Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Duties

Biological technicians typically do the following:

Set up, maintain, and clean laboratory instruments and equipment, such as microscopes, scales, and test tubes

  • Gather and prepare biological samples, such as blood, food, or bacteria cultures, for laboratory analysis
  • Conduct biological tests and experiments 
  • Document their work, including procedures, observations, and results
  • Analyze experimental data and interpret results
  • Write reports that summarize their findings

Most biological technicians work on teams. Biological technicians typically are responsible for doing scientific tests, experiments, and analyses under the supervision of biologists or other scientists who direct and evaluate their work. Biological technicians use traditional laboratory instruments, advanced robotics, and automated equipment to conduct experiments. They use specialized computer software to collect, analyze, and model experimental data. Some biological technicians will need to collect samples. To do this, they may need to have certain skills, such as handling a boat so they could collect water samples.

Biological technicians work in many research areas. They may assist medical researchers by helping to develop new medicines and treatments used to prevent, treat, or cure diseases.

Biological technicians working in a microbiological context, sometimes referred to as laboratory assistants, typically study living microbes and perform techniques specific to microbiology, such as growing cultures in Petri dishes or staining specimens to aid in identification.

Technicians working in biotechnology apply the knowledge and techniques they have gained from basic research to product development.                                  

Biological technicians also may work in private industry and assist in the study of a wide range of topics concerning mining and industrial production. They may test samples in environmental impact studies, or monitor production processes to help ensure products are not contaminated.

Biological technicians working for the U.S. Department of the Interior or other government agencies may perform biological testing to support wildlife and resource management goals.

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Work Environment

Biological technicians held about 80,200 jobs in 2012. The industries employing the most biological technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 32%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences 23
Federal government, excluding postal service 15
Chemical manufacturing 8
Hospitals; state, local, and private 8
Testing laboratories 4

Biological technicians typically work in laboratories and offices, where they conduct experiments and analyze the results under the supervision of biological scientists and medical scientists. Some biological technicians who do fieldwork may be exposed to weather events and wildlife, such as mosquitoes.

Biological technicians must follow strict procedures to avoid contaminating the experiment, themselves, or the environment. Some experiments may involve dangerous organisms or toxic substances.

Biological technicians work together on teams under the direction of biologists or other scientists.

Work Schedules

Most biological technicians work full time and keep regular hours. About 1 in 5 biological technicians worked part time in 2012.

Education and Training

Biological technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. It is important for prospective biological technicians to gain laboratory experience while they are in school.

Education

Biological technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. Most colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in the biological sciences.

Biological science programs usually include courses in general biology, as well as in specific subfields such as ecology, microbiology, and physiology. In addition to taking courses in biology, students must study chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Computer science courses are helpful for learning how to model and simulate biological processes and for learning how to operate some laboratory equipment. 

Laboratory experience is important for prospective biological technicians, and students should take biology courses that emphasize laboratory work.

Other Experience

Prospective biological technicians should have laboratory experience. In addition to coursework, laboratory experience may be gained during summer internships with prospective employers, such as pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers, or in university laboratories.

Advancement

Biological technicians may advance to scientist positions, such as a microbiologist, after a few years of experience working as a technician or after earning a graduate degree. Gaining more experience and higher levels of education often allows biological technicians to move into positions such as natural sciences managers or postsecondary teachers.

Personality and Interests

Biological technicians typically have an interest in the Building, Thinking and Organizing interest areas, according to the Holland Code framework. The Building interest area indicates a focus on working with tools and machines, and making or fixing practical things. The Thinking interest area indicates a focus on researching, investigating, and increasing the understanding of natural laws. The Organizing interest area indicates a focus on working with information and processes to keep things arranged in orderly systems.

If you are not sure whether you have a Building or Thinking or Organizing interest which might fit with a career as a biological technician, you can take a career test to measure your interests.

Biological technicians should also possess the following specific qualities:

Analytical skills. Biological technicians need to be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.

Communication skills. Biological technicians must be able to understand and follow the instructions of their managing scientists. They also need to be able to clearly communicate their processes and findings in written reports.

Critical-thinking skills. Biological technicians draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.

Observational skills. Biological technicians must constantly monitor their experiments. They need to keep a complete, accurate record of their work, such as the conditions under which the experiment was carried out, the procedures they followed, and the results they obtained.

Technical skills. Biological technicians must be able to set up and operate sophisticated equipment and instruments. They also may need to adjust equipment to ensure that experiments are conducted properly.

Pay

The median annual wage for biological technicians was $39,750 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,280, and the top 10 percent earned more than $64,880.

In May 2012, median annual wages for biological technicians in the top six industries employing these technicians were as follows:

Chemical manufacturing $45,380
Research and development in the physical, engineering,
and life sciences
42,330
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state,
local, and private
40,450
Hospitals; state, local, and private 38,450
Testing laboratories 36,260
Federal government, excluding postal service 33,630

Most biological technicians work full time and keep regular hours. About 1 in 5 biological technicians worked part time in 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of biological technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Greater demand for biotechnology research is expected to increase the need for these workers. 

Biotechnology research plays a key role in scientific advancements that improve our quality of life. Biological technicians will be needed to help scientists develop new treatments for diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

In agriculture, biotechnology research will be used to create genetically engineered crops that provide greater yields and require less pesticide and fertilizer. Efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean and preserve the environment will also continue to add to job growth. In addition, biological technicians will be needed to help develop alternative sources of energy, such as biofuels and better sources of renewable biomass.

Job Prospects

Applicants who have laboratory experience, either through coursework or through previous work experience, should have the best opportunities.

For More Information

For more information on career opportunities in the biological sciences, visit

American Institute for Biological Sciences

American Society for Cell Biology

American Society for Microbiology

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

To find job openings for biological technician ing the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

FAQ

Where does this information come from?

The career information above is taken from the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook. This excellent resource for occupational data is published by the U.S. Department of Labor every two years. Truity periodically updates our site with information from the BLS database.

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I am not sure if this career is right for me. How can I decide?

There are many excellent tools available that will allow you to measure your interests, profile your personality, and match these traits with appropriate careers. We recommend the Career Personality Profiler assessment ($29), the Holland Code assessment ($19), or the Photo Career Quiz (free).