If you have or are planning to have a career in microbiology, it is important to realise that you are very unlikely to become rich from it. If that is your goal, you would be better off doing something else.
Most microbiology technicians, scientists and clinical/medical microbiologists are employees, being paid a fixed salary to dutifully carry out their job description as dictated in their contract. A good proportion of microbiology employees are still employed by the public sector, although this depends on the area/country you work in. For the increasing number who work in the private sector, centralisation, mergers, & takeovers mean that those that work for private laboratories are increasingly employed by large “commercial” corporations.
There are not really too many openings for private enterprise/self employment within the field of clinical microbiology, unless of course you want to live in the pockets of the corporate pharmaceutical or equipment suppliers.
For the braver, there might be the opportunity to sharehold in a private laboratory company. For the extremely brave, there is always the possibility of setting up your own private laboratory.
A few people do some freelance work on lean laboratory management, infection control or something similar,but in essence most of the microbiology community at present are employees of one sort or other.
I think there a few important things to remember about being an employee, not just in microbiology but in any walk of life.
- Linchpin: Try and be a linchpin. An employee who is a linchpin is one who colleagues turn to to make decisions, to troubleshoot, to create new ideas and to show them the way forward. In short they are difficult for employers to replace easily. All employees should at least attempt to be linchpins. Personally I try my best for this goal, not always with the success I would like. (Check out this great book for more on linchpins)
- Thinking different: Linchpins are generally not linchpins because they work harder or work longer. They are linchpins because they think differently and add something extra to the workplace.
- Disposability: With the above in mind, it is important however to remember that nobody is indispensable, linchpins included. No matter how much you are paid, what you do, or how much you do of it, there will always be someone else out there ready and willing to take your place. It is important to be aware of this in your relationship with your employer.
- Moving on: Along the same lines, the employee should not feel unduly upset about moving on. Laboratories, institutions, and corporations will roll on quite happily in your absence. Have relationships with people, not employers.
- Job Security: A job for life is becoming distinctly less common. Laboratory centralisation, privatisation and tendered contracts have seen to that. Keep your CV handy!
- Job Description: Even if you do feel relatively secure in your job, you can absolutely guarantee that in 20 years time your microbiology job description will have changed out of all recognition. Prepare yourself for this eventuality.
And of course we all want more pay, I don’t know many people who don’t! But we have to try our very best to justify what we do receive.