Microbiology Professionals Impact All Facets of Society

Microbiology Professionals Impact All Facets of Society

While microorganisms are amongst the world’s tiniest of muses, the field of microbiology is anything but small. In fact, microbiology consists of subdisciplines that span the gamut of science and art, oftentimes intersecting, as the field’s dedicated professionals work to elevate scientific discovery and benefit society. 

Poster presentation at ASM Microbe.ASM Microbe 2023 provided opportunities for scientists to network, explore innovative research and advocate for the microbial sciences.
Source: American Society for Microbiology
At ASM Microbe 2023, the Profession of Microbiology (POM) track was a place where everyone came together to network, explore innovative research and advocate for the microbial sciences. POM covered topics from education and career choices to diversity and inclusion; professional development to science communication and outreach. POM let microbiologists from all subdisciplines explore how to make the most of their science education, develop strategies for creating a more diverse workforce, find guidance on funding for their research and receive advice on choosing a career path and navigating application processes.

“[POM] showcases both the importance and the versatility of the microbiologist, an essential professional for the advancement of our society,” said Tatiana Pinto, Ph.D., Associate Professor of Microbiology at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro and 2023 POM Track Lead. The POM track included "a lot of must-see sessions, covering topics such as how to decide on a career and apply for a job and ways to improve public communication and leadership skills.” We explore some of these sessions below.

Surveying the Microbiology Workforce

In an effort to better understand the people behind the groundbreaking science (the microbiology workforce), Donna Ginther, Ph.D., Roy A. Roberts & Regents Distinguished Professor of Economics and Director of the Institute for Policy & Social Research (IPSR), University of Kansas presented the findings from "Workforce Trends: The Future of Microbial Sciences"—a survey commissioned by ASM in collaboration with IPSR.

Ginther’s team utilized several sources of education and employment data to paint a statistical portrait of those with microbiology degrees and those working in microbiology professions. To procure education data (2003-2021), Ginther and colleagues relied on the Integrated Postsecondary Education Data System and Survey of Earned Doctorates. For workforce data (2019-2021), the researchers leaned on the National Survey of College Graduates, Survey of Doctoral Recipients, ASM Survey Data and Lightcast Job Openings Data (2022).

A group of researchers gathers at a table to review documents.
'Workforce Trends: The Future of Microbial Sciences' assisted ASM in designing policies and programs to attract and retain talent in the microbial sciences.
Source: rawpixel.com

The team’s data analysis provides a unique look at the demographic makeup, employment patterns and occupations of the discipline. For example, data revealed that more than half of microbiologists work in the private sector, while almost 30% work in government or education sectors. The project also detailed earnings, job satisfaction and reasons for leaving the field of microbiology.

Alongside employment data, the survey identified key trends in education. As of 2021, the majority of microbiology degrees were awarded to women (including bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees and Ph.D.s). Rapid growth was reported in microbiology bachelor’s degrees starting in 2011, with some growth in master’s degrees and a decrease in doctorates since 2014.

This data collection and analysis will assist ASM in designing policies and programs to attract and retain talent in the microbial sciences. “The future of scientific discovery and combatting disease depends upon a well-trained microbiology workforce,” Ginther said. “The COVID-19 pandemic increased the demand for microbiology professionals, and, as in many professions, many retired because of the pandemic. This [survey] will examine the microbiology education-workforce continuum with the goal of understanding the education, diversity, employment, earnings and job satisfaction of this workforce.”

Microbiologists as Communicators

Not only did the COVID-19 pandemic highlight challenges in workforce development, it also emphasized the importance of scientists as communicators and trusted subject matter experts. At ASM Microbe 2023, the symposium “Communication Is the Bridge Between Confusion and Clarity: Microbiology Science Communication” provided an interactive discussion and key insights on science communication concepts from experts in infectious diseases, clinical microbiology/laboratory medicine and science journalism. Areas of focus included communication during pandemics, laboratory-based education, demonstrating the value of diagnostics beyond the laboratory and science communication as a means of bridging gaps between knowledge and practice.

A graphical representation of science communicated through a variety of channels.
The COVID-19 pandemic emphasized the importance of scientists as communicators and trusted subject matter experts.
Source: iStock

Andrea Prinzi, Ph.D., MPH, is a clinical microbiologist and microbiology medical liaison at BioMérieux, Inc. Prinzi led the symposium and in advance of the event, said she was most excited about the collaborative nature of the session. “If anything, the COVID-19 pandemic demonstrated the importance of multidisciplinary collaboration and the impact of communication,” Prinzi explained. “Hearing about science communication best practices from a variety of perspectives is not only acutely relevant, but also fascinating.”

The end goal of the symposium was for attendees to walk away with at least 1 skill for communicating complex scientific information across various audience types, including laboratorians, clinicians or the general public. “We hope that attendees will have learned something about how to critique the pros and cons of differing forms of academic publications, like preprint manuscripts, for example,” Prinzi said. “[We also hope attendees] leave with a greater understanding of the far-reaching impact of nontraditional science publications, like blog articles or pieces produced via journalism.”

In this digital age, people have tremendous access to information, and it is no longer enough to disseminate scientific findings only at conferences or through formal academic publishing. Science communication is an essential skill not only for science writers and journalists, but also for researchers, clinicians and laboratorians. "In order to fight misinformation, and keep clinical communities and the general public informed, we have to be able to communicate science in a way that is understandable and digestible," explained Prinzi.

Bringing Everyone Together at ASM Microbe 2023

At ASM Microbe 2023, scientists from all backgrounds and professions convened through the POM track. "I believe ASM Microbe [was] a great platform to expand professional connections, and the POM track [was] the best place to be if you are excited about networking with your peers," shared Pinto. "POM track [was] especially committed to delivering the message of the importance of promoting diversity, equity and inclusion in microbial sciences."

Author: Kate O'Rourke

Kate O'Rourke
Kate O'Rourke is a freelance science writer living in Portland, Maine. She has been writing about science and human and animal health for more than 20 years.