Microbiology is the branch of study that deals with microscopic organisms, omnipresent in this world. This subject requires the ability to memorize and recollect facts easily as well as a strong base in biology and chemistry. Is Microbiology Hard?
It is indeed a hard subject, not intended for the faint-hearted. That does not mean it is void of any fun or excitement, all it takes is a cup of interest and a spoonful of determination to master this field.
Microbiology is rich in details and requires the learner to remember a lot of facts and nuances about microbes, their morphology, mode of action, and their importance.
If a student finds themself uninterested in the subject, they’d find it difficult to study as they’d be studying only for marks and nothing else.
But for someone who likes to deal with nuances and a great deal of information to learn about, Microbiology would be far easier than their fellow mates.
What is Microbiology All About and What are the Possible Challenges?
As the name suggests, microbiology is all about the ‘biology’ of ‘microorganisms’. These are invisible to the naked eye and capable of causing numerous illnesses, which can be life-threatening if left untreated.
It makes use of the key instrument, the microscope, which was invented by Anton van Leeuwenhoek. He is regarded as the Father of Microbiology. The invention has its own story to tell. The microscope is used to study the morphology and properties of microorganisms that are present within and around us.
Major topics studied under the cap of microbiology and why they might intimidate some students are summarised below.
Once able to spot and visualize, the next step would be to study and identify microorganisms based on their appearance and size, collectively referred to as morphology.
To ease this visualization, stains are used before observing under a microscope. Hence sound expertise and skill in the staining procedure are important for correct observation and identification of microorganisms.
Taxonomy and Binomial Nomenclature:
Depending on their common characteristics, similarities and differences in appearance, mode of nutrition, reaction to various biochemicals, and other factors, microorganisms are classified systematically, commonly called taxonomy.
This study is an important aspect in the field of Microbiology since microorganisms are omnipresent, contemporary researchers should not confuse the same microbe to be different due to where it has been found and avoid such misinterpretations.
Keeping the names of all important microorganisms in memory is a very important part of becoming a microbiologist. There are numerous names with Latinised spellings that need to be remembered free of typographic errors.
Strains and Mutations:
The list of microorganisms is never-ending, which makes it difficult to memorize them all and keep track. Added to this are strain variations, which may occur at any point in time. Identifying if a microorganism is a different species from pre-existing ones, or a different variation of an already known microbe, is itself a tedious task.
Growing Microorganisms in the Lab:
Ultimately, developing pure cultures of identified microorganisms, both old and new, has its own set of rules and laboratory conditions. From the nutrients they need to the temperature at which they can grow well, it varies from microbe to microbe, and needs to be paid intense attention.
Since many of these microorganisms dealt with in a laboratory are potential pathogens and require ultimate caution while handling.
Knowledge of Antimicrobials:
Upon learning what microorganism causes which disease in humans, animals, and plants (as well), one also has to learn the names and modes of action of drugs that control these pathogenic microorganisms.
These include antibiotics, antivirals, and antifungals, collectively called antimicrobial drugs. These vary from one microbe to another and require accurate knowledge of the causative agent of infection before administration to patients.
Applications of microbes:
It is also not to be misinterpreted that all microorganisms are pathogenic as most microorganisms are not. They’re usually harmless and most of the time, beneficial to mankind.
Without a doubt, humans have been exploring and exploiting microorganisms for a very long period. This opens a branch of applied microbiology, which includes agriculture, soil, food, and industrial microbiology as well as biotechnology, immunology, and much much more.
As a sound microbiologist, it is crucial to be aware of such applications and be updated in the field of Microbiology. This is one such field of life science that entertains learning for a lifetime.
Joining a Course in Microbiology
Almost all top schools, colleges, and universities in the USA offer courses that specialize in microbiology. One can take up microbiology as their Bachelor’s degree, which a student can obtain after 8 semesters spanning over 4 years.
B.Sc. The microbiology degree is offered by the Texas State University, South Dakota State University, The University of Arizona, The University of Texas at Arlington, The University of Alabama, and The University of Florida, to name a few.
The course fee ranges from $11,220 to $37,800 per year depending on the university. Students can also obtain scholarships and other college funds to aid their studies. After a Bachelor’s degree, one can opt to go for a job or do their Master’s degree, post which they can enroll for a Ph.D. in a matter of their interest.
Methods to Adopt for Studying Microbiology
There is a very very wide range of microorganisms like bacteria, viruses, fungi, algae, protozoans, and other microbial forms which have multiple species of unique organisms. To keep oneself knowledgeable in this field, it is important to inculcate constant study habits.
One can also make use of the following tips while studying microbiology.
- Systematic approach: Approaching individual units of microbiology, like bacteriology, virology, mycology, parasitology, etc is one of the best ways to keep a track of the microbe friends and the activities they do.
- Read the syllabus: Going through the prescribed syllabus for a term can help the students prepare mentally for what can be expected out of the said paper. This can give an early mindset to the student and help in planning their study mode accordingly.
- Using tabulations: Getting a firm hold on basics can help wonders. One could also tabulate some important facts on the different microorganisms so that a single look can help in recollecting almost everything at one go.
- Pictorial memory: Another good way to retain those points without them slipping off the mind is to use visual aids like flashcards, pictorial cards, PowerPoint presentations, etc, to study. In this way, one can recollect the points by linking them to relevant pictures and help in memory recall.
- The proper reading of texts: A good, in-depth reading of the textbooks recommended by professors will enable the student to get an overall idea of the concept, if not understand it completely.
- Not skipping classes: Skipping classes or practical shifts is not something a sincere microbiologist in the making should think of. Taking notes in class will help a lot, whether it is for staying on track of what goes on in class or for a quick revision before an exam.
- Quizzing for self-analysis: Since microbiology involves a lot of facts to keep in memory, impromptu quizzing or answering questions prepared earlier can help on a self-check.
Some Fun and Unconventional Resources for Learning with Ease
There are innumerable resources one can find on the internet that help a student in becoming a successful microbiologist. Some of them include:
Osmosis’s YouTube channel and osmosis.org are incredible sources of education for students worldwide. Although not completely microbiology-based, it is an amazing platform for healthcare and education-related content, which includes numerous topics under clinical microbiology.
From illustrated videos to visual slides with narrative voice-overs for better comprehension, osmosis is a handy and trusted source of information for students. Here is one such testimonial from their website,
“I love that Osmosis videos are concise and animated. It keeps my attention while still giving me everything I need to know for my exam. Definitely worth the investment!”
Sketchy is an online visual learning website that aids med students and learners of all ages to easily learn and recall points by use of art, storyline, and the method of loci.
Their videos, sketches, scripts, and materials aim to give a unique experience to the learner. It is a source of quality information and helps out in achieving the said goal of retaining concepts in mind.
They have a free trial plan as well as paid plans which you can opt for as per your requirements.
Clinical Microbiology Made Ridiculously Simple
Clinical microbiology is one of the toughest fields to master. This book is a brilliant solution for anyone who’s struggling here. It offers a thorough and clear approach with a breakdown of clinical terminologies for easy understanding.
Added to this are the fun and humorous mnemonics, illustrations, and charts to help maximize understanding and retention of facts. You can buy the book if you wish to ease your learning process.
Microbiology Flash Cards by Lippincott Microcards
These are a sturdy set of flashcards all based on microbiology that saves you from the daunting task and time for making these aids. This is a perfect set for microbiology students, giving all the needed info within your hands’ reach.
Career Prospects in Microbiology
Earlier, the main role of a microbiologist was to work in a research laboratory and hardly any other area of work. As the importance of microorganisms and their applications are being recognized nowadays, the workspace requiring microbiologists has also increased.
Job titles have vastly evolved from microbiologist to professor, lecturer, biosafety officer, quality control analyst, etc. with careers in medicine, environmental science, food production, water quality, pharmaceutical industry, and much more.
The pay scale ranges from $40,000 to more than $100,000 per year, depending on the job title, education level, and experience as well as expertise in the field.
Some job titles that a microbiologist can hold include:
- Lab technician
- Research associate
- Research scientist
- Professor (after Ph.D.)
- Lead scientist
- Lab manager
- Clinical microbiologist
- Biosafety specialist
- Business analyst
- Patent lawyers
- Infectious disease vet/physician (after training as Doctors)
- Science writers
- Quality assurance/ control scientist
- Food, agricultural or environmental laboratory scientist
- Personal care and cosmetic scientist
- Pharmaceutical scientist
Microbiology is indeed a challenging field in life science, given its connection to almost all branches of science. Yet, this subject is fascinating and versatile.
It opens doors to many realms of science and in numerous applications. Wherever one turns in the earth, whether in the air or soil, mountains or in-depth of oceans, one can always spot a microorganism there.
This immense subject, no doubt, is not something one cannot achieve. Strong foundational learning, a never-give-up attitude, intense will to study, and no boundaries to knowledge mindset can make any determined student a master in this subject.
Moreover, microbiologists are being recognized widely, for their contributions in vaccine development, environmental restoration, medical science, and much much more where microorganisms are found. A microbiologist will be a much-needed professional in the coming future.