Microbiologist

Kaimātai Koiora Mororiki

Alternative titles for this job

Microbiologists study organisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae or fungi, and the effects they have on plants, animals and humans. They also develop products and procedures to benefit humans or the environment.

Pay

Microbiologists usually earn

$35K-$75K per year

Senior microbiologists with PhDs usually earn

$76K-$130K per year

Source: NZBIO, 2016.

Job opportunities

Chances of getting a job as a microbiologist are average – limited opportunities for those doing fundamental research, but good opportunities for applied researchers.

Pay

Pay for microbiologists depends on their qualifications and experience.

  • Microbiologists with Bachelor's degrees working at technician level usually earn around $35,000 to $55,000 a year.
  • Those with Master's degrees usually earn around $55,000 to $75,000.
  • Senior microbiologists who have PhDs usually earn $76,000 to $94,000.
  • With more responsibility and experience, pay could rise to about $130,000 or more.

Source: NZBIO, 2016.

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our pay information)

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 and use micro-organisms for the production of fuels and chemicals
  • 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 reports or grant proposals
  • maths and computer skills.

Working conditions

Microbiologists:

  • typically work regular business hours, but for some projects 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?

Kristin Dyet

Dr Kristin Dyet

Microbiologist

A born do-gooder

As a postdoctoral scientist at ESR (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?"

Entry requirements

To become a microbiologist you need to have a Bachelor of Science, majoring in microbiology, biotechnology, biochemistry or molecular biology. 

A postgraduate qualification, such as a Master's degree or Doctorate, is usually required for those wanting to enter research-based positions.

Secondary education

A tertiary entrance qualification is required to enter further training. NCEA Level 3 in biology, maths, chemistry and physics are recommended.

Personal requirements

Microbiologists need to be:

  • patient, persistent and inquiring
  • analytical, accurate and careful
  • motivated
  • innovative
  • able to communicate complex ideas simply.

Useful experience

Useful experience for microbiologists includes laboratory work, or medical laboratory experience if working in a medical setting. 

Find out more about training

Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR)
(04) 914 0700 - enquiries@esr.cri.nz - www.esr.cri.nz
New Zealand Microbiological Society
president@nzms.org.nz - www.nzms.org.nz/
NZ Biotechnology Industry Organisation (NZBio)
(04) 916 1243 - enquiries@nzbio.org.nz - www.nzbio.org.nz
Royal Society of New Zealand
(04) 472 7421 - www.royalsociety.org.nz/
Check out related courses

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. 

Government funding good for microbiologists doing applied research

Most microbiology funding is going to applied research. Through Budget 2016, the Government is investing $410.5 million over four years in science and innovation. By 2020, the annual investment in science and innovation will be 1.6 billion per year, which is one of the largest single investments in science and innovation in New Zealand history.

This will create opportunities for microbiologists involved in developing technologies and products such as new vaccines, foods and more recently, biofuels, which has become one of the larger opportunities for microbiologists in New Zealand. 

Types of employers varied

Microbiologists may work for:

  • Crown research institutes (CRIs)
  • universities
  • medical and veterinary laboratories
  • hospitals
  • biotechnology companies
  • agricultural product manufacturing companies
  • food manufacturing companies
  • private research institutes
  • breweries.

Sources

  • Barker, W, chief executive officer, NZBIO, Careers New Zealand interview, April 2016. 
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, '2006-2014 Occupation Data' (prepared for Careers New Zealand), 2015.
  • Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment, 'Budget 2016 science and innovation funding', accessed April 2016, (www.mbie.govt.nz). 

(This information is a guide only. Find out more about the sources of our job opportunities information)

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.

Last updated 2 July 2019