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What is Microbiology Really?

In theory what is it?

Microbiology is physics and medicine on a sub/cellular level. If you would like to know how the smallest parts of every living thing works, then this is the science for you. Microbiology deals with microorganisms (bacteria, viruses, mitochondria, etc) and their effects on other living organisms.

More than any other biological science, microbiology has the potential to be thoroughly engrossing, challenging, and rewarding. It is inherently very cool. Want to know how nerve impulses are affected by deadly flesh-eating viruses? Microbiology will tell you. Want to know how to chemically torture bacteria into lysis (destruction)? Microbiology will tell you. Want to cure aids, cancer, or west African monkey warts (made that one up) .. ? Microbiology will eventually tell you.

Of all the biological sciences, microbiology holds the most explanatory power. It is not unlike physics in its practice. Really, the answers you will get from it have more to do with the kinds of clever questions that you ask. And really, you must be clever to get anything out of it. I suppose that's what I really appreciate most; that the smarter you get, the more you will get to know.

That being said, as an undergraduate course of study, be prepared to for an unusual experience. I suggest that you get work in a lab. DO NOT get work in a biochemistry lab, or a genetics lab, unless the person is a microbiologist. I also suggest that you not get work with someone who actively recruits only undergrads. That is not the way to get the most out of this. You need someone with a vast amount of knowledge, someone who does not need other faculty to aid their work, and who expects a lot from you. That being said, you must get work with someone with guaranteed grants, and a lot of good graduate student help. Guaranteed grants (in the process of applying - RUN AWAY - A sure sign of a scientist that is not sure what they are doing. The best will always have money coming in) means the scientist is a good one. Good graduate students equals a good information resource for you.

I say this because the fun of microbiology is in the challenge of the work, and in the toys that you get to play with in the lab. Really, the challenge is not doing the experiments. That is just a lot of repetition. However, the challenge is to see the genius behind the experiments, to see what information and logic the experiment is trying to extract from the process. Really, it is not so much about what you do in the lab, as much as it is about where the experiment will take you.

In case you have gotten completely lost, allow me to sum up. Microbiology is a challenge in creating clever experiments. It rewards cleverness and punishes stupidity. Most often if you work with someone who is fantastic at it, you will be too. The key components to this fantastic scientist are; has grant money regularly, has smart grad students at work, will appreciate your need to be challenged. OK, on to bigger and better things.

Warning to all pre-med students. DO NOT go into microbiology. Pick biochem or chemistry, or general biology, or basket weaving. Unless you have a thirst for knowledge, this is going to suck big time. It is a lot of hard work. There is no glamour in studying microbiology. You will smell of chemicals every day after lab. The work will be very difficult, and what you learn will go too far beyond the MCAT to really help you do well on it. It will help you think analytically, which is what the test really looks for, so that's a bonus. However, you will not learn all the bones in the human body, which is something you will also need.

The classes themselves can be pretty interesting. They will NOT be taught by graduate students. You will get the best and brightest scientists teaching your classes. Don't be surprised if you are one of three undergrads in a class of twenty. The grad students will know more than you and will really talk at a high level. The classes will require some work to get to their level, but you are here for self-improvement, not to be lazy.

You are here because it is cool, not because you want a Mercedes Benz. Note: The best Microbiologists in the world still make more than the best doctors. So, if you want to be the best, you may get the car anyway.

Be prepared to have very few books and a whole heck of a lot of articles. You are at the boundaries of science, so in the time it takes a book to get published, things may change dramatically. This also translates in to cheaper classes, because the scientists will usually have enough clout to get you free copies of everything.

Be prepared to have to work really hard in the beginning and then not so hard as the semester goes on. Again, the more you know, the easier it will be to know more. It's kinda cool in that way.

What does the major actually entail - work-wise?

Of all the biological sciences, microbiology holds the most explanatory power. It is not unlike physics in its practice. Really, the answers you will get from it have more to do with the kinds of clever questions that you ask. And really, you must be clever to get anything out of it. I suppose that's what I really appreciate most; that the smarter you get, the more you will get to know.

The classes themselves can be pretty interesting. They will NOT be taught by graduate students. You will get the best and brightest scientists teaching your classes. Don't be surprised if you are one of three undergrads in a class of twenty. The grad students will know more than you and will really talk at a high level. The classes will require some work to get to their level, but you are here for self-improvement, not to be lazy.

I say this because the fun of microbiology is in the challenge of the work, and in the toys that you get to play with in the lab. Really, the challenge is not doing the experiments; that is just a lot of repetition. However, the challenge is to see the genius behind the experiments, to see what information and logic the experiment is trying to extract from the process. Really, it is not so much about what you do in the lab, as much as it is about where the experiment will take you.

What kind of jobs do you get with it?

As for your future, it's pretty bright. There are a lot of companies looking for qualified microbiologists. Unfortunately, a qualified microbiologist means that you have either a MS or PhD in the subject. Working in academia is actually a lot more interesting than working in corporate America. They do the
last experiment first;
which means that they do not do the work of academia, but build on their work to come up with medicines, treatments, etc. They must sell, so It does them no good to explore. They leave that to the academic, where a lot of the best microbiologists are anyway. The medical business is also quite cutthroat, taking the fun out of the work. In any case, this is a great science to work with because a lot of the learning happens in the lab, and not in front of a chalkboard.

Common Misconceptions

Warning to all pre-med students. DO NOT go into microbiology. Pick biochem or chemistry, or general biology, or basket weaving. Unless you have a thirst for knowledge, this is going to suck big time. It is a lot of hard work. There is no glamour in studying microbiology. You will smell of chemicals every day after lab. The work will be very difficult, and what you learn will go too far beyond the MCAT to really help you do well on it. It will help you think analytically, which is what the test really looks for, so that's a bonus. However, you will not learn all the bones in the human body, which is something you will also need.

That being said, as an undergraduate course of study, be prepared to for an unusual experience. I suggest that you get work in a lab. DO NOT get work in a biochemistry lab, or a genetics lab, unless the person is a microbiologist. I also suggest that you not get work with someone who actively recruits only undergrads. That is not the way to get the most out of this. You need someone with a vast amount of knowledge, someone who does not need other faculty to aid their work, and who expects a lot from you. That being said, you must get work with someone with guaranteed grants, and a lot of good graduate student help. Guaranteed grants (in the process of applying - RUN AWAY - A sure sign of a scientist that is not sure what they are doing. The best will always have money coming in) means the scientist is a good one. Good graduate students equals a good information resource for you.

You are here because it is cool, not because you want a Mercedes Benz. Note: The best Microbiologists in the world still make more than the best doctors. So, if you want to be the best, you may get the car anyway.

Be prepared to have very few books and a whole heck of a lot of articles. You are at the boundaries of science, so in the time it takes a book to get published, things may change dramatically. This also translates in to cheaper classes, because the scientists will usually have enough clout to get you free copies of everything.

Be prepared to have to work really hard in the beginning and then not so hard as the semester goes on. Again, the more you know, the easier it will be to know more. It's kinda cool in that way.

3

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