Tag Archives: microbiology textbooks

“Why you should not buy a microbiology textbook…”


If you are doing under or postgraduate exams in microbiology, I would advise you not to buy a microbiology textbook, even if you have been given a reading list full of them!

I attended the ASM conference in Boston recently and was blown away by how many book stands there were dotted around the industry hall.

I didn’t realise there were so many microbiology textbooks out there.

So someone must be buying them…

But not me… I haven’t bought a textbook of any description whatsoever in almost 20 years. That doesn’t mean however I don’t study. Far from it.

Here are the reasons why I don’t buy microbiology textbooks, in no particular order:

  • They are too expensive. I am a self-confessed academic skinflint, who prefers spending his disposable income on nice wine and travel.
  • They are too heavy. I have too many bad memories of lugging around a large satchel full of books at school.
  • They teach you a very standardised set of microbiology facts. i.e. they stick to the syllabus. I think syllabuses are much over used, over detailed, and over-rated.
  • They teach you stuff that everyone else knows/is supposed to know. There is a finite resource of information in a textbook, so it leaves little room for exploring an area in more detail, or one that is of particular interest to you.
  • They become out of date very quickly. My own laboratory contains a whole shelf of historical textbooks, none less than 10 years old.

I use the Internet instead. I stay away from patient websites, commercial websites, and chat forums, but most of the rest is reasonably reliable.

By using the internet I can (metaphorically speaking) wander around, get second opinions, and look for stuff on a particular topic that other people are not likely to know. I ask myself a few specific questions, then search for the answers. To learn stuff in more detail, I occasionally source out a journal article or two. I know it sounds stupid, but I make a point of never learning stuff that I know already. I know lots of people that do. I am much more of a gap filler.

Some people might argue that there is stuff in the textbook that is not online. I don’t buy that. Everything is online.

Don’t feel compelled to read a microbiology textbook, just because someone from the establishment has told you to read it. Set your own learning agenda…