Microbiology Technician Careers: Salary Info & Job Description

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A microbiology technician's mean annual salary is around $44,000. Is it worth the education requirements? Read real job descriptions and get the truth about career prospects to decide if becoming a microbiology technician is right for you.
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Pros and Cons of Becoming a Microbiology Technician

Microbiology technicians assist microbiologists and other scientists with conducting experiments and other tests. Check out the pros and cons of this career to help you decide if it's for you.

Pros of a Microbiology Technician Career
Opportunities for advancement to scientist positions after a few years of experience*
May be able to enter the career with just a high school diploma and laboratory experience**
Regular work hours in a laboratory environment*
Variety of work and research topics*

Cons of a Microbiology Technician Career
Strong competition for jobs*
Possible exposure to dangerous organisms or substances*
May be responsible for important decisions regarding the safety of products, like food or medicine, and subsequent health of others**
Must follow strict safety procedures*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, **Online job postings from May 2012.

Career Information

Job Duties and Description

Microbiology technicians, who are specialized biological technicians, typically work as part of a scientific team, helping with experiments and documentation in a laboratory environment. You could work in the pharmaceutical industry, for a government agency - such as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) - or in the medical industry.

At the lab, you would examine microscopic subjects, such as diseases, fungi and algae. This is an incredibly wide-ranging field: microscopic organisms live within our bodies, on food, in waste, and even at the bottom of the sea, so the possibilities of what you may be studying are vast. Your job duties typically include maintaining cleanliness of equipment, gathering and/or preparing samples, carrying out test procedures, analyzing experimental data and writing reports.

Salary and Career Outlook

According to the BLS, as of May 2014, the mean annual salary for biological technicians (which includes microbiology technicians as a subset), was $44,610, with most earning between $32,000 and $53,000. The top 10% brought home over $67,000 yearly.

Job prospects are expected to increase 5% (an average rate) between the years of 2014 and 2024. Those with laboratory experience are projected to have the most opportunities.

Education and Skills Requirements

At a minimum, you'll need to have a high school diploma, a year of laboratory experience and a course in microbiology, but microbiology technicians typically need a bachelor's degree. Microbiology may be offered as a concentration within a biology degree as opposed to being offered as a major, though this varies from school to school. In your courses, you'll learn about genes, DNA, eukaryotes and prokaryotes. Some other subjects of study common to microbiology programs are bacteriology, mycology, parasitology and virology. In addition, courses in chemistry, physics, mathematics and computer science are often part of the curriculum.

Precision and accuracy are crucial, since you'll be using high-tech lab equipment and recording detailed information. Since you'll likely be working as part of a team, the abilities to listen well and follow directions from other scientists are important. Clear and effective writing, to report lab results, is another necessary quality.

What Employers Are Looking For

Most employers require or prefer at least a bachelor's degree, though some will accept applicants with only a high school diploma if they have previous experience in the field. Additionally, some employers may ask for specific certifications or for familiarization with different industry standards. Employers also usually want people who work well with others and have some computer skills. Below is a summary of some positions advertised through online job boards as of May 2012:

  • A food company in Idaho wanted a microbiology technician for its food safety team. The employer preferred someone with a degree and a food safety certification.
  • A pharmaceutical company in North Carolina sought a microbiology technician to help with testing. A bachelor's degree, at least 2 years of experience and knowledge of industry standards were requested.
  • An engineering staffing agency was looking for a microbiology technician for a contract position in Ohio. The job involved laboratory tests, analyses and data management. Only a high school diploma, some microbiology coursework and 1 year of lab experience were necessary.
  • A software company in Illinois wanted a microbiology lab technician for help with experiments and data documentation. A bachelor's degree was required.

How to Beat the Competition

Because microbiology technician positions are expected to be competitive, you'll want to make sure you can stand out among the job seekers. The BLS recommends that you get laboratory experience before going into the workforce. This can be accomplished by taking lab classes within your college education or by getting an internship.

Additionally, you may find that some employers prefer you to be familiar with industry standards, such as those of the FDA, or may want a specific certification. For example, the FDA has a system called Hazard Analysis and Critical Control Points (HAACP), which you can become certified in. Local colleges may offer certification and training courses in this and other specialties.

Alternative Career Paths

Medical Laboratory Technologist

If you like the idea of working on experiments in a lab but think you want to specialize in health topics, a career as a medical laboratory technologist may be more suitable for you. You would do lab tests on body substances, like tissues or fluids, to determine a medical issue or to study a certain medical phenomenon.

Medical laboratory technologist positions also require a bachelor's degree, which can be in medical lab technology, biology or some other life science, as long as lab courses are taken. You may need to obtain certification and/or a license, depending on the state where you work. As of May 2011, medical laboratory technologists made approximately $58,000 a year, and a 13% increase (an average rate) in employment between 2010 and 2020 was expected, per the BLS.

Microbiologist

If you'd like to have more responsibility or to work more in straight research, you might consider becoming a microbiologist. You could supervise microbiology technicians, identify newly discovered microorganisms, develop genetically modified food, create new medicines and present scientific reports at conferences.

Entry-level positions may not require more than a bachelor's degree, though a PhD is typically necessary for independent research jobs. You might also need to complete a postdoctoral research assignment before taking charge of your own research projects. According to the BLS, microbiologist jobs were projected to grow at an average rate of 13% from 2010 to 2020. Their mean salary, as of May 2011, was about $72,000 a year.

Food Science Technician

If you'd like to specialize in the food industry, or if you don't want to earn a bachelor's degree, you can look into becoming a food science technician. You would be responsible for checking the quality of food and related products - this could involve examining the chemical properties of produce and processed food, testing food additives and ensuring that food establishments follow proper safety procedures.

As reported by the BLS, these positions typically only require an associate's degree. Agricultural and food science technicians earned, as of May 2011, an average of $36,000 a year. Job openings were expected to increase 7%, which is slower than average, between 2010 and 2020.

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Featured Schools

Johns Hopkins University

  • Master of Science in Bioinformatics
  • Master of Biotechnology Enterprise and Entrepreneurship
  • Post-Master's Certificate in Sequence Analysis and Genomics
  • Post-Bachelor's Certificate in Biotechnology Enterprise

What is your highest level of education?

Kaplan University

  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Educator
  • Master: Nursing/Nurse Administrator
  • Bachelors of Science in Nursing - RN to BSN (RN License Required)
  • Bachelor: Health Science

Which subject are you interested in?

Colorado Technical University

  • MBA: Health Care Management

Are you a US citizen?

Argosy University

  • Medical Technology (BS)
  • Medical Laboratory Technology (AS)

What is your highest level of education completed?

The George Washington University

  • MSHS in Clinical Microbiology
  • MSHS in Clinical Research Administration
  • MSHS in Clinical and Translational Research

What is your highest level of education?

American InterContinental University

  • Master of Healthcare Management
  • Master of Business Admin: Healthcare Admin
  • Bachelor of Business Admin: Healthcare Management

Are you a US citizen?

Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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Fortis College

  • Medical Laboratory Technology

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