Career Advice for Early-Stage Clinical Microbiologists

July 4, 2017

The American Society for Clinical Pathology's "40 Under Forty" is a list of young, successful clinical pathologists among its 130,000 professional members. Several of those honored include young, successful ASM members, and we here at the ASM Careers blog reached out to the ASM members included to ask them for early-stage career advice.

We asked 6 ASM members for their best advice for those considering a career in clinical microbiology, as well as the best advice they had received during their career. Their answers:

Carey-Ann Burnham, Ph.D., D(ABMM): My general career advice is to remember that success is infinite, and other's success does not mean there is less for you. Build up those around you and celebrate the success of others. If you do what you love, the rest will follow. If you are able to find a career that you are passionate about, you won't "work" a day in your life. The field of clinical microbiology is rapidly changing and growing, and with emerging diseases and novel diagnostics it is more exciting than ever. This is a great time to enter the profession.

The best career advice I have received is: Don't be afraid to take opportunities when they come up.  Sometimes taking an opportunity means putting yourself out there, and potentially failing. Don't let being afraid stop you from going for it. 

Alex Greninger, M.D., Ph.D., M.Phil., M.S.: Be strong in computer science but then don't forget about biological phenotype. The best career advice I've had is when there's been an absence of advice and you realize that it's on you to get it done.

Thomas Grys, Ph.D., D(ABMM): Anyone considering this career should reach to see if they can shadow a lab tech or a lab director to see what the daily life is like. Ask lots of questions to see what they value in their work, and what is challenging. That can help students determine if they will enjoy that career path or not. Clinical labs are a good career choice because every city needs them and they are always in demand.

The best advice I received is that if you enjoy your work, it'll never feel like work. It is hard to know ahead of time what jobs will entail, so find out all you can. The worst someone can say is "no," but usually people are excited to share what they do. Once in the job, it is extremely important to have a mentor. This can help reduce administrative frustrations, help you network, and be productive. 

Raquel Martinez, Ph.D., D(ABMM): The numbers of qualified technologists are dwindling and the need is critical. We will be tasked with finding creative ways to promote our field and renew interest in clinical microbiology. For those students interested in a career in clinical microbiology, I would recommend reaching out to a clinical microbiologist and talking to them. Get involved in a project, or attend bench rounds. Spend some time in the clinical laboratory, see if that is what you truly want to do. 

I highly recommend that you learn about all career paths in microbiology, not just clinical microbiology. It worked for me!

Jonathan Schmitz, M.D., Ph.D., M(ASCP)CM, D(ABMM): Although admittedly not always easy, one of the best things students can do is get direct exposure to the day-to-day professional life of clinical microbiologists. Reach out to faculty at their institution and explore if there are any ways to participate in plate rounds or other clinical laboratory activities. One on hand, this allows students to see for themselves what the job actually involves and whether it is a good fit for them. On the other hand, it allows them to build their own knowledge base and build relationships with people in the field (which is already a fairly circumscribed community). 

In fact, one of the best pieces of career advice I received (from several sources) was the importance of building such relationships... with colleagues across your institution and your entire field. As an early-career microbiologist, it's something that I am very much still striving to do myself! In this regard, I recently launched at my institution - through our Office of Biomedical Research, Education, and Training - formal didactic module for PhD students to gain exposure to the field of Clinical Microbiology. Of course, our goal isn't to recruit every graduate microbiologist into the clinical lab. But if we can facilitate the beginnings of a career connection that otherwise wouldn't have been made, I will consider it a success.

Elitza Theel, Ph.D., D(ABMM): My advice for students considering this career field is to contact previous individuals that have gone through Clinical Microbiology Fellowship programs and talk to them about the programs and about what their job is like now. A good place to start researching the field is the Careers in Microbial Sciences page on the ASM website.

The best career advice I received was to always consider the impact to the patient when making decisions in the clinical laboratory.

Carey-Ann Burnham, Ph.D., D(ABMM) is an associate professor of pathology and immunology, molecular microbiology, and pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri.

Thomas Grys, Ph.D., D(ABMM) is the director of microbiology and infectious disease serology at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, Arizona, and the block leader for the microbiology course at the Mayo Medical School, Arizona campus.

Alex Greninger, M.D., Ph.D., MPhil, MS is a second-year resident in laboratory medicine at the University of Washington in Seattle, Washington.

Raquel Martinez, Ph.D., D(ABMM) is a System Director of Clinical and Molecular microbiology at Geisinger Health System in Danville, Pennsylvania.

Jonathan Schmitz, M.D., Ph.D., M(ASCP)CM, D(ABMM) is a Medical Director of the Molecular Infectious Diseases Laboratory and Assistant Professor in the Department of Pathology, Microbiology, and Immunology (Division of Molecular Pathogenesis) at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee.

Elitza Theel, Ph.D., D(ABMM) is the Director of the Infectious Diseases Serology Laboratory and Co-Director of the Vector-borne Diseases Service Line, as well as an Assistant Professor of Laboratory Medicine and Pathology at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota.

Author: Julie Wolf

Julie Wolf
Dr. Julie Wolf is in science communications at Indie Bio, and was a former ASM employee. Follow Julie on Twitter for more ASM and microbiology highlights at @JulieMarieWolf.