A biological technician could...
|Help confirm water contamination by investigating the quantity and types of bacteria in each sample.||Grow a plant that expresses green fluorescent protein under stress to see how quickly drought affects crops.|
|Administer doses of a new tumor-suppressing drug to mice in a pharmaceutical study.||Run protein gels from samples of genetically modified foods to see how the modifications affect certain proteins.|
Key Facts & Information
|Overview||What do the sequencing of the human genome, the annual production of millions of units of life-saving vaccines, and the creation of new drought-tolerant rice varieties have in common? They were all accomplished through the hard work of biological technicians. Scientists may come up with the overarching plans, but the day-to-day labor behind biotech advances is often the work of skilled biological technicians.|
|Key Requirements||Attention to detail, even when a task is repetitive; willingness to constantly learn new skills; and the ability to follow complex instructions|
|Minimum Degree||Associate's degree|
|Subjects to Study in High School||Biology, chemistry, physics, algebra, geometry, calculus, English; if available, biotechnology|
|Projected Job Growth (2010-2020)||Average (7% to 13%)|
Training, Other Qualifications
Prospective biological technicians can acquire good career preparation through 2-year formal training programs that combine the teaching of scientific principles and theory with practical hands-on application in a laboratory setting with up-to-date equipment. Graduates of 4-year bachelor's degree programs in science who have considerable experience in laboratory-based courses, have completed internships, or held summer jobs in laboratories, are also well-qualified for science technician positions and are preferred by some employers.
Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions, under the direct supervision of a scientist or a more-experienced technician. Job candidates whose training or educational background encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including computers and related equipment, usually require a short period of on-the-job training. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibility and carry out assignments under only general supervision, and some eventually become supervisors. However, technicians employed at universities often have their fortunes tied to particular professors; when professors retire or leave, these technicians face uncertain employment prospects.
Education and Training
Persons interested in careers as science technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. Further education is necessary after high school, but there are several options. Many employers are satisfied with applicants who have at least 2 years of specialized training or an associate's degree in applied science or science-related technology. Other employers prefer to hire technicians who have a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, or a related laboratory science. Post high school education should focus heavily on lab work and biotechnology applications.
Because computers and computer-interfaced equipment often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should have strong computer skills. Communication skills are also important. Technicians often are required to report their findings, both through speaking and in writing. Additionally, technicians should be able to work well with others, because teamwork is common. Organizational ability, an eye for detail, and skill in interpreting scientific results are also important.
Nature of the Work
Watch this video of a biological technician's typical work day. Keisha Hines-Harris was one of the biological technicians who helped sequence the human genome.
Biological technicians work with biologists to study living organisms. Many assist scientists who conduct medical research—helping to find a cure for cancer or AIDS, for example. Those who work in pharmaceutical companies help develop and manufacture medicinal and pharmaceutical preparations. Those working in the field of microbiology generally work as lab assistants, studying living organisms and infectious agents. Biological technicians also analyze organic substances, such as blood, food, and drugs, and some examine evidence in a forensic science laboratory. Biological technicians working in biotechnology labs use the knowledge and techniques gained from basic research by scientists, including gene splicing and recombinant DNA, and apply them in product development.
Technicians set up, operate, and maintain laboratory instruments, monitor experiments, make observations, calculate and record results, and often develop conclusions. They must keep detailed logs of all of their work-related activities. Those who work in production monitor manufacturing processes and may be involved in ensuring quality by testing products for proper proportions of ingredients, for purity, or for strength and durability
As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become more complex in recent years, the role of biological technicians in research and development has expanded. In addition to performing routine tasks, many technicians also develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best results, interpret data, and devise solutions to problems, under the direction of scientists. They must master the laboratory equipment so that they can adjust settings when necessary and recognize when equipment is malfunctioning.
The increasing use of robotics to perform many routine tasks has freed technicians to operate more-sophisticated laboratory equipment. They make extensive use of computers, computer-interfaced equipment, robotics, and high-technology industrial applications, such as biological engineering.
Biological technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Most work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments that cannot be completed during regular working hours. Production technicians often work in 8-hour shifts around the clock. Some technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials. They sometimes work with toxic chemicals, radioactive isotopes, and disease-causing organisms. They use their hands to handle, control and feel objects, tools, and controls. It is important that they be very exact and highly accurate in performing their job. The job may require walking, standing, stooping, kneeling, and crouching.
On the Job
- Keep detailed logs of all work-related activities.
- Monitor laboratory work to ensure compliance with set standards.
- Isolate, identify and prepare specimens for examination.
- Use computers, computer-interfaced equipment, robotics or high-technology industrial applications to perform work duties.
- Conduct research or assist in the conduct of research, including the collection of information and samples, such as blood, water, soil, plants and animals.
- Set up, adjust, calibrate, clean, maintain, and troubleshoot laboratory and field equipment.
- Provide technical support and services for scientists and engineers working in fields such as agriculture, environmental science, resource management, biology, and health sciences.
- Clean, maintain and prepare supplies and work areas.
- Participate in the research, development, or manufacturing of medicinal and pharmaceutical preparations.
- Conduct standardized biological, microbiological or biochemical tests and laboratory analyses to evaluate the quantity or quality of physical or chemical substances in food or other products.
- Analyze experimental data and interpret results to write reports and summaries of findings.
- Measure or weigh compounds and solutions for use in testing or animal feed.
- Monitor and observe experiments, recording production and test data for evaluation by research personnel.
- Examine animals and specimens to detect the presence of disease or other problems.
- Conduct or supervise operational programs such as fish hatcheries, greenhouses and livestock production programs.
- Feed livestock or laboratory animals.
Companies That Hire Biological Technicians
Explore what you might do on the job with one of these projects...
- A Juicy Project: Extracting Apple Juice with Pectinase
- A Magnetic Primer Designer
- An Aerobic Exercise: Yeast Metabolism with and without Aeration
- Bacterial Transformation Efficiency
- BLAST into the Past to Identify T. Rex's Closest Living Relative
- Death Rays: What Duration of Ultraviolet Exposure Kills Bacteria?
- Discovering DNA: Do Your Cheek Cells & a Strawberry Both Have DNA?
- DNA Fingerprinting
- Do Different Dilutions of Disinfectants Affect the Development of Bacterial Resistance?
- Do-It-Yourself DNA
- Enzyme-Catalyzed Reactions— What Affects Their Rates?
- Exploring DNA Damage: What Effect Do Ultraviolet Rays Have on Yeast Colony Growth?
- Expression Cloning
- Extracting Onion DNA
- Fish Markets and Sustainability
- Foldit: Playing a Game While Solving Protein Structures
- Forensic Science: Building Your Own Tool for Identifying DNA
- Glitter-Go-Round: Snow Globe Science with a Centrifuge
- How Well Do Disinfectants Work?
Do you have a specific question about a career as a Biological Technician that isn't answered on this page? Post your question on the Science Buddies Ask an Expert Forum.
- BLS. (2009). Occupational Outlook Handbook (OOH), 2008-09 Edition, Bureau of Labor Statistics. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://www.bls.gov/oco/
- NIH Office of Science Education. (n.d.). LifeWorks. Retrieved March 20, 2014, from http://nihlifeworks.org/
- O*Net Online. (2009). National Center for O*Net Development. Retrieved May 1, 2009, from http://online.onetcenter.org/
- NIH Office of Science Education. (2009). Meet a real Technician, Biological, Jason Sacks. Retrieved February 16, 2010, from http://science.education.nih.gov/LifeWorks.nsf/Interviews/Jason+Sacks
- NIH Office of Science Education. (2009). Meet a real Technician, Biological, Peggy Hall. Retrieved February 16, 2010, from http://science.education.nih.gov/LifeWorks.nsf/Interviews/Peggy+Hall
- NIH Office of Science Education. (2009). Meet a real Technician, Biological, Keisha Hines-Harris. Retrieved February 16, 2010, from http://science.education.nih.gov/LifeWorks.nsf/Interviews/Keisha+Hines-Harris
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