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PhD in Microbiology: How to Get Started

Do you want to learn more about allergies and auto-immune diseases, and probably even cure them? Do you worry about biological warfare? Or, are you curious about our most intimate and populous neighbours – the microbes? Consider a PhD in microbiology. Here’s how you can get started.
BY Vindhya Vatsyayan |   17-03-2016

The relevance of Microbiology

Microorganisms are present everywhere and impact us in unimaginable ways. The study of microbes is a fascinating discipline, which is closely linked with diverse fields like Medicine, Agricultural and Food Sciences, Ecology, Genetics, Biochemistry, and Molecular Biology. This can mean an infinite array of academic and professional prospects for the students.

Research in Microbiology has both basic and applied aspects. The basic disciplines are concerned with the biology of microorganisms, and include fields such as bacteriology, virology, mycology, phycology, protozoology, microbial cytology and physiology, etc. The applied aspects are concerned with emerging problems like disease cure, water and wastewater treatment, food spoilage and food production, and industrial use.

Here are some of the major research ideas in the field of Microbiology:

  1. Microbial Pathogenesis
    How and what turns a microorganism pathogenic? How and why do microbes cause diseases in plants, animals and humans?

    Researchers try to resolve these questions by tracking new and emerging microbes, or studying already identified but unexplored microbes.
     
  2. Immunology and Host Response
    Immunology is concerned with the interaction between our immune system and pathogens. Taking inspiration from the natural processes, one can come up with techniques like the production and use of monoclonal antibodies. Immunology is especially concerned with health conditions like allergies and autoimmune diseases, which are increasingly common.
     
  3. Microbial Evolution and Genomics
    The field focuses on microbial gene structure, replication, and expression. This involves the study of two kinds of nucleic acids; DNA and RNA, their chemical composition, the information they carry, and how they adapt and evolve with time.
     
  4. Microbial Ecology and Symbiosis
    Microbial ecology studies how microbes interact - with each other, with plants, with animals, and the environment. It helps in understanding the critical role of microbes in specific ecosystems, and in maintaining life on Earth.
     
  5. Virology
    Smallpox was caused by a virus; as is AIDS, and Zika, which led WHO to declare a public health emergency recently. The subject gives you an opportunity to explore and study the basic structure and morphology of a virus; the viral genome, and its variations which ultimately lead to disease control and prevention.
     

If you want to be at the cutting edge of Microbiology, whether in basic research or application, a PhD is almost always mandatory.

Getting Ready for a PhD
  • The first and foremost requirement for a PhD is a Master's degree in Microbiology or a related subject from a recognized university.
     
  • Get involved - Intern at a research lab, work on projects, publish papers, explore as much as possible.
     
  • Identify a research interest. It is suggested that you choose to focus on either an organism that fascinates you (for example, E. Coli, Bacillus Anthracis, Clostridium Botulinium), or a problem (infectious diseases, bioterrorism, probiotics), and start from there.
     
  • Once you identify your research interests, look for the university and department which can support them. Also, look for the leading researchers in your field who can supervise your work.
     
  • Prepare a strong research proposal. The research proposal should attend to the following heads: what, why, how, and when?
     
  • Check the specific university requirements (grades, GRE scores, publications, personal statements, language competency scores, etc).
     
  • Get a recommendation from your current mentor at your college or lab.
     
  • Apply!

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