Why an Environmental Microbiology Degree?
Environmental Microbiology is a field that has been in existence as long as scientists have been studying life at the microbial level, though it may not have been categorized as such. Microbes are the most ubiquitous organisms on the face of the planet. This field encompasses the aspects of microbiology that study microbes in their natural ecosystems, as well as many of their surrounding aspects such as nutrients, geochemistry, and diversity. It studies changes that may take place in the environment as a result of the various microbes, which can include algae, bacteria, fungi, protozoa, parasites, and viruses, among others. Bioremediation is a valuable tool to come from the field of Environmental Microbiology, as well as a potentially profitable career choice. Soil scientists, as well as many oceanographers and atmospheric scientists, may specialize in microbiology.
Degree Overviews & Programs
A small number of schools offer undergraduate degrees in Environmental Microbiology, but many have degrees or specializations in Microbiology, and offer classes which would allow you to focus on the ecology, geology, or chemistry to allow you to specialize at this level. It is also commonplace to get a general biology or chemistry degree and then pursue graduate studies in Environmental Microbiology. Studying microbes in their natural system can also be a vital part of environmental health studies in parasitology, aquatic science, immunology, agricultural science, and toxicology.
Bachelor's School Spotlight
Michigan State University
Michigan State University offers an undergraduate degree in Environmental Biology/Microbiology which allows the student to be ready for the workplace or proceed onto graduate school upon graduation. Classes are required in mathematics, biology, chemistry, and physics.
University of Massachusetts Amherst
UMass Amherst offers majors and minors in microbiology as well as a five year Master's program for microbiology majors. While they don't have a specific environmental biology program, there are numerous requirements in basic sciences such as physics and chemistry as well as many aspects of microbiology such as virology and toxicology.
University of Washington
The University of Washington has a major in Environmental Health which is one of only 31 nationwide that has been approved by the National Environmental Health Science & Protection Accreditation Council. Microbiology is a part of this major. This is the type of program which prepares a student to begin to enter the workforce but can also help with entrance to graduate school.
Obtaining a higher-level degree will greatly improve your knowledge, skills, ability to get a good job, and starting salary. A Master's or Doctoral degree will allow you to gain specialized knowledge in the area that you want to work with during your career. Those with a career in Environmental Microbiology may work for private companies in the pharmaceutical industry, agricultural, petroleum, environmental remediation, or waste management sectors, just to name a few. They may also work for the government at agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency.
Which Graduate Degree in Environmental Microbiology is Right for You?
A Master's degree will usually take 1-3 years, while a Doctoral degree will usually take 5-6 years. It all depends on the specific program and how many classes you're able to take at a time. Picking the right program depends on what you would prefer to do once you graduate. It also may depend on what you, and/or your employer, are willing to commit to completing. Perhaps you are fortunate enough to work for a company that has offered to help pay for your college funding. They may “need” you to get a Master's in order to hold a certain title or train for a certificate or they may want you to pursue a PhD to be sure you are current with the latest technology and poised for a leadership position in the future.
Masters in Environmental Microbiology Programs
Like other science related fields, your potential career positions can be quite different with a Master's or a PhD. Many master's degree graduates could pursue careers in elementary and secondary teaching, in publishing, as sales people for scientific companies, as legal researchers, and in managerial positions in private industry. There are numerous positions they could hold within the government, from active duty officers to researchers for various agencies including EPA, NASA, the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institute of Health, and the USDA as well as in local government or public health agencies.
Master's School Spotlight
The microbiology program at Georgetown University is interesting in that it is broken up into 3 main areas; Biohazardous Threat Agents and Emerging Infectious Diseases, Biomedical Science and Policy Advocacy, and General Microbiology and Immunology. All three of these contain some Environmental Microbiology, though they are not geared specifically with that as major. Students must complete at least 30 credits with a B average in order to complete their degree. Coursework may include many health and disease focused classes. The Center for Disease Control is a good place to look for opportunities for financial assistance or work, while in school or afterwards, due to its location and huge breadth of work performed there.
University of California, Riverside
The University of California at Riverside offers both Master's and PhD programs in Environmental microbiology. Students pursuing their master's degrees can choose from one of two “plans” to complete their degree requirements, one with a thesis, and one with a comprehensive examination. The normal time to complete the degree is two years. While the degree may be one in Environmental Science, students can craft an environmental microbiology specialty through coursework.
West Virginia University
West Virginia University also offers both a thesis and non-thesis master's degree completion route. Their degrees are in Applied and Environmental Microbiology. Many of the faculty in this program are involved in the division of Plant and Soil Science, since much of Environmental Microbiology is studied in the soil.
Ph.D. in Environmental Microbiology Programs
Post-doctorate and career positions for PhDs in Environmental Microbiology include acting as leading researchers in some of the most interesting and emerging areas of science. Environmental Health, with infectious diseases and virology is a large part of Environmental Microbiology. Exploring extreme environments is another large draw for leading scientists, and only the best in the field are given the opportunities to collect samples from extreme places like Antarctica, underground caves, upper layers of the atmosphere and hydrothermal vents.
Ph.D. School Spotlight
Indiana University has a PhD program in Microbiology which guarantees significant funding for 5 years. Students can earn a Ph.D specializing in Environmental Bacteriology. They offer a training program that includes research rotations, a first-year core curriculum, customized advanced courses, and individualized career development advice from faculty and a great number of graduates whom have entered biological fields upon graduation (90%).
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
A huge name in Environmental Microbiology is Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). Many students and faculty in the program work with affiliated schools as well, such as Woods Hole Institute of Oceanography (WHOI). Their graduate program focuses on PhDs and research areas include metagenomics of microbial populations and the structure of ecosystems, integrative systems biology using model microbes, role of microbes in subsurface geochemistry, and population genomics of prokaryotes in the oceans to name a few.
University of California, Santa Cruz
University of California, Santa Cruz offers graduate degrees from the department of Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology. PhDs usually take 4-6 years. The department offers core courses utilizing case study formats and training grant writing skills, as well as training in oral presentation skills, scientific writing, and literature review, exposure to the breadth of microbiology and environmental toxicology through weekly seminars offered by department faculty and visiting national and international speakers and extensive laboratory research training that starts immediately upon entering the program and culminates in the students' Master's thesis or Ph.D. dissertation.
More Information for Making Your Choice Work for You
Take the time to familiarize yourself with some articles in the journals listed below. Check through the editor's names, find articles that really peak your interest and keep track of their names. Oftentimes they may be the perfect candidates to be your advisor, or they will know someone in a university position with similar interests. If you are passionate enough about their work, you may believe certain scientists should be as popular as rock stars. However, most are not, and they will have, and take, the time to craft you replies about schooling if you ask. This may also open up opportunities for school funding you might not have found without asking.
- Applied and Environmental Microbiology publishes study results that make significant contributions to applied microbial research, basic microbial ecology research, and genetic and molecular investigations of microbial topics of practical value.
- Biodegradation focuses on the transformation of materials by naturally occurring microbial strains, as well as novel methods of biotransformation technology
- Springer Journal of Microbiology and Environmental Microbiology Reports by Wiley Online Library together cover the diversity of current research on microbial processes in the environment, microbial communities and microbial interactions. A few of the highlighted areas are microbial interactions and interactions with plants, animals and non-living environmental factors, adhesion and biofouling, responses to environmental signals and stress factors, pollution microbiology, and extremophiles and life in extreme and unusual little-explored habitats.
- mBio is an open access journal published online and readily available. It is a break from the traditional methods of publication, streamlining the publishing process. It covers most aspects of microbiology, seeking contributors that have performed quality scientific research.
- Microbiology and Molecular Biology Reviews (MMBR), keeps researchers current with the latest developments in microbiology as well as related fields such as immunology and molecular and cellular biology. The journal explores the significance and the interrelationships of the latest discoveries that build our understanding of bacteria, viruses, parasites, fungi, and other higher eukaryotes.
Learn more about how to become a microbiologist.
Learning all you can about a field is incredibly helpful in helping identify your particular specialty. There is a vast amount of information available online now, so it just takes a little work to explore. If you would like to look more in-depth at potential employment opportunities or certification opportunities, you can follow the links outlined below.