The primary duty of a virologist is to conduct research pertaining to viruses. Aside from their research, virologists perform other tasks depending on their field and focus. They may spend their time in labs working on new vaccines, or in the field searching for new treatments or responding to viral outbreaks. According to the American Society for Virology, many teach students in high schools, colleges, universities and medical schools, while others pursue jobs as science writers.
An important duty of a virologist is to study different aspects of viruses, such as what happens when they infect healthy vs. unhealthy individuals or what may be causing them to spread. Research conducted by virologists might lead to cures, discoveries of new strains or identification of diseases plaguing animals or plants. Virologists can also specialize in a subfield of virology, such as epidemiology. Epidemiologists study the sudden outbreak of a disease to determine factors like where it came from and how it is passed to others.
Virologists apply their research in scientific experiments while attempting to develop treatments or discover vaccines. The U.S. Department of Agriculture reports that some virologists work to alter viruses to they can be used to deliver vaccines or prevent disease. They might also develop new plants that resist viral infection. Other virologists work with viruses that are known to mutate, including influenza, to try and establish techniques that slow or minimize its evolution.
Many virologists respond to emergency outbreaks around the world. For example, National Public Radio reported in October 2014 that virologist Joseph Fair traveled to West Africa to help treat Ebola patients there. Others are responsible for keeping the public updated. In response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak, virologists warned the public of threats such as the possibility of mutations and also provided guidance on how to contain the disease and prevent it from spreading to other countries.
Like all scientists, another important duty of virologists is to publish their research, discoveries and findings in scientific journals and public papers. Additionally, virologists frequently present their findings in scientific and public forums. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that virologists often share their discoveries with colleagues, engineers, scientists, executives and the public. Finally, most colleges and universities that employ virologists require them to assist in teaching related classes at the undergraduate or graduate level.
2016 Salary Information for Microbiologists
Microbiologists earned a median annual salary of $66,850 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, microbiologists earned a 25th percentile salary of $48,920, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $97,050, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 23,200 people were employed in the U.S. as microbiologists.