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The Ins and Outs of Being an Academic Staff Scientist in Microbiology

Are you passionate about microbiology and looking to find out more about potential careers in the field? Being an academic staff scientist in microbiology is a rewarding and challenging profession. As a staff scientist, you will have the opportunity to work in a variety of roles including research, teaching, and mentoring. You will also have the chance to develop and hone your skills in the realm of microbiology while earning a competitive salary.

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What Is An Academic Staff Scientist?

Many people hear about the dreaded life of a Ph.D., the countless years toiling in the lab trying to publish as a postdoc in hopes that one day all the stars will align in your favor and you are lucky enough to obtain one of only a dozen full professorship positions in microbiology that come up each year. But most people forget about the hidden workforce of academia. A career in microbiology, that keeps you in academia, and keeps you researching without having to write constant grants to pay your own salary (well sometimes)!

Staff scientists are typically highly skilled and knowledgeable in their respective fields and have advanced degrees, usually a Ph.D., in their area of expertise and are hired on to a specific project or program. You may work to design and execute experiments but generally are not responsible for designing an entire research program. You might be reporting to a principal investigator or to a program director depending on the official assignment. These academic positions may be permanent or for a specific time and can really be in any field of microbiology or elsewhere in the scientific universe. A staff scientist can go by many job titles such as academic research scientist, investigator, specialist, or project scientist.

What Do Academic Staff Scientists Do?

Academic staff scientists are a vital component of any academic institution and as microbiology and microbiome fields are on the rise, this could be a great career for microbiology Ph.Ds. who are passionate about research, but maybe not so much about the red tape of the administrative demands of running a research project or lab.

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Staff scientists work alongside principal investigators, who lead the research projects, and help design, plan, and execute experiments. There are also a lot of benefits to being an academic staff scientist compared to a faculty member at a university. Staff scientists usually have a much better work/life balance, require less traveling, and grant writing isn't always a main component of their day-to-day. You may work in a specific lab, or perhaps as a member of a core facility. In the latter, you may be involved with designing educational programming. Another benefit of being an academic staff scientist in a core facility is that you'll have the opportunity to work on a wide variety of projects that get brought in by the diverse scientific community at your institution.

Academic staff scientists are hired by research institutions such as universities, government laboratories, and pharmaceutical companies. In microbiology, for example, academic staff scientists work in areas such as molecular genetics, bioinformatics, immunology, virology, and microbial ecology. Their roles can vary depending on the organization and specific projects they are working on, but their main responsibility is to assist in the advancement of scientific research.

Some typical tasks for academic staff scientists in microbiology include conducting experiments, analyzing data, preparing reports, writing papers, attending conferences, mentoring students, and training lab technicians. They may also assist in grant writing and proposal development, which can help secure funding for the research projects they are involved in.

Overall, an academic staff scientist in microbiology is an essential member of a research team, playing a critical role in helping to advance the field. With many possible microbiology career paths available, this type of job is an excellent choice for anyone interested in pursuing a research-focused career with a Ph.D. Non-academic jobs are also available for staff scientists, depending on their expertise, and staff scientist salaries can be quite competitive.

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The Expected Salary Of An Academic Staff Scientist

Staff scientist salaries can vary greatly depending on experience, institution, and geographical location. Some academic staff scientist positions' salaries are comparable to a postdoc, while others are closer to an assistant professor in compensation. Staff scientists' salaries may come from grant funding which often means there is a strict deadline for employment if another academic grant is not procured. Other academic staff scientists are hired into a specific role and this can be a more stable microbiology job choice.

According to a staff scientist in the Boston, USA area can expect a salary of $83k to $95k a year with the average salary of an academic staff scientist being around $88K a year. In other parts of the country where the cost of living is not so high, a staff scientist can expect a much lower salary. For instance, according to Glassdoor, a research scientist at Kansas University can expect a salary between $49k and $71k per year with the average hovering around $58k.

Another important element in determining the salary of an academic staff scientist are skills and expertise.

Necessary Skills For The Job

If you are considering pursuing an academic staff scientist position in microbiology, there are several skills that are necessary for success in the role. Including:

  • Expertise in microbiology: As an academic staff scientist in microbiology, it goes without saying that you will need a deep understanding of microbiology, including knowledge of different microorganisms and their behavior.

  • Research skills: As an academic staff scientist, you will be responsible for conducting original research, analyzing data, and drawing conclusions. Strong research skills are essential for success in this role.

  • Communication skills: In addition to conducting research, you will also need to communicate your findings to others, including other scientists, students, and the general public. Effective communication skills, both written and verbal, are a must.

  • Leadership skills: As an academic staff scientist, you may be responsible for overseeing a team of researchers, as well as managing budgets and other resources. Strong leadership skills are important for success in this role.

  • Adaptability: The field of microbiology is constantly evolving, and as an academic staff scientist, you will need to be able to adapt to new technologies, techniques, and research methods.

  • Time management skills: With so many responsibilities to juggle, it is important for academic staff scientists to be able to manage their time effectively in order to meet deadlines and stay on top of their workload.

By developing these skills and continuously pursuing further education and training, you will increase your chances of success and satisfaction in microbiology as an academic staff scientist. And as a researcher in the exciting field of microbiology, you could one day be a part of amazing discoveries that change our understanding of the world!

Advice From Academic Staff Scientists

  • Read a lot and attend conferences - be in the know about what is going on in your field!

  • Learn to fail gracefully - there will be more discouraging failure than triumphs - so get used to it and learn to move on with grace and style!

  • Be proactive and seek out opportunities - you never know if you don't ask, what if your next big thing comes (or would have come) from asking that question you always wanted to know from a stranger at that conference?

  • Build your network - a wide net of resources can pay dividends when you are at an impasse!

  • Learn to communicate your findings effectively - no one should be working in a vacuum - maybe your research will be the key to another's breakthrough that wasn't even on your radar!

  • Find a good mentor - they can often see talents and strengths that we cannot - good mentors will open doors that will help you along your career path

  • Be a good mentor - whether you know it or not, you can be someone that others can be inspired by - always help the next ones along - who knows where it could lead!


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