Laboratory Testing Technicians


Exploring this Job

Due to the precision and training required in the field, it is unlikely that as a high school student you will be able to find a part-time or summer job as a laboratory testing technician. However, you can explore the career by contacting local technical colleges and arranging to speak with a professor in the school's technician program. Ask about the required classes, the opportunities available in your area, and any other questions you have. Through this connection you may also be able to contact a graduate of the program and arrange for an information interview with him or her. Although you probably won't be able to get work as a laboratory testing technician at this point, some research companies and plants do offer summer jobs to high school students to work in their offices or mail rooms. These jobs do not offer hands-on technical experience, but they do allow you to experience the work environment.

The Job

Laboratory testing technicians assist scientists in conducting tests on many substances and products. They are trained to use the required tools and instruments. Those who serve as quality control technicians test products to see that they are safe to use and meet performance specifications. Most of these technicians either work for testing laboratories or in research and development centers. They may test toys for safety by looking for small, separable parts, sharp edges, and fragility. Or they may test electric toasters for correct wiring, tendency to smoke or spark, and for proper grounding. In short, laboratory testing technicians in quality control are responsible for certifying that a product or material will perform according to specifications.

Not only do technicians test new products for safety and durability, but they also perform failure analyses to determine the cause of the problem and how it can be prevented. Technicians also evaluate incoming materials, such as metals, ceramics, and chemicals, before they are used to verify that their suppliers have shipped the specified products. Materials technicians prepare specimens, set up equipment, run heating and cooling tests, and record test results. These tests are designed to determine how a certain alloy functions in a variety of test conditions. Not only do these technicians work with the test materials, they also assess the equipment used to perform the tests. For example, a technician may run tests to determine the proper temperature settings for a furnace. Some technicians may oversee the work of others to see if they are doing their assignments correctly.

Those who work in the medical field are called medical technicians, medical laboratory technicians, clinical laboratory technicians, or clinical technicians. They work in hospitals, universities, doctors' offices, and research laboratories. They set up equipment and perform tests on body fluids, tissues, and cells; perform blood counts; and identify parasites and bacteria. Medical technicians also work in veterinary and pharmaceutical laboratories.

Some geological technicians test shale, sand, and other earthen materials to find the petroleum and/or mineral content. Tests are run on core samples during oil well drilling to determine what's present in the well bore. Technicians who specialize in testing ores and minerals for metal content are called assayers.

Regardless of the specific nature of the tests conducted by technicians, they must always keep detailed records of every step. Laboratory technicians often do a great deal of writing and must make charts, graphs, and other displays to illustrate results. They may be called on to interpret test results, to draw overall conclusions, and to make recommendations. Occasionally, laboratory testing technicians are asked to appear as witnesses in court to explain why a product failed and who may be at fault.