Career Research

Should I Become a Virologist?

Virologists study viruses that affect humans, animals, insects, bacteria, fungi, and plants in 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.

Medical doctors focusing on virology may carry out clinical research or work with patients afflicted with viruses. Virology researchers work under a broad range of issues including viral pathology, viral oncology, emerging viruses, virotherapy, viral replication, virus-cell interactions, and plant virology.

Because virologists work with infectious microorganisms, there is a small risk of illness, but preventative measures minimize that risk. Virologists work in office and laboratory settings, though a few may take samples in the field. Virologists, like other microbiologists, work on a full-time basis and usually collaborate with other scientists.

Career Requirements

Degree Level

M.D. and/or Ph.D. with postdoctoral training

Degree Field

Virology, molecular virology, viral oncology, immunology


Virologists with M.D. degrees must earn medical licenses


3-5 years postdoctoral research experience

Key Skills

Observation, communication, analysis, critical thinking, reasoning, problem solving, perseverance, scientific and medical software, which may include: BD Biosciences CellQuest, Protein Explorer, Computer Service & Support CLS-2000 Laboratory System, Orchard Software Orchard Harvest LIS, TreeView, and Verity Software House ModFit LT, laboratory equipment and tools, which may include: air samplers or collectors, infrared spectrometers, analyzing equipment, and sterilizing equipment


$187,199 was the median for various types of physicians and surgeons; $67,790 was the median for microbiologists

Virus structure and classification:

Frequently asked question about Training in Virology

What courses should be taken?

The courses to be taken depend in great part on the undergraduate major and graduate course requirements. These can be quite variable. As a general rule, the following courses should be completed:

Undergraduate: Biology, Inorganic and Organic Chemistry, Physics, Mathematics (calculus and advanced algebra), and some electives (Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Microbiology, and Immunology) along with English, History, and a language.

Graduate: Biochemistry, Cell Biology, Molecular Biology, Virology, Immunology, and Structural Biology. The majority of time in graduate school should be spent conducting research.

These, of course, are general recommendations. There may be overlap in some subject areas between the undergraduate and graduate phases, with greater depth in the latter. Additional coverage of core areas can be advantageous.