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Graduate Degree Program in Microbiology Overview

Majors Overview April 28, 2015

Get information about graduate degree programs in microbiology and their coursework, job and wage outlook, and continuing education choices.

Graduate Degree Programs in Microbiology

Students interested in master’s degree programs in microbiology can opt for either a doctoral or master’s degree program. Students enrolled in these programs are taught about researching the behavior of small, multi-celled life forms and bacteria through lab sessions and lectures.

Schools may offer concentrations in areas such as informatics, virology, and immunology. Major research projects mark the culmination of both doctoral and master’s programs. Doctoral students may also assist by teaching undergraduate students. While schools offer bachelor’s or master’s degrees leading to careers for microbiologists, those interested in independent microbiology research need a Ph.D.

Master of Science (M.S.) Programs in Microbiology

Those who aim for a career as a biological scientist, as well as those who wish to continue their education to earn a doctorate, can enroll in a master’s degree in microbiology. Different schools offer different concentrations, which include those in virology and immunology. Laboratory procedures, presentation skills, and research methods are taught to all enrolled students.

Students learn to explore the functions of cell reproduction, metabolism, and genetics. They also learn about researching the effects of the physical structure of microorganisms on their relationship with other life forms. The focus of study of concentration in immunology is on microorganisms in the human body.


Admission criteria typically require incoming students to complete laboratory, seminar, and teaching rotations. Students complete foundational coursework, which deals with fungi, bacteria, viruses, the structure of microorganisms, and genetics, before they conduct laboratory or research work. Electronic imaging, biotechnology, and scientific and research ethics find coverage in other coursework. Microbiology coursework may also include topic areas such as:

•Microbiology grant writing
•Soil characteristics
•Genetic regulation
•Fermentation processes

Job and Wage Outlook

In 2014, biological scientists brought in an average annual wage of $77,920. Those working in scientific research earned average annual wages of $90,600 during the same time period (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics). Over the 2010 – 2020 decade, job growth rates of 14% have been predicted for these professionals (BLS). While some positions are available to individuals holding a bachelor’s or master’s degree, those who wish to lead their own research projects need a Ph.D.

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) Programs in Microbiology

Students who wish to enroll in a Ph.D. program are typically required to earn a Master of Science (M.S.) in Microbiology or a graduate degree in a related field. Some schools also insist on students having prior research experience before allowing them to work toward a doctorate. Most Ph.D. graduates go on to assume leadership positions on microbiology research projects.

Once they are in Ph.D. programs, students are taught about investigating genetic and biochemical reactions in microorganisms. The focus of this research may also be on ways of interpreting or altering genetic information on the cellular level. Students are also imparted presentation, teaching, and written communication skills necessary for performing university-level instruction and medical research.


Most of the program coursework finds completion during the first year of a doctoral study with a focus on different genetic or biochemical reactions that could lead to cellular deformities, inflammation, or disease. Coursework may also include topic areas such as:

•Viral biochemistry

Job and Wage Outlook

Over the 2012 – 2022 decade, job growth rates of 13% have been predicted for medical scientists (BLS). Research leading to additional medical applications and scientific question is likely to be the cause of the newest jobs. In 2012, these professionals brought in an average annual wage of $76,980.

Continuing Education Choices

Most aspirants to careers as medical scientists need a doctorate (BLS). In addition to a Ph.D. in Microbiology or a doctorate in another biological science field, interested individuals may also need to enroll in medical school in order to seek some career positions. Training and medical licensure are requirements for microbiologists seeking to perform various procedures on patients, including invasive and genetic ones.

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