What Is a Master's Degree in Microbiology? (Plus Jobs)

By Indeed Editorial Team

Published April 2, 2022

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

Microbiology is one of the main branches of science. If you're interested in a graduate degree in science, or you're a professional seeking advancement in the area of health care or scientific research, a master's degree in the subject might be the right choice for you. To make an informed decision, it's important to understand what to expect from a microbiology program at the graduate level.

In this article, we explain what a master's degree in microbiology is, look at some benefits of a degree in this field, describe the steps you can take to earn one and discuss several jobs for which you can pursue.

Related: How To Become a Microbiologist in 6 Steps

What is a master's degree in microbiology?

A master's degree in microbiology is a graduate-level academic credential in the branch of science concerned with the study of microorganisms—living things too small to be viewed with the unaided eye. Accredited universities offer this degree as a Master of Science. Programs often focus on research and expect students to demonstrate knowledge in areas such as general microbiology, molecular biology, microbial physiology, immunology and cell reproduction. There may also be additional coursework in:

  • Bioinformatics

  • Ethical research

  • Genetics of bacteria

  • Mammalian physiology

  • Microbial metabolism

  • Pathogen microbiology

  • Virology

Related: Master of Engineering vs. Master of Science: What's the Difference?

Benefits of earning a master's degree in microbiology

One benefit of earning a master's degree in this field is the knowledge you're likely to gain. Master's programs allow students to specialize their learning, providing them with a much greater depth of scholarship. In a microbiology master's program, you can expect to become highly proficient in the understanding of microscopic life forms. A related benefit is the range of skills you may develop. Succeeding as a graduate student in microbiology requires strong analytical, problem-solving and organizational skills. Such competencies are considered transferable skills, as they're useful in many fields.

The combination of knowledge and skills contributes to another benefit, that of job opportunities. With a master's degree in the subject, employers are likely to consider you a much stronger candidate for jobs in scientific research, scientific management and other professions related to microbiology. Because of your higher level of learning and specialized scholarship, you may also qualify for better-paying niche positions in specific disciplines, such as environmental microbiology, a subspecialty of environmental science.

Related: Should I Get a Master's Degree? 9 Factors To Consider

How to earn a master's degree in microbiology

You can follow these steps to earn a master's degree in microbiology:

1. Earn a bachelor's degree

For most people, a bachelor's degree is a requirement for acceptance into a graduate program. A Bachelor of Science in microbiology would be the most directly relevant, but a degree in a related discipline would also be appropriate. Some of the most common alternative degree subjects are biology, biochemistry and natural resources. It's also important to have completed undergraduate coursework in microbiology, biochemistry, chemistry, physics, statistics and computer science, and to have maintained a good GPA—usually at least 3.0.

Related: 10 Types of Biology Majors (With Possible Careers)

2. Consider taking the GRE

Many graduate programs in microbiology don't require candidates to take the GRE, so this step is optional. That being said, taking and earning a good score on the GRE can still improve your chances of acceptance into your preferred program. It can also be useful for securing a fellowship or other type of funding.

Related: GRE Score Range: Definition, Sections and How It Works

3. Find and apply to programs

Microbiology is a common graduate program, so there are likely to be many options. Begin the process of finding programs by determining your preferences. Ask yourself whether you'd like an in-class or online environment. If you'd prefer an in-class experience, decide where, in terms of cities and states, you'd like to go. Once you've filtered your choices, locate programs that match your criteria.

With your short list of programs, find the admission requirements for each. Typically, programs require that you submit the following:

  • Academic transcripts

  • Statement of purpose

  • Graduate resume

  • Letters of recommendation

  • Application form

Compile your documents and submit them in the manner specified on the program's admission page. As mentioned, you can choose to include your GRE score as well.

Related: How To Get Into Grad School (Plus 8 Benefits of Attending Grad School)

4. Complete two years of study

After you've been accepted into a program, you begin the two years of graduate study required for a Master of Science in microbiology. During that time, you're to complete a specified number of core and elective credit hours. This may culminate in a thesis that requires laboratory research, particularly if you plan to pursue a Ph.D. afterward. Many programs offer non-thesis degrees, which have no research requirement. Regardless of how you choose to proceed, make sure to stay in contact with your graduate adviser to ensure you're meeting all the degree requirements.

Related: Ph.D. vs. Master's Degree: What's the Difference?

5 jobs you can pursue with a master's degree in microbiology

Earning a master's degree in microbiology can prepare you for several well-paying professions, including many in medical facilities and research laboratories. Here are five jobs you might want to consider after earning your degree. For the most up-to-date salaries, please click on the links below:

1. Food scientist

National average salary: $68,830 per year

Primary duties: Food scientists specialize in the study of food, particularly with respect to the biological processes and chemistry associated with it. Their primary duties include finding new sources of food, analyzing the nutritional value of existing foods and developing methods of improving the safety and healthfulness of processed food products. There are several subspecialties in food science, such as the detection and prevention of contaminants and the enforcement of regulations concerning food production.

2. Environmental scientist

National average salary: $73,230 per year

Primary duties: An environmental scientist specializes in the study of the natural sciences in relation to the natural environment and its effects on human health. A subspecialty of environmental science is environmental microbiology, which is concerned with how microorganisms interact with and affect their environment. Environmental scientists of this type often study microscopic life forms to develop ways to apply them in ways that benefit various environments, human and otherwise. Other duties may include collecting samples of natural components such as soil and water, analyzing samples and gathering data and presenting information in writing or through presentations.

2. Epidemiologist

National average salary: $73,377 per year

Primary duties: An epidemiologist is a public health professional who specializes in the investigation of diseases. They collect and analyze data from various sources to identify the causes of diseases and understand their patterns. They then convey their findings to the public and professionals in areas such as medicine and public policy. Additional duties may include writing grant proposals to obtain funding for research and managing public health programs to contain communicable diseases.

3. Laboratory manager

National average salary: $73,943 per year

Primary duties: A laboratory manager is a leader responsible for the smooth operation of a laboratory. They perform a wide range of duties in service of this objective. These include ensuring that the lab complies with regulatory requirements, scheduling and supervising staff, tracking inventory, ordering lab supplies, such as reagents, and training staff on the use of equipment and tools. They're also responsible for the safety of the staff, plus the maintenance and sanitation of the laboratory and its equipment.

4. Microbiologist

National average salary: $84,400 per year

Primary duties: A microbiologist is a science professional who researches microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, amoebae and some parasites. Microbiologists commonly work in research and development, a field dedicated to learning more about microorganisms, including how they live and thrive. Others work in applied research, which goes toward developing products intended to resolve problems, such as vaccines or genetically engineered plants. Specific duties of the job may include designing and conducting research projects, performing experiments, growing and maintaining bacterial cultures, collecting specimens, observing the effects of microorganisms on other living things and writing reports on their findings.

5. Biochemist

National average salary: $94,270 per year

Primary duties: A biochemist is a scientist who specializes in the chemical principles and biological processes of living things, including heredity, disease and cell development. Biochemistry can incorporate microbiology since both involve the study of living things, including microscopic life. The primary duties of the job include planning and executing projects related to research, working with molecules such as proteins and DNA, looking into the effects of particular substances on biological processes and preparing reports or papers on their findings.

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