Education and Training: Associate's or bachelor's degree
Salary: Median—$15.97 per hour
Employment Outlook: Good
Definition and Nature of the Work
Biological technicians assist scientists who study living things and their life processes. Like agricultural technicians and medical laboratory technicians, biological technicians work in the life sciences. Their field is biology, which is a very broad life science area. Biological technicians may be called biology technicians, biological aides, laboratory technicians, or laboratory assistants.
Biological technicians help life scientists by gathering information, materials, and samples. They set up scientific apparatus, do calculations, and draw simple graphs and charts. Technicians often perform tests and experiments. They keep records and report the results of these tests and experiments to the scientists. Sometimes they are responsible for cleaning and maintaining laboratory equipment, such as test tubes, microscopes, scales, and animal cages. Workers who spend most of their time caring for laboratory animals, such as mice and guinea pigs, are known as laboratory animal care technicians.
The duties of biological technicians vary according to the area of biology in which they work. Some technicians, for example, work in microbiology. They help scientists who study microscopic organisms and may do experiments with molds, viruses, or bacteria. They may, for example, study the role of bacterial membranes in causing disease. Some technicians work primarily with insects. They may, for example, study the control of insects and help scientists develop new insecticides or new ways to use one kind of insect to control another.
Biological technicians are needed wherever laboratory work in biology is done. They work primarily in laboratories in colleges and universities. Some are employed in medical or agricultural research centers. Some work for government agencies or nonprofit research organizations. Others have jobs in private industry, especially in the drug, chemical, and food processing industries.
Education and Training Requirements
You can train to become a biological technician at a college or technical school that offers a program in laboratory technology. You can specialize in one area, such as animal science or plant science. Most technicians' programs take two years to complete. You may also need some on-the-job training. For some jobs, employers prefer to hire people who have a bachelor's degree in one of the biological sciences. College students may work part time in a university or hospital laboratory and apply for full-time positions when they become available.
Getting the Job
The placement office at your college or technical school can give you information about getting a job as a biological technician. State and private employment agencies may be able to put you in touch with laboratories that need technicians. You can also find job openings listed in newspaper classifieds, professional journals, or job banks on the Internet. You may want to apply directly to colleges and universities, government agencies, and companies that hire biological technicians. To get a government job, you will probably have to take a civil service test.
Advancement Possibilities and Employment Outlook
Advancement depends on education, experience, and job performance. Biological technicians sometimes start as laboratory assistants. They generally receive more responsibility and higher salaries as they show that they can do their jobs well. Some become supervisors of other technicians. Others advance by getting jobs in areas related to laboratory work, such as technical writing or biological equipment sales. Technicians who get doctoral degrees can become scientists.
Overall employment of science technicians in general and biological technicians in particular is expected to increase about as fast as average for all occupations through the year 2014. The continued growth of the biotechnology industry will continue to create demand for biological technicians. The fastest employment growth of biological technicians, however, should occur in the pharmaceutical industry. An aging population will increase demand for innovative and improved drugs, further spurring demand for biological technicians.
Biological technicians generally work in laboratories that are clean, airy, well lighted, and well equipped. Depending on the specific job, however, they may have to spend some time outside the laboratory gathering samples and information or doing other tasks. For example, technicians who study plant life sometimes have to care for plants growing in outdoor fields. Technicians who deal with fish may have to take water samples and check fish in various rivers or lakes.
Biological technicians should be flexible workers who can follow the directions of scientists carefully, keep detailed and accurate logs of experimental procedures they conducted, and work as part of a scientific research team. Since laboratory tests often must be repeated many times, technicians must also have a great deal of patience. They generally work thirty-five to forty hours per week. In some cases they may have to work rotating shifts when test results have to be recorded around the clock, or they may have to come in at unusual times to carry out the experimental procedure.
Where to Go for More Information
American Institute of Biological Sciences
1444 I St. NW, Ste. 200
Washington, DC 20005
Earnings and Benefits
Earnings depend on the education and experience of the biological technician, the location, and the kind of job. In 2004 the median hourly wage of biological technicians was $15.97. In 2005 the average annual salary for biological technicians working for the federal government was $38,443. Benefits usually include paid holidays and vacations, health insurance, and pension plans.