Become a Mycologist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Learn how to become a mycologist. Research the education and career requirements, training information and experience required for starting a career in mycology.

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Do I Want to Be a Mycologist?

Mycologists study all forms of fungus and determine how fungal organisms affect humans and other organic entities. They often work in medical, agricultural, industrial or academic settings. Mycologists often spend most of their time in laboratories, though some must do fieldwork to collect samples from lakes and streams. Generally, these professionals keep regular hours. Although they must often earn an advanced education in order to run their own labs, mycologists tend to earn higher-than-average salaries, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Job Requirements

People in this position typically have a bachelor's degree in biology and microbiology research experience. Many also possess a Ph.D. in a mycological specialty. The following table outlines the core requirements for mycologists according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics:

Common Requirements
Degree Level Bachelor's degree; higher-level positions usually require a Ph.D.
Degree Fields Microbiology or a closely related field
Experience Several years of experience in biological research
Key Skills Strong analytical and problem-solving skills, ability to work within a team, excellent written and oral communication
Computer Skills Familiarity with data analysis software
Additional Requirements Advanced mathematical skills

Step 1: Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program

Prospective mycologists can pursue a degree in microbiology or another field in the biological sciences. These majors build a solid foundation in physics, chemistry, biochemistry, mathematics and other natural sciences. Some undergraduate biology and microbiology programs offer electives in mycology, which cover the natural and industrial roles of different types of fungus and may involve laboratory work. Additional coursework could include medicine, forestry and plant pathology.

Success Tip:

  • Gain practical experience. Students can prepare to enter the field by completing an internship or research project in mycology, microbiology or a related area. Internships allow students to get hands-on laboratory experience and improve research skills for future positions.

Step 2: Acquire Work Experience

After earning a bachelor's degree, graduates can work as laboratory technicians or assistants with research organizations, hospitals, universities or businesses. Duties typically include preparing and analyzing samples for fungi and other bacteria. Lab technicians also record analytical data and review work completed by other lab professionals.

Step 3: Earn a Doctorate in Mycology

Mycologists who want to work as independent researchers or postsecondary teachers generally need a Ph.D. Mycology programs are available at this level and may be combined with forest pathology or other scientific areas, or Ph.D. students may need to study mycology through a broader program, such as microbiology and immunology programs. Most doctorate programs allow students to customize an academic program around a specific research topic resulting in a thesis or dissertation. Students may also have to participate in core lectures, courses and seminars.

Success Tips

  • Get published. The BLS reports that aspiring researchers or teachers need to be able to show proof of published materials in order to secure a position with a university. Students can look for opportunities to publish their research while completing a Ph.D. program.
  • Improve communication skills. Since these professionals often have to present or explain their research, aspiring mycologists can seek out opportunities to practice public speaking. Some schools may offer research groups that meet periodically and allow students to present their findings on recent or ongoing research projects.
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