanent position. Being highly motivated and having a flexible approach are key qualities sought by research teams.
If you choose to work as a researcher at a university, here are some of the roles you may come across during your search:
- PhD studentship
- Research Assistant
- Research technician
- Laboratory research scientist
- Postdoctoral research fellow/associate/scientist
- KTP associate
- Senior research fellow/associate
- Lecturer/Senior lecturer
Salaries in biological sciences research vary depending on the field and specific research activities of the university. However, as a general rule, postdoctoral researchers and research associates can expect to start on a salary of around £30,000 to £39,999 p.a.
If you’re applying for research jobs in microbiology both inside and outside academia, you will likely need to have completed a PhD. There is a wide range of PhD studentships available in biological sciences. A PhD takes around three to five years to complete; most are fully funded and come with a stipend in the range of £16,000 and £20,000 p.a.
New research jobs in microbiology are added to jobs.ac.uk every day. Explore our current opportunities and find helpful information about applying for research jobs and how to develop your academic career.
Related job profiles
- Microbiology Lecturer
- Immunology Lecturer
- Virology Professor
- Clinical Microbiology Lecturer
- Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Sciences
- Associate Professor of Synthetic Biology
Further your research with more articles related to research in microbiology.