Learn about the training and experience required to become a lab tech in biology.
Becoming a biology lab technician requires a combination of academic study and hands-on experience. A bachelor’s degree in biology or a related field is usually required. During your biology program, you will take classes in subjects such as cell biology and biochemistry, as well as related subjects such as math, chemistry, and physics.
While completing your degree, look for opportunities to intern in a lab affiliated with your program or at a separate institute. Start by reading about the work of different labs, and email those whose research piques your interest. Many labs are willing to invest time in training someone if they show a genuine passion for the project. Interning will enable you to develop lab techniques and begin to explore different research topics. Consider interning in multiple labs in order to diversify your skills and build your network.
Lab technicians work in two primary environments: industry and academia. In industry, compensation tends to be higher and more stable, particularly at large companies. In academic environments, funding for research is dependent on grants, thus positions may be short term; however, lab technicians may find that they have more flexibility in their role and the chance to pursue more varied tasks. These are broad generalizations that may not be true for every position - the best way to learn more about the work, compensation, and growth opportunities in a particular lab or company is to ask several questions throughout the interview process.
In order to advance in this field, lab technicians often pursue a master’s degree or PhD after gaining a few year’s of work experience in a lab setting. Pursuing an advanced degree can open doors to pursue independent research and move into positions such as postdoctoral research associate, staff scientist, and principal investigator.
This advancement also comes with a higher salary. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median salary for a biology lab technician in 2016 was $42,520. In contrast, the median salary for a medical research scientist (a position that typically requires a PhD) was $80,530.
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