How do you actually become a virologist?

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All the virologistshave one thing in common: Medicine and health of human and science behind it. However, do you necessarily have to complete a medical degree to treat small pathogens? Not necessarily. It all depends on where your interests lie and what you imagine your future career to be. Do you want to prepare for medical studies? Find GAMSAT tutor at Medic Mind, visit here to find the best. But before we show you various training paths that qualify you for a job in virology, let’s start in general:

1. What is virology?

Virology is the study of viruses. Virology is assigned either to microbiology (sub-discipline of biology) or to medicine. Within medicine, it belongs to the field of microbiology, virology and infection epidemiology.

There are two basic areas of responsibility of a virologist:

  1. Those who become virologists characterize known viruses, assign them to classes and research the properties of viruses. The discovery of new viruses also takes place through virology.
  2. Furthermore, virology deals with the prevention and cure of infections that have been caused virally. Virologists deal with the pathogenic microorganisms and initiate lengthy test procedures, for example to find out which agents can be used against viruses (development of vaccines) and how high the dosage must be. Virologists are also developing new research methods to facilitate research into viruses.

The following applies to all of these tasks: An international exchange with other experts is very important in virology.

Advising treating physicians or quality management within a hospital or training staff can also be part of the tasks of virologists.

For the tasks that explicitly deal with the question: “What does the virus do in the human body?”, Virologists who have studied human medicine are usually used.

Virologists mostly work in laboratories and have no direct contact with patients, but they play a major role for those who are sick. Because without virological research, for example, no vaccines could be developed.

Risky job

Although viruses are barely visible, some virologists work in the most dangerous workplaces in the world. Viruses are not harmless, especially when they are new – the current crisis is the best example of this. Like all other biological substances, viruses are also classified into risk groups of 1-4 according to certain criteria, with 4 being the highest level. Depending on what is being researched, laboratories are categorized into different security levels and must comply with certain security measures. The researchers therefore have a great responsibility here.

The novel coronavirus has been classified in risk group 3 – protection level 3, here too there are similarly strict regulations as in protection level 4 and great caution is required during research.

Virologists save lives

Since viruses can spread very quickly and create pandemics like the current one, the profession of virologist is very important. Even if they have no patient contact, they indirectly save many lives. If you want to become a virologist, you should still be able to work well with people, because the exchange with other scientists is a fundamental part of the work.

2. How do you become a virologist?

First of all: The subject “virology” does not exist in the curriculum. The path to virology is very tedious and a degree is a prerequisite. The classic way is initially contested by studying human medicine. The prerequisite for this is usually very good knowledge of natural science subjects through the Abitur. During your studies you will then already complete practical phases in laboratories and hospitals.

This is followed by specialist training in microbiology, virology and infection epidemiology, which lasts for another 5 years. This is only possible with a previous medical degree, as the license to practice medicine is a prerequisite. How this training is structured in detail is a matter for the federal states. However, there is a model plan from the American Medical Association. The advanced training is remunerated at $4,631 – $5,945 gross.

*However, there is also the option of working as a laboratory assistant, for this you usually need training as a medical-technical assistant (MTA), biological-technical assistant (BTA) or chemical-technical assistant (CTA).

You can do it without medicine!

You don’t necessarily have to study human medicine to deal with virology in your later professional life. It is well known that it is not easy to get a place in medicine. And after six years of study, adding another five-year further education is not the right thing for everyone (although it is well remunerated). So, we have good news: Nowadays it is more and more common to research virology using whey biology methods, which is why a degree in microbiology also qualifies you for virological research. This can be studied as a bachelor’s or master’s degree, usually following a biology degree. Biochemists toohave the chance to find a place at a virological institute. Of course, you should have designed your research focus on this during your studies.

Last but not least, biotechnology or bioinformatics / medical informatics qualify you for certain professions. With the former, you can, for example, work for companies that manufacture biological active ingredients or pharmaceuticals. (Specialized) computer science is also very relevant for virology, because computer-aided methods are very important.

As you can see, there are a few routes into virology. Roughly summarized: If you are more interested in the interaction between the human body and viruses, the first training path (human medicine) is more interesting. If you are primarily interested in molecular biology, you can make it into virology without studying human medicine.

3. Career and salary prospects

Anyone who deals with virology professionally works in:

  • Laboratories
  • Hospitals
  • The economy, e.g., in biotech and pharmaceutical companies
  • Health authorities
  • Research & teaching at universities

Anyone can see from the current corona pandemic that virologists are very important. That is why they will continue to play a major role in the future – because new viruses that attack humans cannot be completely prevented.

With a specialist in particular, you have many opportunities to find accommodation, because they are in great demand. Those who work with a different degree in virology have a better chance of finding employment in the industry with a master’s or doctorate than with a bachelor’s degree. Especially since the latter would have to be very specialized in order to find suitable positions at all.

In any case, it is important: Gather a lot of relevant practical experience and deal with virology at an early stage during your studies.


In general, of course, it makes a difference whether you work as a specialist or not. Even with a Master’s degree, the salary prospects are better than with a Bachelor’s degree and are often even a prerequisite. It also depends on the industry, the state and your position. We can only give you a little insight at this point. According to the salary atlas of the Federal Employment Agency, the median wage for “professions in biology (without specialization) – highly complex activities” is around $4,977. The starting salary would of course have to be a lot lower.

Anyone who is a (specialist) doctor can look forward to payment according to the tariff. In the lowest salary level, the starting salary for doctors at university hospitals was $4,631.23 gross per month.