California Occupational Guides

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Detailed Guide for

Microbiologists in California

May also be called: Bacteriologists; Cell Biologists; Cytologists; Epidemiologists; Immunologists; Mycologists; Virologists

Specialties within this occupation include: Medical Microbiologists; Clinical Microbiologists; Veterinary Microbiologists; Certified Public Health Microbiologists; Environmental Microbiologists; Industrial Microbiologists; Agricultural Microbiologists

What Would I Do?

Microbiologists study the growth, characteristics, and effects of bacteria and other microorganisms to better understand their relation to human, plant, and animal health. They look for unwanted microorganisms in raw materials and in finished products. Microbiologists are responsible for maintaining accurate records of their studies and ensuring that company and regulatory quality standards are being met.

The nature of the work may vary considerably with the assignments. Some Microbiologists deal with specific kinds of microorganisms such as fungi, algae, viruses, and microparasites. Others are concerned with specific fields or areas of work such as immunology, serology, virology, physiology, genetics, taxonomy, and cytology.

The majority of Microbiologists are classified by the specific activity they perform.

Medical or Clinical Microbiologists work with physicians, dentists, and medical researchers to study the interactions between microorganisms and humans to determine how and why diseases occur. They perform laboratory tests to provide information for diagnosis and treatment.

Veterinary Microbiologists are certified veterinarians. They study the interactions between microorganisms and animals to determine how and why diseases occur.

Certified Public Health Microbiologists provide laboratory services for local health departments and community environmental health programs. They are primarily concerned with the control of communicable diseases and other health hazards in the community.

Environmental Microbiologists test water samples from lakes and streams for biological and chemical pollutants as well as inspect food and water in processing plants.

Industrial Microbiologists are concerned with the development of new products and the monitoring of established processes for microbial content. They teach and develop new methods of preservation for food and pharmaceutical supplies and may help set quality standards for these products. These professionals may also tend strains of microorganisms that produce alternate sources of energy.

Agricultural Microbiologists study the effect of microorganisms on soil and agricultural products and the use of microorganisms as agents of insect control. They are concerned with methods to combat crop damage and increase crop yield. They also investigate the nutritional role played by microorganisms found in cattle, sheep, and other ruminants. They investigate the growth, structure, development, and other characteristics of microscopic organisms, such as bacteria, algae, or fungi.

Microbiologists use microscopes and other laboratory equipment to examine the physiological, morphological, and cultural characteristics of microorganisms in humans, water, food, and plants. They research, identify, and classify these microorganisms to develop products such as vitamins, antibiotics, amino acids, grain alcohol, sugars, and polymers. They conduct experiments, often with minimal guidance, by operating and maintaining laboratory equipment and working according to good laboratory procedures (GLP) safety guidelines.

Microbiologists perform activities related to cell harvesting, downstream processing, and product recovery or isolation. During both research studies and the manufacturing process, they must screen for any novel organisms and activities. In addition to documenting the progress of their experiments and findings, they write and execute technical studies.

Important Tasks and Related Skills

Each task below is matched to a sample skill required to carry out the task.

View the skill definitions
TaskSkill Used in this Task
Examine physiological, morphological, and cultural characteristics, using microscope, to identify and classify microorganisms in human, water, and food specimens.Biology
Isolate and make cultures of bacteria or other microorganisms in prescribed media, controlling moisture, aeration, temperature, and nutrition.Science
Investigate the relationship between organisms and disease including the control of epidemics and the effects of antibiotics on microorganisms.Active Learning
Prepare technical reports and recommendations based upon research outcomes.Written Comprehension
Perform tests on water, food and the environment to detect harmful microorganisms and to obtain information about sources of pollution and contamination.Deductive Reasoning
Source: U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Information Network (O*NET)

Working Conditions

Microbiologists perform most of their work in comfortable laboratories and offices. Laboratory settings are sterilized and kept very clean to avoid contamination of cultures and culture media. Research work may also be done in the field, in a variety of environments, and under any weather condition.

Precautions must be taken in handling potent chemicals, animals, or disease-producing organisms. However, risks are minimized by using protective clothing, immunization, use of safety equipment, and adherence to safety rules and regulations. Strict adherence to safety protocols is essential when working with contagious or deadly microorganisms, such as those which cause AIDS, Ebola, Hantavirus, and other diseases for which cures are difficult or impossible.

Microbiologists normally work a 40-hour workweek. However, some employers such as public health and hospital laboratories require overtime and occasional weekend work. Hospitals and laboratories usually rotate their shifts. Weekend work and long hours may also be necessary during critical periods in the food and wine industries. University and college faculty may work only the number of months required by their contract.

Clinical Microbiologists who work in a hospital setting may belong to a union. Workers for local or State government may also belong to a union. Microbiologists may become members of the American Society for Microbiology.

Will This Job Fit Me?

The job of Microbiologist may appeal to those who enjoy activities that involve working with ideas and that require an extensive amount of thinking, searching for facts, and figuring out problems. Results-oriented individuals who are independent workers and like to make their own decisions should enjoy this type of job.

Microbiologists must be able to communicate with research team members and production staff at all levels. They must also be flexible, ready to change direction quickly during an experiment as situations change.

What Wages and Benefits Can I Expect?


The median wage in 2021 for Microbiologists in California was $116,201 annually, or $55.86 hourly. The median is the point at which half of the workers earn more and half earn less.

Change to Hourly Wages
Annual Wages for 2021Low
(25th percentile)
(50th percentile)
(75th percentile)
Source: EDD/LMID Occupational Employment Statistics Survey, 2021 Wages do not reflect self-employment.
View Wages for All Areas


Benefits generally include medical, dental, life, and vision insurance as well as vacation, sick leave, and retirement plans.

What is the Job Outlook?

Many factors will continue to contribute to the demand for Microbiologists. These include a growing and aging population, the increase in potential health hazards, additional wastewater plants, and the need for more efficient methods of wastewater disposal treatment. There is also an increased dependence on products of microbiological research and expansions in the nuclear and chemical industries. Health, food, ecology or environment, energy, and industrial processes are areas that will experience growth. Advances in these areas will result in the need for trained Microbiologists in industry, government, universities, and hospitals.

Projections of Employment

In California, the number of Microbiologists is expected to grow much faster than average growth rate for all occupations. Jobs for Microbiologists are expected to increase by 16.2 percent, or 600 jobs between 2018 and 2028.

Estimated Employment and Projected Growth
Geographic Area
(Estimated Year-Projected Year)
Total Job
Source: EDD/LMID Projections of Employment by Occupation
View Projected Growth for All Areas

How Do I Qualify?

Education, Training, and Other Requirements

The minimum educational requirement for entry-level jobs is a bachelor's degree in microbiology, biology, or the equivalent. However, an associate of arts degree qualifies an individual to become a laboratory assistant or technician. A master’s or doctoral degree is necessary for college teaching, independent research, and administrative jobs. The level of responsibility and type of work performed determines the degree required.

In order to do microbiology testing of human samples, Microbiologists must be licensed with the California Department of Public Health (CDPH). Personnel who are not licensed or certified may work in federally funded nonprofit laboratories, academic institutions engaged in teaching or research, California licensed community clinics, private physicians’ offices, and some departments of State government.

Continuing Education

Continuing education is required for both the Clinical Microbiologist Scientist and those with limited licenses in microbiology. Continuing education information can be obtained from the CDPH.

Licensing and Certification

Microbiologists may be required to obtain a Clinical Laboratory Scientist license. With this license, they can work as a Clinical Microbiologist Scientist. Others may obtain a specialty (limited) license of Microbiology. Both of these licenses are issued by the CDPH.

A combination of academic coursework and suitable experience in a clinical or public health laboratory is required for an individual to qualify for a Public Health Microbiologist’s license, which is also issued by the CDPH. The usual pattern is a degree in one of the clinical laboratory sciences and one year of supervised training or internship in a clinical laboratory, or six months training in an approved public health laboratory. A person qualified academically but without training or experience is eligible for a trainee license. The trainee works under direct supervision and is tested periodically to verify they are learning at an acceptable pace.
Contact the agency that issues the license for additional information. Click on the license title below for details.

Public Health Microbiologists who work for the State of California or in local public health laboratories must posses a valid Public Health Microbiologist Certificate issued by the CDPH. Those who test milk for county health departments must obtain a Proficiency Certificate from the California Department of Food and Agriculture.

Additional certificates for Microbiologists include: Registered Microbiologist, Specialist Microbiologist, and Technologist in Microbiology. Those who specialize in Veterinary Microbiology may earn a Diplomate in Veterinary Microbiology. Those who specialize in Environmental Microbiology may earn an Environmental Microbiology Analyst certificate. For more information, go to the U.S. Department of Labor's Career InfoNet Web site and scroll down to "Career Tools." Click on "Certification Finder" and follow the instructions to locate certification programs.

Where Can I Find Training?

There are two ways to search for training information:

  • Search by Field of Study to find what programs are available and what schools offer those programs. You may use keywords such as: Biochemistry, Biology, Biophysics, Botany, Cellular Biology, Chemistry, Microbiology, and Plant Biology.
  • Search by Training Provider to find schools by name, type of school, or location.

Contact the schools you are interested in to learn about the classes available, tuition and fees, and any prerequisite course work.

Where Would I Work?

The largest industries employing Microbiologists are as follows:

Industry TitlePercent of Total Employment for Occupation in California
Colleges and Universities9.3%
Employment Services8.3%
Chemical Manufacturing7.9%
Local Government6.9%
Architectural and Engineering Services5.6%
Source: EDD/LMID Staffing Patterns

Finding a Job

Direct application to employers remains one of the most effective job search methods. Applicants can also find employment opportunities through placement offices at colleges and universities. Those working within the industry may recommend an interested candidate for jobs. Newspaper classified ads and the Internet provide additional sources for job listings. Online job opening systems include JobCentral at and CalJOBSSM at

To find your nearest One-Stop Career Center, go to Service Locator. View the helpful job search tips for more resources. (requires Adobe Reader).

Yellow Page Headings

You can focus your local job search by checking employers listed online or in your local telephone directory. Below are some suggested headings where you might find employers of Microbiologists.

  • State, city, and county government public health departments
  • Hospitals
  • Research and testing laboratories
  • Pharmaceutical companies

Find Possible Employers

To locate a list of employers in your area, go to "Find Employers" on the Labor Market Information Web site:

  • Select one of the top industries that employ the occupation. This will give you a list of employers in that industry in your area.
  • Click on "View Filter Selections" to limit your list to specific cities or employer size.
  • Click on an employer for the street address, telephone number, size of business, Web site, etc.
  • Contact the employer for possible employment.

Where Could This Job Lead?

Microbiologists may advance to positions of greater responsibility as they acquire more experience and education. For instance, a doctorate degree is required to become a director of clinical and public health laboratories. Experienced Microbiologists may work as consultants. In addition, those who work in private industry may advance from laboratory worker to head of quality control, research, or production.

Related Occupations

Below is a list of occupations related to Microbiologists with links to more information.

Agricultural and Food Science TechniciansProfile
Biochemists and BiophysicistsGuide
Biological ScientistsProfile
Environmental Scientists and Specialists, Including HealthGuide
Medical and Clinical Laboratory TechnologistsGuide
Zoologists and Wildlife BiologistsProfile

Other Sources

These links are provided for your convenience and do not constitute an endorsement by EDD.

For the Career Professional

The following codes are provided to assist counselors, job placement workers, or other career professionals.

SOC - Standard Occupational Classification19-1022
O*NET - Occupational Information Network
   Interest Codes (RIASEC)IRC
CIP - Classification of Instructional Programs
   Microbiology, General 260502
TOP - Taxonomy of Programs (California Community Colleges)