Careers in Virology: Education, Demand, Required Skills, Jobs and Salaries

Health officials around the world continue to battle the new strain of Coronavirus, first detected in the central Chinese city of Wuhan in December. The novel coronavirus (nCoV) is a new strain, dubbed SARS-CoV-2, which has now infected more than 75,000 people and claimed over 2,000 lives.

Besides human lives, the business has been affected as well. Over retail sales are being stripped of $144 billion… a week, according to China’s Evergrande Think Tank. Apple, Samsung and local Chinese phone makers like Huawei will see sales fall by at least 20% in the first quarter, possibly even further if the outbreak does not seem to be slowing down by next month. The tourism sector is also affected very badly.

Whilst, a few years ago, HIV dominated the headlines, today people are more interested in influenza or tropical viruses such as Zika, SARS or Ebola, which in turn are covered more widely and frequently in the non-medical media. Now, we have a new strain of Coronavirus – SARS-CoV-2. All these make the field of virology an important area of study and research.

Virology Careers and Jobs

What is Virology?

Virology is all about understanding viruses – from more common infections such as chickenpox to new and emerging infections like Coronavirus, SARS, Zika, and Ebola.

Virology is the branch of science that deals with the study of viruses and virus-like agents, including (but not limited to) their taxonomy, disease-producing properties, cultivation, and genetics.

Essentially, virology is a specialized branch within the broad field of microbiology. Compared to the other organisms in microbiology, viruses are very unique with different characteristics (with regards to multiplication, structure, etc) that set them apart.

Importance of Viruses and Virology

Viruses are some of the most diverse forms of life in the world. This is often reflected in the diversity of those who commit their lives to study viruses and the very different ways in which they have become interested in the subject. Viruses have many routes of infection, ranging from human behaviors through to insect bites.

Given that viruses are of medical and veterinary significance, virology has increasingly become one of the most important sub-disciplines of microbiology that has allowed researchers to not only discover treatments and cures for the diseases they cause but also use them for pharmaceutical purposes.

Virology Careers and Jobs
Structure of a Virus (Source: Biology Dictionary)
Careers in Virology
Structure of the Influenza Virus (Source: Virology Blog)


Virologists study viruses that affect humans, animals, insects, bacteria, fungi, and plants in the community, clinical, agricultural, and natural environments. Virologists typically work in research or teaching, and many split their time between these two activities. Virologists may also work as science writers or pursue additional training to work in pharmaceutical business or law. Researchers may be employed by universities, government agencies, or health organizations. Some virologists work in industry research and develop new medications.

What does a Virologist do?

As a virologist, you’ll be expected to learn about how viruses spread, how to isolate them, and how to diagnose, treat and prevent infections. Virologists spend part of their time in microbiology or virology laboratories. Indeed, they work in many different types of laboratories. For example, in the research laboratory, they use genetic characterization to identify novel or emerging agents, which enable them to develop diagnostic assays that can be used to help define the spread of infection in both humans and animals.

Because many different people need a virologist’s expertise, they work closely with a wide variety of medical staff. They advise other doctors over the phone, attend multidisciplinary meetings, and visit staff and patients in wards, clinics, and A&E. They may even work internationally, for example with the World Health Organization, and be involved in global health problems. Virologists also teach trainees and are involved in the research.

Required Education and Training to Become a Virologist

You need to have Biology, Chemistry, and Physics in your high school (10+2) level.

At the undergraduate level, you could study Microbiology (along with Physics and Chemistry as Pass papers). Alternatively, you could also pursue MBBS, Biomedical Sciences or Biotechnology at the Bachelors’s level.

At Masters, you could study Microbiology, Medical Microbiology, Immunology or Virology. With a Master of Science in Microbiology, you can hunt for positions as a supervisor or laboratory manager, research associate or instructor on the community college level.

A Doctoral Degree, Ph.D. in Microbiology (specializing in Tropical Medicine or Infectious Diseases) is necessary for the uppermost posts in this field, such as a professor at a college/university, researcher, or a research director.

There are a host of opportunities available. You may reflect on what aspect of virology you are interested in (i.e. research, public health or medical doctor), since, each aspect needs different education and training.

To become a Medical Virologist in the UK, you need to complete:

  • undergraduate training at medical school
  • the UK Foundation Training Programme or equivalent
  • Core Medical Training (CMT) or Acute Care Common Stem (ACCS) training
  • specialty training in infections and medical virology.

Top Colleges and Institutes for Virology in India

  • National Institute of Virology, Pune
  • Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati
  • Savitribhai Phule Pune University, Maharashtra
  • Manipal University, Karnataka
  • Amity Institute of Virology and Immunology, Noida
  • Karpagam Academy, Coimbatore

Top Universities for Virology Abroad


  • Harvard University
  • Case Western Reserve University
  • Baylor College of Medicine
  • University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston
  • University of Chicago
  • University of Pennsylvania
  • University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Ohio State University
  • University of San Francisco


  • University of Glasgow
  • London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine
  • Imperial College London
  • University of Cambridge
  • University of Manchester
  • University of Warwick
  • University of Edinburgh
  • University of Leeds
  • University of Nottingham


  • University of Toronto
  • University of British Columbia
  • McGill University
  • University of Calgary
  • University of Alberta
  • University of Quebec

Other Countries

  • University of Melbourne
  • University of Queensland
  • Massey University
  • University of Freiburg
  • Umea University

Skills Needed to Become a Virologist

  • An analytic and inquisitive mind – you need to be able to interpret accurately a range of different tests and their results, and take a critical view on all investigations.
  • Calm under pressure – you’ll need to be adept at dealing with changing priorities, from re-emerging threats to seasonal flu. If incidents increase in your community or hospital ward, work can become pressurized and unpredictable.
  • Good communication skills – you’ll work with many people at various levels in hospitals, public health, and other sectors, so being able to share clear knowledge and advice is vital.
  • Molecular Biology skills – Cell Culture, PCR, Assay Development, handling laboratory equipment and tools, which may include: air samplers or collectors, infrared spectrometers, analyzing equipment, and sterilizing equipment
  • IT & Software Skills: BD Biosciences CellQuest, Protein Explorer, Computer Service & Support CLS-2000 Laboratory System, Orchard Software Orchard Harvest LIS, TreeView, and Verity Software House ModFit LT

Virology Job Prospects

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the job prospect for virologists is projected to increase by 11 % between 2006 and 2016. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) further stated that there will be a 10% increase in demand for epidemiologists trained in areas such as virology, by 2022. In the field of environmental science, specialists will experience a 15% increase in job demand in the same period. And microbiologists will see a 7% increase in job demand.

Virologists who are well trained in statistics also should see excellent job demand, with a huge 27% increase in jobs for statisticians by 2022.

The employment opportunity for virologists looks good, more so, with the appearance of new viruses every day and the process of constant research.

Anti-Viral Drug Discovery

Vaccines are definitely one of the most preferred preventive measures to counter viral infections. But, due to the high genetic variability and ever-evolving nature of the virus, it is very difficult to come up with a vaccine all the time.

The M2-ion channel blockers (adamantanes- amantadine and rimantidine) and neuraminidase inhibitors (NAIs- oseltamivir, and zanamivir) are being prescribed for prophylaxis and treatment of influenza infections. But, the efficacies of both types of anti-viral have been found to be on the decreasing side. So, the need for novel anti-viral drugs is a key area of research.

The nucleoprotein (NP) is the most abundantly expressed protein within the virus during various functions and has a lot of conserved residues. Using molecular modeling and docking studies it is very much possible to characterize the residues and other regions essential for viral survival. Later employing high-throughput screening and chemical genetics approach potent anti-influenza drugs could be developed.

Virology Salaries

  • Statisticians: $75,560, with statisticians in the federal government earning over $97,000.
  • Microbiologists: $66,260, with the top 10% earning over $117,000.
  • Environmental Scientists: $63,570, with the top 10% earning more than $109,000.
  • Epidemiologists: $65,200, with top pay going to scientists in R&D for physical, engineering, and life sciences organizations.

Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10.

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