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How do I Earn a Microbiology PhD?

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  • Written By: Tricia Ellis-Christensen
  • Edited By: O. Wallace
  • Last Modified Date: 15 November 2016
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A microbiology PhD takes a commitment to earn, and students will have to make choices about what they’d ultimately like to do with this doctorate. Some microbiology programs have a specific focus, like cancer research, or they offer dual degrees in things like microbiology and immunology. Applicants will need to investigate several programs to find the ones closely aligned with their interest or they’ll need to look for good general schools that tolerate flexibility and exploration into many areas. This isn’t the only requirement, and students need to meet many other school requirements prior to being accepted at a school.

The departments offering a microbiology PhD specify exactly what they require in student applicants. Many programs accept students with only an undergraduate degree. This degree usually has to have a similar focus, and majors in biology, biochemistry, microbiology, or pre-med could be the most commonly accepted degrees. Some colleges rarely admit those who possess just a bachelor’s degree, and instead look for students with master’s degrees specifically in microbiology or in fields like genetics, immunology or public health. A few of the most prestigious schools won’t accept applicants unless they have a graduate level degree and several years of work experience.

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There are additional application requirements. Many universities require students to take the general and subject Graduate Record Exam (GRE). Strong grades, especially in the sciences, can be highly valued. Students also need either academic or professional letters of recommendation that attest to their fitness for doctoral work. Foreign-born students may also need to take tests to prove language fluency.

Students who’ve done good research and found the schools that most closely match requirements are likely to find themselves on the path to earn a microbiology PhD. As with any doctoral program, students take classes and also spend a good amount of time working in laboratories. Many schools want their grad students to teach or work as a teaching assistant for a year or more, and this is actually of benefit to many students because they’re frequently paid a stipend, which can help reduce college costs.

In the second or third year of school, most colleges offering the microbiology PhD ask students to take a comprehensive examination. This is to make certain students possess adequate knowledge to continue in the field. Some schools will allow students to retake the examination if they fail it. Once this exam has been successfully passed, students are advanced to PhD candidacy, and begin work on their dissertation, which is a lengthy project involving original research that is presented to faculty. The faculty must approve this dissertation before the PhD is awarded.

In total, most students spend about four to five years earning a microbiology PhD. The time may be extended if a dissertation is extremely complex or isn’t initially accepted by the faculty review board. Earning this degree is well worth the time to many people, who may then pursue careers in private research, university teaching, or in many other areas.

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