Laboratory Technicians and Technologists
Exploring this Job
It is difficult for people interested in a career in laboratory technology to gain any direct experience through part-time employment. There are some other ways, however, to learn more about this career on a firsthand basis. Perhaps the best way is to arrange a visit to a commercial laboratory to see technicians and technologists at work at their jobs. Another way to learn about this kind of work in general, and about the training required in particular, is to visit an accredited school of laboratory technology to discuss career plans with an admissions counselor at the school. You can also contact the sources listed at the end of this article for more reading material on laboratory technology or visit their Web sites. High school science courses with laboratory sections will give you exposure to some of the kinds of work you might do later in your career.
To learn more about biotechnology, contact the associations listed at the end of this article. Additionally, the Biotechnology Institute publishes Your World: Biotechnology & You, a biotechnology magazine for students in grades 7–12. Visit Your World at http://www.biotechinstitute.org/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=78 to read issues of the magazine.
Laboratory technicians and technologists perform experiments, procedures, and other tasks in biotechnology research. They work in a variety of biotechnology-related fields. Some work for biotechnology/pharmaceutical companies to develop and test new drugs. Others work in agricultural science, helping to develop genetically engineered plants and animals or biofuels. Others work in manufacturing, environmental remediation, and forensic science. Regardless of their employer, laboratory technicians and technologists all have knowledge of molecular biology and are able to perform basic laboratory procedures.
Although job duties vary by industry, workers share some general responsibilities. Some of these duties include weighing materials; preparing and using pipettes; washing, drying, and sterilizing glassware and plastic ware for use in experiments; tracking and ordering supplies; following directions from scientists and engineers; following regulations that detail the traits of well-run laboratories; selecting, preparing, and studying specimens or samples; cleaning laboratory facilities and equipment after use; using precision laboratory equipment; producing written and electronic reports regarding their findings; and maintaining computer databases that track their findings.
Experienced technicians and technologists may be given a certain amount of latitude to oversee experiments, develop conclusions, and make suggestions to scientists and engineers regarding their findings.
Laboratory work is increasingly becoming automated. Robots and automated equipment controlled by computers now handle many basic tasks in laboratories. Laboratory automation specialists oversee this equipment that performs tasks such as high throughput screening (equipment that conducts many types of tests on a substance rapidly) and handles toxic or infectious materials.
Cytogenetic technologists are specialized laboratory professionals who analyze chromosomes found in biological specimens. Their work helps in the study, diagnosis, and treatment of genetic diseases. Molecular genetics technologists use the nucleic acids DNA/RNA to learn about the relationship between genetics and personal health.