CAREER DEVELOPMENT / NOV. 05, 2014
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How to Become a Mycologist in the US

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Mycologists are microbiologists who specialize in studying fungi. They conduct research and tell us the types of fungi that are poisonous or edible. If there is a fungus out there with medicinal value, mycologists will find it and share the information with pharmaceutical manufacturers. This career is ideal for people with a passion for science and the determination to spend several years in college.

What Do Mycologists Do?

Mycologists may work in the research field or become teachers of mycology in higher learning institutions. In research, they perform the following duties:

  • Conducting fieldwork to collect samples of various types of fungi, such as yeast and mould
  • Conducting laboratory experiments on these samples
  • Studying the cell structure of fungi, often with a view of determining how they multiply and grow
  • Establishing the beneficial properties of fungi
  • Writing reports after every experiment or research project.

Mycology teachers and professors have the following duties:

  • Instructing students pursuing mycology degrees
  • Advising students on the various careers that are available to mycology graduates
  • Creating projects for their students and guiding them throughout the project
  • Executing administrative duties, such as attending faculty meetings

Work Environment

Mycologists work for about 40 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Those in the research field are based in laboratories where they use specialized equipment to perform experiments. When conducting fieldwork, these mycologists may be exposed to unfavorable weather.

In colleges and universities, mycologists mainly instruct students in a classroom environment, with regular sessions in laboratories and outdoor environments.

They may wear protective clothing such as gloves and research coats while in labs or outdoors collecting specimen.

Salary

The following table provides the average annual salaries for all microbiologists, including mycologists:

Industry

Average Annual Pay

Colleges, universities, and professional schools

$ 52,790

Government agencies – at state and local levels

$ 54,640

Research and Development

$ 62,920

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing

$ 67,070

Government agencies – at federal level

$ 96,520

Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics

Entry Requirements

The road to becoming a mycologist is quite long. It requires hard work to get there. You should begin by earning a bachelor’s degree in microbiology. You can also get started with a degree in other closely related science fields. At this level, you can secure entry-level jobs, such as research technician.

The next step is to earn a master’s degree in mycology – with this credential, you may work as a science teacher in high schools or basic researcher in research centres and government agencies.

Finally, you should complete a doctorate in mycology. At this point, you are qualified to lecture in universities or work as a senior researcher.

Important Qualities

To become a competent mycologist, you should have:

  • Strong research skills – this includes analytical reasoning and critical thinking.
  • A detailed understanding of biological concepts
  • The ability to use scientific knowledge to solve problems
  • Good outdoor skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Good computer skills
  • Good observation skills
  • A high level of attention to detail.

Career Development

Regardless of whether you decide to work in the academia or research field, you should be able to take your career to the next level. To achieve this, you should:

  • Join professional associations, such as the Mycological Society of America
  • Gain vast work experience and publish your research projects in scholarly journals

In academia, you could progress to become a faculty head. If you work in the research field, you could become a research manager.

If you wish to move into the clinical field, you can do so by completing additional courses in medical mycology.

Job Opportunities

Mycologists are employed by:

  • Agricultural research firms
  • Biological photography companies
  • Biotechnology firms
  • Higher learning institutions
  • Pharmaceutical manufacturers
  • Science agencies, such as the National Science Foundation

According to the BLS, this profession will experience a 7 percent job growth between 2012 and 2022, resulting in the creation of about 1,400 jobs. Although this is a small figure, it is enough to cater for the few people who graduate with PhDs in mycology.

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