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, pipets, and test tubes
  • Gather and prepare biological samples, such as blood, food, and 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

Biological technicians, sometimes called laboratory assistants, typically are responsible for doing scientific tests, experiments, and analyses under the supervision of biologists (such as microbiologists) or medical 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, such as those who assist the work of zoologists and wildlife biologists, may collect samples in the field, so they may need the ability to hike rugged terrain or otherwise travel through wilderness areas.

Biological technicians work in many research areas. They may assist medical researchers by administering new medicines and treatments to laboratory animals. They may separate proteins from other cell material, and analyze data from an experiment.

Biological technicians working in a microbiological context typically study living microbes and perform techniques specific to microbiology, such as staining specimens to aid identification.

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

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Work Environment

Biological technicians held about 85,000 jobs in 2018. The largest employers of biological technicians were as follows:

Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences                          29%
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 29
Federal government, excluding postal service 11
Hospitals; state, local, and private 10
Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing 6

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.

Education and Training

Biological technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. Although it is less common, some positions may be available to those with less than a bachelor’s degree. 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. Some positions may be available to associate’s degree holders or those without a degree but who have biological laboratory experience.

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, math, 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, so students should take biology courses that emphasize laboratory work.

Other Experience

Prospective biological technicians should have laboratory experience. In addition to coursework, students may gain laboratory experience 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 microbiologist or biochemist and biophysicist, after a few years of experience working as a technician or after earning a master’s degree or Ph.D. 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 $45,860 in May 2019. 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 $29,540, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $73,350.

In May 2019, the median annual wages for biological technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

Pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing $51,100
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences                             48,210
Hospitals; state, local, and private 47,400
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private 44,480
Federal government, excluding postal service 43,430

Most biological technicians work full time and keep regular hours.

Job Outlook

Employment of biological technicians is projected to grow 7 percent from 2018 to 2028, faster than the average for all occupations. Greater demand for biological and medical research is expected to increase the need for these workers.

Biotechnology research plays a key role in scientific advancements that improve people’s quality of life. One new area of biotechnology, synthetic biology, will employ biological technicians in attempts to redesign biological systems or living organisms to produce useful things, such as chemicals, in more efficient ways than are currently used. New applications of biotechnology may be the subject of research topics ranging from new ways to produce biofuels to providing new treatments for diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

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 about career opportunities in the biological sciences, visit

American Institute of Biological Sciences

American Society for Cell Biology

American Society for Microbiology

DIYbio

Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology

To find job openings for biological technicians in the federal government, visit

USAJOBS

CareerOneStop

For a career video on biological technicians, visit

Biological technicians

 

FAQ

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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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