page title icon Wanna Understand Uncanny Viruses? Think of Becoming a Virologist!

Can’t be a better calling than this havoc-wreaking pandemic to make a full-time career in virology!

The World is grappling with the threat of several pandemics and outbreaks. Corona Virus, Ebola, Zika, Hantavirus, among many others are deadly pathogens creating havoc with human lives. Over 3,000,000 people died worldwide of coronavirus alone to date. Such testing times just reconfirm the urgent need of scientists and researchers in society. They are the ones who can discover novel ways of preventing future outbreaks apart from minimizing the collateral damages. As the demand for virologists increases, let’s know how to make a full-time career in virology.

Late Beginnings of Virology

The work and responsibilities of virologists may be daunting, yet the outcome is equally satisfying, not only to the virologists but to the whole of humanity.

Viruses are among the most primitive on earth and have been existing as early as 3.8 billion years ago. Yet it’s only in the late 1800s that we came to know about them!

Dmitri Ivanovsky and Martinus Beijerinick observed that these invisible, sub-microscopic, infectious organisms could even pass through very minute pores of a filter that easily trapped the smallest bacteria. Beijerinick, then coined the name ‘virus’ and characterized them as ‘contagium vivium fluidum’ or highly infectious living fluid.

Viruses: A Biological Mystery!

The reason viruses have remained largely a mystery for humans is their very simple structure. They are just genetic material (DNA or RNA) enclosed inside a protein coat. That’s it! No cells, tissues, organs, or body!

One-fourth of a teaspoon of coronavirus weighing merely 1.5g is enough to infect the entire world population of humans! The most remarkable aspect of a virus is the speed with which it can make its own copy when inside a host.

A host is another living organism — like plant, animal, and bacteria — that is needed for the virus to stay alive. Once the virus is inside a host, it can deceive the host cells and invade them to produce more of its type.

And, that’s the reason it is so difficult to make anti-viral drugs to kill them! They just have very few of their own metabolic pathways which scientists can block to stop their replication.

If knowing about virology (study of viruses) enthralled you, then find out more about the job and essential requirements for becoming a virologist.

What Does a Virologist Do?

A virologist is a researcher specialized in the study of viruses, its biology, its essential processes, and its impact on the host.

A virologist spends time mostly in a laboratory. S/he needs to take up and conduct experimental studies on viruses.

Government or private medical research bodies usually sponsor these studies. The virologists closely observe, monitor, and record the results. This may require collaborating or supervising a team of researchers from various disciplines. Presentation of the findings eventually in seminars or research publications for approval is the aim of such research studies.

Being a specialist may require a virologist to work closely with national and International level bodies for the eradication of diseases caused by viruses.

S/he is an important member of the panel for public health programs and policies pertaining to controlling an outbreak.

Specialized in laboratory skills, a virologist supervises several clinical trials and vaccine safety procedures. A virologist also gets teaching positions in higher education colleges and universities as a scholar of his/her subject.

Training to Be a Virologist

Though the specific training for a virologist begins usually when one opts for virology in a Master’s and/or Ph.D. courses, a career graph of a virologist may reflect otherwise. Most virologists show an inclination for life sciences in their nascent stages.

One should study 10+2 in the science stream with physics, chemistry, and biology as major subjects. Active participation in science exhibitions, science olympiads, national-level competitive exams like Kishore Vaigyanik Protsahan Yojana (KVPY), and National Entrance Screening Test (NEST) is definitely an edge for those dreaming to be a scientist in virology.

Early exposure to work and assisting in the laboratory as summer interns may serve as an added advantage.

After higher-secondary, you need to opt for life sciences or any of the allied disciplines like botany, zoology, biochemistry, biotechnology, microbiology, immunology, medical sciences, or veterinary sciences, in your undergraduate program and score at least 60% marks to become eligible for M. Sc. in microbiology or virology.

You may still continue post-graduation with the same discipline as studied in an undergraduate course. But ensure that your research area during Ph.D. program should be in virology for becoming a virologist.

So, there are multiple routes to get admission into the actual training course as a virologist, but you must try to have an impeccable record in academics. There are few seats in M. Sc. microbiology (virology) in India. So, the common entrance test for admission into the course is tough and highly competitive. Some of the best colleges for doing an M.Sc. in virology are:

National Institute of Virology, Pune (M. Sc. Virology-20 seats)

Manipal University, Manipal (M. Sc. Clinical Virology–20 Seats)

Sri Venkateswara University, Tirupati (M. Sc. Virology/Industrial Virology-12 Seats)

Indian Institute of Science, Bengaluru (Integrated M.Sc. in Biological Sciences-20 Seats)

Indian Institute of Technology, Kharagpur (M.Sc. Microbiology-8-10 Seats)

All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), New Delhi (M.Sc. Medical Biochemistry/Microbiology-10 Seats)

Jawaharlal Institute of Post-Graduate Medical Education & Research, Puducherry (MLT-20 Seats)

The post-graduate and doctoral program is the actual training period for becoming a virologist. This period involves an extensive study of subjects like basic virology, cell & molecular biology, and epidemiology.

A budding virologist also needs to acutely study virological methods, microbiology, and antigen-detection as part of his job. Virus-cell interaction, biosafety, bacteriophages, viral diseases, biophysical methods, etc are other fields of knowledge that a virologist must deeply understand.

This also includes field studies and laboratory proficiency. One needs to devote several years to getting trained as a virologist. Even after the basic training, learning never ends as every new research project brings new challenges which require regular up-gradation of knowledge and skills.

Skills and Qualities Required

Observation Skills

Good observation skill is key to identifying the problem and taking up a research study.

Analytical and Critical Thinking Skills

A scientist needs to think out of the box. For this, the ability to think and analyze critically all the aspects of a problem is necessary to reach the right conclusion.


A positive approach to finding solutions to problems and bottlenecks faced during a study helps a virologist become productive and result-oriented.

Laboratory Skills

A virologist is an expert in handling sophisticated and advanced laboratory tools and equipment. Laboratory skill is something which one develops during higher studies.

Inter-personal Communication Skills

A virologist needs to communicate findings to the scientific community and work in close collaboration with other researchers. This entails good interpersonal communication skills.

Time Management Skills

Research studies are usually time-sensitive. Similarly, a sudden viral outbreak may also require quick and timely action from virologists. So, time management is crucial for a virologist.

Other Qualities

Perseverance, ability to work in a team, scientific attitude and temperament, sincerity, an eye for detail are some of the major qualities one must possess for this profession.

Job Opportunities

A virologist gets a job in government agencies in the position of a scientist. S/he may get appointed as a scientific advisor or consultant in private and international healthcare firms, too.

Medical colleges with research facilities also require the services of a virologist. Public health care programs include virologists in their team. Universities and higher education institutions also recruit virologists for teaching and research positions.

Incentives of being a Virologist

In India, a virologist may earn somewhere from Rs 60,000/- to Rs. 1,50,000/- per month depending upon experience and expertise. Additional perks and incentives like foreign visits, funding of a research project, job security, and many types of allowances also accompany the job profile.

A scientist’s job is a highly intellectual job, hence a lot of social prestige and recognition in form of awards and appreciation makes it a lucrative career.

Future Prospects and Career Growth

There are umpteen opportunities for growth in this career. The future scope for virologists is bright because of an enhanced focus on medicinal research and the healthcare sector to combat probable pandemics.

The discoveries of life-saving vaccines and successful immunization programs have helped us in eradicating lethal diseases like smallpox and polio. Almost 25 deadly infections can now be easily prevented by taking vaccines. Besides, successful control of Ebola, Zika, Plague, MERS-CoV in some regions has been possible because of advances in virology and vaccinology.

Millions of human lives threatened by microbial infections get saved every day because of those who work behind the scenes, silently in their laboratory. They are the scientists, to be specifically a Virologist, in this case.

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