There are a lot of young people who haven't thought much about a career as a scientist. Some of them may think they're not smart enough. Some think science is boring. In other words, people believe a lot of myths. Here are some of the most common ones.
Myth: You have to be a genius (or a nerd) to become a scientist.
Reality Check: Nope. In general, people who become scientists aren't any more or less brilliant than people who become lawyers, nurses, company managers, journalists or any other kind of professional. Scientists are just regular people who are curious about the world and life and how they work.
Myth: Being a microbiologist means you sit in a lab all day looking at slides under a microscope. Boring.
Reality Check: Part of your job might involve looking at slides. But you could also journey to the wilds of the Amazon and Costa Rica seeking out new species of microbes. You could meet some of the deadliest creatures on Earth head-on as you track down killers such as Ebola and Hantavirus. You could float in zero G as you study microbe growth aboard the Space Shuttle. You could watch fish swim past your window as you dive to ocean depths in a submarine. You could climb up the sides of volcanoes. Where you work and what you do as a microbiologist only depends on what your interests are and how hard you work to pursue them.
Myth: You can't make much money being a scientist.
Reality Check: All right, so you won't find many scientists' names on the list of the richest people in the world. But microbiologists can make a pretty good living. They generally earn between $20,000 and $100,000+. That's a wide range, but salaries depend on many factors: where you work, what type of research or products you work on, your education level and how long you've been in the field. Microbiologists working for companies that make drugs or do research generally make more than scientists working for the government or public universities. But most people don't become microbiologists because they want to get rich; they do it for the joy of research and their interest in working with these exciting, strange, wonderful little creatures.
Myth: You have to spend YEARS in school before you become a scientist. You're practically OLD by the time you actually get done with all the degrees and studying!
Reality Check: If you go for a Ph.D., the highest level degree you can get, then you may spend nine or more years in college: four years in undergraduate studies and five or more years in graduate school. But the further along you get in school, the less you sit in a classroom taking notes from lectures. You're working on interesting research projects in the lab or out in the field, making discoveries and writing them up for journals. And you're hardly "old" by the time you get your degree. But you don't have to get a Ph.D. to be a scientist. Some people stop after six or just four years of study and get jobs where they put their scientific skills to work. Visit the Profiles collection to see what some people have done with and without Ph.D.s.
So, now do you think a career as a microbiologist sounds good?
Find books on life sciences and microbiology in your library. Visit a science museum. Find out if your school or community has a science club, science fairs or other activities you could get involved in. Try out the experiments on this web site and ask your science teacher if she or he can help you find others.
In high school, you should plan on taking biology, chemistry, physics, computer science and math. English courses are also important because microbiologists spend much of their time writing articles or papers and giving speeches. Foreign languages are helpful for exchanging information with scientists around the world.
You may try to get a job or internship in a research lab of a university or science-related company during the summer to gain hands-on experience. You may wish to talk with microbiologists in companies or universities to learn more about careers in this field.