Become a Biology Lab Technician
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree; some employers accept an associate degree with years of experience|
|Degree Field||Biology or a related field|
|Experience||Laboratory experience in environmental toxicology, biology, animal science, or a related field|
|Key Skills||Analytical, observation, communication, and critical-thinking skills; technical aptitude|
|Salary||$45,230 (2015 average for all biological technicians)|
Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Online Job Postings (July 2012), O*Net Online
Biology lab technicians, or biological technicians, help scientists conduct tests and experiments on specimens, such as bacteria cultures, food or blood. They're responsible for collecting and preparing samples, analyzing data and documenting findings. Technicians must also set up and maintain laboratory equipment and follow sanitation procedures to comply with OSHA and EPA regulations. They often work in teams in a laboratory setting, although travel may be required to conduct field experiments. In addition to technical aptitude, biology lab technicians typically must have strong analytical, observation, communication and critical-thinking skills. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, or BLS for short, reported that biological technicians earned a mean annual salary of $45,230 as of May 2015. Additionally, the BLS projected job growth of 5%, which was about as fast as average, for the decade 2014-2024. Let's examine the steps required to become a biology lab technician.
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Earn an Associate Degree
Some employers hire biology lab technicians with an associate degree in biology if they have lab experience in environmental toxicology, biology, animal science or a related field. Associate degree programs are typically designed for transfer into a bachelor's degree program. Within the program, students examine concepts in general biology and organic chemistry.
Prospective biology lab technicians should develop good communication and interpersonal skills. Since employers typically require biology lab technicians to work on multiple projects within a team environment, the ability to communicate effectively will ensure clear exchanges with coworkers on sensitive projects. Coursework in interpersonal communication and writing can help build a technician's competence in these areas.
Aspiring technicians should also gain laboratory experience. Hands-on lab experience is crucial to gaining a position in this field, since many employers require this of applicants. While this may be hard to gain in an associate degree program, students can use electives to complete courses that provide lab experiences.
Complete a Bachelor's Degree Program
A bachelor's degree in biology, biological sciences, molecular biology or a related field is typically required for a career as a biology lab technician. These majors allow students to build competence in lab techniques and science subjects, such as biochemistry, cell biology, biological applications and biosciences. Within a biology program, students may be able to concentrate in a specific area of study, such as neurobiology or microbiology.
Additionally, the BLS emphasizes the importance of gaining laboratory work experience through summer internship programs. Students should take advantage of lab-based internship opportunities offered through the biology department or within their bachelor's degree program.
Students also might want to consider exploring several areas of biology. Some employers call for applicants to have experience in several fields, such as environmental biology or toxicology. Students who complete classes with lab experiences in several fields can build diverse lab skills, potentially opening up more job opportunities.
Consider Graduate Study
Biology lab technicians might consider continuing their education in a master's degree or doctoral program. This advanced education, along with adequate experience in the field, can qualify technicians for jobs as scientists and eventually for positions as natural sciences managers.
In summary, a bachelor's degree in biology or a related field and extensive lab experience typically are needed to work as a biology lab technician. Knowledge of several areas of biology also might boost one's job opportunities.