Study Microbiology: Master's Degrees, Courses & Online Education Info

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What kind of job can you get with a master's degree in microbiology? Find out program requirements, online options and info on courses and microbiology programs.
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Master's Degrees and Courses in Microbiology at a Glance

Microbiology is the biological science that studies microscopic organisms. Immunology is a related science that studies how such organisms interact with hosts. Some microbiology programs also cover immunology, while others focus on other aspects. These programs may award Master of Science (M.S.) degrees, although they may grant professional degrees that relate microbiology to other areas of study instead. Professional programs may be specifically tailored for certain career outcomes, so you should research programs thoroughly before committing to one.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), a microbiologist can obtain an entry-level position with a bachelor's degree, but you may need a doctorate if you want to conduct original research or work in academia. These professionals were expected to see an average 13% growth in employment between 2010 and 2020, reported the BLS. Much of this growth was expected to take place in pharmaceutical and biotechnology research. Secondary teaching is also an option; the number of high school teachers across all fields was expected to grow 7% in the same time period. However, science teachers were expected to have better-than-average career opportunities.

Master's Courses
Who is this degree for? Individuals interested in developing a professional-level understanding of microbiology, as well as those preparing for doctoral programs in the subject People looking to conduct original microbiology research and/or work in academia in this field
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Microbiologist ($65,000)*
- High school teacher (with teacher certification - $54,000)*
- Biological technicians ($39,000)*
Time to Completion Approximately 1-2 years full-time Varies by course
Common Graduation Requirements - Roughly 30-34 credits
- Master's thesis (some programs)
- Master's exams
Varies by course
Prerequisites - Bachelor's degree in a relevant major
- Specific undergraduate coursework
- Letters of recommendation
- Personal goals statement
- GRE or MCAT scores (some programs)
Varies by course, may include coursework in biology
Online Availability Yes Yes

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Courses and Training in Microbiology

If you're seeking to enhance your current career or develop the coursework necessary for applying to academic programs, courses in microbiology may be taken individually. The academic level of these courses can vary significantly, depending on your previous academic accomplishments and desired outcomes.

Additionally, some courses can lead to a certificate in microbiology. These programs may be offered at the undergraduate and graduate level, and are often tailored to specific career outcomes.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Individual courses may be used to fulfill entry requirements for further graduate study
  • Certificates, especially at the graduate level, may provide opportunities for those considering changing career paths
  • When compared to full graduate programs, certificate programs generally cost less and can be completed sooner

Cons

  • You may be responsible for fulfilling course prerequisites
  • Not all certificate programs have the same rigorousness as full graduate programs
  • Certificate programs may not provide the same promotion opportunities as a master's program

Courses and Requirements

The courses you take will depend on whether you've signed up for individual classes or a graduate or post-baccalaureate certificate program. Individual courses can cover fundamental concepts, such as microorganism classification, microbial diseases and microorganism observation. You can also find individual continuing education courses that can teach you about the latest trends in microbiology.

Graduate-level certificate programs can focus on a specific aspect of microbiology, such as public health or biohazards. You may learn about infectious diseases and biostatistics. Post-baccalaureate certificate programs may be ideal if you want to learn graduate-level concepts, but you're not prepared to commit to a master's degree program. You may complete laboratory classes and take classes in clinical microbiology and molecular diagnostics.

Online Options

Online courses in microbiology may be available at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Some courses may require a completed bachelor's degree, while others may only require a demonstrated understanding of biology at the undergraduate level. These courses don't generally have laboratory requirements, or have ways of fulfilling such requirements online. Some programs, however, may be hybrid programs, requiring not only online components but also laboratory work. Certificate programs that have laboratory requirements and significant online coursework are also available through some schools.

Stand out with this Training

Some post-baccalaureate certificate programs can help qualify you for certification. The American Society for Clinical Pathology Board of Certification awards qualified individuals with certification as a microbiology technologist. You must meet education requirements that include adequate clinical laboratory experience.

Master's in Microbiology

Microbiology master's degrees are most commonly awarded as Master of Science (MS) degrees. Programs may offer different tracks that prepare you for research or professional careers. Research programs are often used as springboards into PhD programs. In an MS in Microbiology program, you can expect to learn about the composition, growth and behaviors of bacteria, fungi, viruses, algae and other microorganisms.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • A master's degree can give you a competitive edge over bachelor's degree-holding job candidates
  • Microbiology master's programs may be used to prepare you for further graduate study in such fields as medicine and veterinary science
  • Master's programs in microbiology often allow for curricula flexibility through electives so you can design your education to meet your career goals

Cons

  • Microbiology programs are generally considered challenging, with heavy emphasis on areas such as genetics and biological mechanisms
  • May need a PhD for research or professor positions
  • Those using a master's program to round out education in the scientific fields may find themselves competing with bachelor's graduates for the same entry-level positions

Courses and Requirements

When entering your master's program, you may be able to choose from a thesis or non-thesis track. In a thesis option, you should be prepared to conduct research on a chosen topic that must be approved by a committee. In a non-thesis option, you should be prepared to earn more credits than in the thesis option in order to graduate. Programs typically have specific classes that are required by all students and then allow for some flexibility by letting you choose a specific number of electives. Many programs include courses that take place in laboratories in order to provide some hands-on experience. Required coursework may cover topics such as:

  • Biochemistry
  • Immunology
  • Microbial pathogenesis
  • Molecular biology
  • Biostatistics

Online Options

Fully online master's degree programs in microbiology weren't available as of December 2012. Because programs often include laboratory work, curricula aren't typically conducive to online formats.

Stand out with this Degree

If you're interested in pursuing a research career and plan to pursue a doctoral program, look for schools with faculty working in your chosen research interests. You may be able to gain additional research opportunities by assisting these faculty members with their ongoing research.

After graduating and acquiring professional experience, you may qualify to become a Specialist Microbiologist through the National Registry of Certified Microbiologists. Exams are available for those wanting to specialize in biological safety or pharmaceutical and medical devices. After earning your master's in microbiology, you must work in one of the specialty areas for at least four years and then pass the appropriate exam.

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Johns Hopkins University

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Trident University

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