The Job and What's Involved

Bacteriologists study and investigate a group of single-celled micro-organisms that are classed as bacteria. About 10,000 species of bacteria have been identified and new ones are being discovered every day. Pneumonia, diphtheria, scarlet fever and many wound and childbirth infections are caused by bacteria.

The role of a bacteriologist varies depending on the area in which they work:

Industry - bacteriologists work in companies manufacturing pharmaceuticals, agrochemicals, food and drink, home and personal care products, and consumer goods.

Research - where bacteriologists study a particular genus or species. This work may be new and untried, and often techniques are selected by the researcher. Researchers may work in hospitals, universities and private companies.

In all areas the work involves the interpretation and analysis of findings, and may include:

  • Designing and conducting experiments.
  • Understanding health and safety issues.
  • Making observations and drawing conclusions.
  • Writing reports and scientific papers.
  • Presenting papers at scientific meetings and conferences with other scientists, including geneticists.

Bacteriologists are likely to work in a multidisciplinary team with other scientists, including geneticists, biochemists, microbiologists and chemical engineers.

Bacteriologists usually work from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Evening and weekend work may be required for fieldwork or some experiments.

Bacteriologists work in laboratories or factories, or out in the field. All bacteriologists must wear protective clothing in laboratories. This may include approved laboratory coats, gloves, masks and eye protection, or even an all-over protective suit. Microbes are classified as biohazardous substances so bacteriologists must follow strict health and safety regulations.

Bacteriologists may sit or stand at a bench or piece of equipment for long periods of time. The job might involve travel to meetings and conferences.

Starting salaries may be around £15,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

There are around 550 bioscience companies in the UK. They employ more than 40,000 people, many of whom are bacteriologists. Jobs are widespread, although industrial research and development tends to be more common in South East England. There are clusters of bioscience companies in Oxford, Cambridge, London, Edinburgh and Nottingham. Demand for bacteriologists is increasing.

Bacteriologists also work in a number of industry sectors, including the water industry, as well as for government departments, universities and food research associations. In the NHS, bacteriology is usually one of the areas of work of clinical microbiologists and biomedical scientists rather than being a distinct profession.

Vacancies may be advertised in local or national newspapers, on employers' websites and in various sector publications.

Education and Training

Entry is usually with a degree in a relevant science subject. Research bacteriologists often have a general science degree that includes elements of microbiology. Relevant subjects include biochemistry, biology, chemistry, physiology, microbiology and medical laboratory sciences.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Entry to a degree is usually with a minimum of two A levels/three H grades and five GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), or equivalent qualifications. Biology and chemistry are particularly useful for this field. Entry may also be possible by completing a Foundation degree course in science. This normally requires one or two A levels/H grades, or the equivalent.

Bacteriologists may study towards postgraduate qualifications or membership of a professional body.

Those working at technician level may study part time towards NVQ/SVQ Levels 2 to 4 in Laboratory and Associated Technical Activities, HNC's/HND's or degrees.

It is also possible to enter the work as a laboratory assistant. Applicants usually need at least four GCSE's/S grades (A-C/1-3), including two sciences, maths and English, or equivalent qualifications. They may be able to train through an Apprenticeship.

Apprenticeships and Advanced Apprenticeships provide structured training with an employer. As an apprentice you must be paid at least £95 per week; you may well be paid more. A recent survey found that the average wage for apprentices was £170 a week. Your pay will depend on the sector in which you work, your age, the area where you live and the stage at which you have arrived in the Apprenticeship.

Entry to Employment (e2e) can help to prepare those who are not yet ready for an Apprenticeship. In addition, Young Apprenticeships may be available for 14- to 16-year-olds. More information is available from a Connexions personal adviser or at

There are different arrangements for Apprenticeships in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

For further information visit My World of Work, Careers Wales; and for Northern Ireland contact

Bacteriologists are given regular on-the-job training to learn new laboratory techniques, and keep up to date with IT developments and health and safety regulations. They may also receive training for personal development, management or supervisory responsibilities.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

Bacteriologists need to:

  • Have strong scientific ability.
  • Be able to work methodically and to a high level of precision.
  • Have patience and good concentration.
  • Have an enquiring mind and good problem-solving skills.
  • Be good at working with their hands.
  • Be able to work to tight deadlines when required.
  • Be able to work well alone and as part of a team.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • Be able to write reports and give presentations.
  • Be highly safety conscious.

Your Long Term Prospects

Promotion prospects vary depending on the type of organisation. Some bacteriologists may need to change employer to gain promotion. Career prospects may be improved with additional qualifications.

Many bacteriologists progress to take on supervisory or managerial responsibilities. In industry, they may choose to move away from practical research and become involved in the more commercial aspects of the work.

There may be opportunities to work abroad, especially for clinical bacteriologists involved in healthcare projects.

Get Further Information

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI),
12 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
Tel: 0870 890 4333

Health Professions Council (HPC), Park House,
184 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4BU
Tel: 020 7582 0866

Health Protection Agency, 7th Floor,
Holborn Gate, 330 High Holborn, London WC1V 7PP
Tel: 020 7759 2700

Health Protection Scotland, Clifton House, Clifton Place, Glasgow G3 7LN
Tel: 0141 300 1100

Institute of Biomedical Science, 12 Coldbath Square, London EC1R 5HL
Tel: 020 7713 0214

Institute of Food Science & Technology (IFST),
5 Cambridge Court, 210 Shepherds Bush Road, London W6 7NJ
Tel: 020 7603 6316

The Science Council, 32 -36 Loman Street, Southwark, London SE1 0EH
Tel: 020 7922 7888

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