- Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, ‘2003-2012 Occupation Data’ (prepared for Careers New Zealand), accessed September 2013.
- NZBIO, 'Annual Report 2012', accessed September 2013, (www.nzbio.org.nz).
- Slim, G, CEO, NZBIO, Careers New Zealand interview, September 2013.
- Statistics New Zealand, 'Bioscience Survey: 2011', accessed September 2013, (www.stats.govt.nz).
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Microbiologist - Job opportunities Alternative titles
Kaimātai Koiora Mororiki
Microbiologists study microscopic organisms (living things too small to be seen without a microscope), such as bacteria, viruses, algae or fungi, and the effects they have on plants, animals and humans. They use this knowledge to develop products and procedures to benefit humans or the environment.
Call us on 0800 222 733
Pay for microbiologists depends on their qualifications and experience.
- Microbiologists with Bachelor's degrees working at the technician level usually earn around $35,000-$55,000 a year.
- Those with Master’s degrees usually earn around $55,000-$75,000.
- Senior microbiologists, who have PhDs, usually earn $76,000-$94,000.
- With more responsibility and experience, pay could rise to about $130,000 or more.
Source: NZBIO & Universities New Zealand, 'University Staff Academic Salaries and Remuneration', 2012.
What you will do
Microbiologists may do some or all of the following:
- analyse and/or perform tests and experiments on micro-organisms
- identify and characterise micro-organisms including those that cause disease
- develop micro-organisms and the products of their growth for use in vaccines and medicines
- grow micro-organisms to use in food such as yoghurt and cheese
- identify micro-organisms that may pollute food, water and the environment
- find ways for micro-organisms to help humans
- prepare reports and papers, and present results
- provide technical guidance to assistants.
Skills and knowledge
Microbiologists need to have:
- knowledge of molecular biology and genetics, biochemistry and chemistry
- practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment
- knowledge of laboratory hazards and proper safety procedures
- skill in analysing and interpreting research results and other information
- problem-solving skills
- presentation skills
- writing skills, for report writing or grant proposals
- maths and computer skills.
- typically work regular business hours, but for some projects they may need to work evenings and weekends
- work in laboratories and offices, but also work in the field collecting samples or performing field trials
- may travel locally and overseas to attend workshops and conferences.
What's the job really like?
Dr Kristin Dyet - Microbiologist
A born do-gooder
As a postdoctoral scientist at ESR (the Institute for Environmental and Science Research) in Porirua, Kristin Dyet loves that she is contributing towards improving public health through her work. "One thing I'm working on is developing methods to rapidly detect outbreaks of food poisoning. By detecting an outbreak early and determining its source, we can reduce the number of people who get sick."
Multitasking is key
On a typical day, Kristin carries out a number of diverse activities including setting up experiments, analysing data and writing reports. "I try to split the day to have some lab work and some computer work.
"You need to have multiple experiments running at the same time. It's not the type of job where you can focus on one experiment at a time, as experiments can run for weeks or months and don't require your attention all the time."
Sharing your findings is important
Telling people about the results of these experiments is becoming a bigger part of Kristin's job. "I think communication is an important aspect of a science-related career. What's the point of finding out something really important if you can't communicate to the world what you have found?"
To become a microbiologist you need to have a Bachelor of Science, majoring in microbiology, biotechnology, biochemistry or molecular biology as a minumum.
A postgraduate qualification, such as a Master's degree or Doctorate, is usually required for those wanting to enter research-based positions.
A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. NCEA Level 3 equivalent biology, maths, chemistry and physics are recommended.
Microbiologists need to be:
- patient, persistent and inquiring
- analytical, accurate and careful
- able to communicate complex ideas simply.
Useful experience for microbiologists includes laboratory work. Medical microbiologists will find medical experience useful.
View information on courses in the course database
- Human Biology
- Laboratory Technology
- Food Science and Biotechnology
- Other Natural and Physical Sciences
Find out more about training
- Institute of Environmental Science and Research Ltd (ESR)
- (04) 914 0700 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.esr.cri.nz
- New Zealand Microbiological Society
- email@example.com - www.nzms.org.nz/
- NZ Biotechnology Industry Organisation (NZBio)
- (04) 916 1243 - firstname.lastname@example.org - www.nzbio.org.nz
- Royal Society of New Zealand
- (04) 472 7421 - www.royalsociety.org.nz/
years of training usually required
What are the chances of getting a job?
Limited opportunities for microbiologists doing fundamental research
Opportunities are limited for microbiologists doing basic or fundamental research, rather than research that is applied to practical areas. This is mainly because there is less funding for fundamental research, primarily due to ongoing effects of the 2008-2009 recession.
Microbiologist numbers fell by about 26% between 2010 and 2012, according to Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment estimates.
Shortage of microbiologists doing applied research
Most microbiology funding is going to applied research, which involves developing technologies and products such as new vaccines or foods. However, there are not enough microbiologists to fill all positions.
As a result, microbiologist appears on Immigration New Zealand's immediate skill shortage list, which means the Government is actively encouraging skilled microbiologists from overseas to work in New Zealand.
Types of employers varied
Microbiologists may work for:
- Crown research institutes (CRIs)
- medical and veterinary laboratories
- biotechnology companies
- pastoral product manufacturing companies
- food manufacturing companies
- private research institutes
Other vacancy websites
- Science New Zealand - Browse job vacancies in Crown Research Institutes
- New Zealand Institute of Food Science and Technology - Browse job vacancies
- NZ Government Jobs Online - Search jobs.govt.nz for State sector vacancies
- My Job Space - View MyJobSpace's scientific jobs
- Rob Law Consulting - View Rob Law's science jobs
- SEEK - View SEEK's science jobs
- Trade Me - View Trade Me's science jobs
Progression and specialisations
Microbiologists first work as technicians or assistants during university or after graduating. As they gain lab and computer skills, they may progress to senior positions, or they may undertake postgraduate study to specialise in a particular research area.
Microbiologists who have earned a PhD typically have more control over their research projects. Because research funding is limited, they may work on a variety of fixed-term projects for different employers, but within their study area. After developing their research and communication skills, they may become project leaders.
Project leaders spend less time in the lab, and more time seeking funding for projects, and managing people, processes and resources.
Some microbiologists may also move into medical sales, policy work, teaching, journalism, law or business.
How many people are doing this job?
Updated 4 Jun 2015