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by Staff Reporter
If you believe in giving attention to detail, enjoy breaking things down and have an interest in science, a career as a Microbiologist could be for you.

Career Overview

First things first, what is a microbiologist? A microbiologist studies microorganisms like bacteria, fungi, viruses, algae, and sometimes parasites. They try to understand how they work, what they do, how they interact with environments. By studying microorganisms, we can discover new ways to improve things like medicines, the health industry, the food and beverage industry, agriculture, etc.

As a microbiologist, you’ll work in one these industries. You do not necessarily need to work in a lab, you can consult or manage or fulfil any other role that will benefit from your microbiology knowledge and experience.

Required School Subjects

It is important to note that each university that offers Microbiology may have different entry requirements, the requirements specified below are towards the higher end of the university requirements in SA. It’s important that you research the specific university you wish to study at to get accurate requirements.

  • English Home Language or First Additional Language – 60%
  • Physical Science – 50%
  • Mathematics – 60% or if you’ll be taking Maths (Bio) – 70%

Institution and APS

As stated above, each university will have their own APS requirements. Here are the universities that offer Microbiology with their required APS in brackets (minimum):

  • University of Stellenbosch (31)
  • UNISA (31)
  • University of Witwatersrand (40)
  • University of Cape Town (370)
  • University of Pretoria (36)
  • Rhodes University (37)
  • University of Venda (43)
  • University of Zululand (31)
  • Nelson Mandela University (36)
  • University of the Free State (32)
  • North West University (31)
  • University of KwaZulu Natal (36)
  • University of Fort Hare (31)
  • University of Western Cape (42)
  • University of Limpopo (31)

Required Qualification/s

In South Africa, you can only study a Bachelor’s degree in Science to be able to become qualified in microbiology. There are no diploma’s available.

You will need to complete a three year Bachelor of Science in Microbiology. Some universities may have microbiology fall under the Biotechnology degree. You can also study a more general Bachelor of Science and do postgraduate studies in Microbiology.

Required Skills

As a Mircobiologist, you will need to have the following skills:

  • analytical data analysis
  • problem-solving skills
  • communication
  • time management and organizational skills
  • team work
  • numerical skills
  • technical skills
  • attention to detail
  • IT skills

Where you can work

As a Microbiologist, you could work in a vast array of different fields. Each industry would need a Microbiologist to an extent, whether it be for: research, process development, production, technical services, quality control, compliance control or technical sales.

You can work in the following industries:

  • Human health care
  • Veterinary sciences
  • Agriculture sectors
  • Manufacturing of food and beverages
  • Pharmaceutical and medicinal products
  • Industrial microbiology and biotechnology
  • Public health
  • Forensic sciences
  • Environmental sectors, e.g. water treatment and purification
  • Governmental and private research agencies and education institutions

Working Hours

Just as vast as your career options are, so is your working hours. Where you work will largely determine what your working hours are. For example, if you work in a 24-hour laboratory, you may be expected to work night shifts. But if you work in a more corporate, office job, you’ll work the normal 8 to 5 gig.

Expected Salary

Again, your salary expectation is as vast as your career options. Depending on where you work and what you do, will determine what your salary expectation can be. Below are some medians for some example career options (from PayScale):

Average for BSc Microbiology graduate: R250 000pa / R20 833pm

  • Microbiologist: R126 733pa / R10 561pm
  • Laboratory Manager: R283 071pa / R23 589pm
  • Quality Control Manager: R328 364pa / R27 363pm
  • Biotechnologist: R229 328pa / R19 110pm
  • Food Technologist: R214 196pa/R17 850pm

What to expect

While doing your undergraduate studies you can expect to get into the foundations and basics of the necessary sciences. Most Bachelor of Science degrees follow the same first year curriculum, so you may find yourself sitting amongst people who will graduate with different majors from you. You can expect large classes, and non-specific coursework like:

  • Physics
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics
  • Academic Writing

After first year, you can choose to change majors without any delay or you’ll continue into your microbiology specific coursework. You’ll spend more time in the labs studying organisms, and your coursework will become a lot more centred on preparing you for life as a microbiologist.

After you graduate from your undergraduate degree, you may want to find a job, or like many others, you’ll opt to further your studies and expertise by pursuing a postgraduate qualification. Many go onto honours and master’s degrees. Our universities are doing some ground breaking research, like finding a cure for Malaria, in postgraduate research programmes. If this sounds like something you would enjoy – then go for it!

South Africa has great postgraduate opportunities and it opens doors to various work opportunities, especially abroad.

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