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Lab technician: What I do and how much I make

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my name is Brian dobisch I am 23 years old I am a research associate more comfort to as a lab tech at the Weiss lab for synthetic biology at MIT and I make $47,000 a year synthetic biology is really an interface of many different fields biology chemistry physics Electrical Engineering Computer Engineering Chemical Engineering so it's all these different fields coming together bringing their expertise to tackle a biological problem we're trying to induce systems or processes in cells within the body that we don't have naturally for example for some chronic disease you might take a pill every single day instead of taking a pill every day maybe it will just give you an injection once a month and that can be a lot cheaper less manual labor on the patient that could be a lot better so in the lab there's definitely a very defined heart hierarchy and this will change from lab to lab but in general you have your PI which is your principal investigator the person in charge and underneath them they have a group of postdocs postdoc meaning people who have their PhD in or doing something right after practice for running their own lab perhaps and then you also have graduate students people in the process of getting their masters or PhD and then you also have lab techs a Research Associates we talk back to the postdocs the principal investigator and some of the grant students and a system with their work doing a lot of the day-to-day tasks lab techs I would say are generally are they're undergrads or people who have recently graduated but you do have some lab technicians that are also having that as their career as a lab tech I spend most of my time within the lab doing wet work moving liquid from tubes of tubes such as enzymes DNA RNA using a pipette which is a liquid hangar that could handle very small amounts of liquid I also am part of EHS which is Environmental Health and Safety and making sure that we're up to compliance and talking to the proper people about managing or hazardous waste where that goes and other safety regulations some of my main responsibilities in more science terms I will clone DNA which is the blueprint and then from DNA I will make RNA and from RNA you will try to affect that into cells which will then make a protein product which you can measure using a few different instruments and once you collect that data you'll analyze it and then present it in such a way that other people can understand it and then because this is an engineering lab you then take that data that you got and you go back to the design step because nothing is ever perfect in science or anything else and so you start see what happened and you try and make it better and you keep on doing this iterative design cycle until you get a product that you're happy with if there's a structural defect and maybe your heart there's a valve missing perhaps you know a lot of times you'll have surgery that can replace that but the hope for the future is that maybe we can put in stem cells that know how to reorganize themselves and can create a portion of that organ again there could be a lot safer easier than our current methods not invasive perhaps but one of the things that I like about science that it's a puzzle and so you have to be wanting to really enjoy problem-solving mindset and you have to be curious about what's going on you can't just tackle a problem without caring about it and you have to be voracious for knowledge really wanting to learn as much as you can understand what is going on and then of course you have to communicate with other people so you have to be good at talking and be able to communicate with others effectively definitely in addition to communication you should certainly be a good listener as well because not only do you have to communicate your ideas or your data you have to listen to the data and ideas from other people so that you can not only learn from them but incorporate that into your own designs and we our own work and then additional skills are always if you have more programming knowledge that's always a plus because that could help with being able to analyze data you have a digital arts background making figures and graphs appealing to the eye and easy to communicate data with is incredibly important and actually a lot of scientists lacked the ability my first time when I got into a lab was in high school and at the I had no idea what a lab environment was like I had never worn a lab coat before I had never touched a mouse I was a little bit squeamish about that at first and so there's definitely a whole new series of experiences that you would never get just growing up and it was a lot to take in at first but hopefully if you're in a good lab environment your mentor and the other people around you will be understanding and willing to help yeah I've definitely made a lot of mistakes I remember when I was in undergrad working in this one lab we have an instrument that is equal to control temperature really well so if you have a reaction that requires a particular temperature to work at that's not just room temp you use this machine when I set up this machine I had my notebook right next to it a physical notebook and the machine turned on fans go if you have to exhaust all the heat that you're generating and my notebook page went up on top of the machine covered the fan and everything started smoking up and that was one of my first experiences of oh my goodness what have I done because I ruined the machine which is not a cheap one overall people are understanding it's people both get very invested in their experiments so when someone else screws it up it can be difficult but part of science is understanding that things can go wrong and it's not anyone's fault necessarily so when I was applying for this job I definitely was aware of the range of salaries that I could be getting and when I was hired I was hired at forty thousand dollars a year and then there was a proposal by the National Institute of Health NIH for people on NRSA grants to make a higher amount and so when that was proposed MIT raised the salaries of all lab techs and postdocs to that amount that was later overruled but MIT has kept it at that so if you stay on at MIT if you stay on as a lab tech you do annually get a raise but it's small increments and in an academic environment that is definitely a ceiling that can be tough to breach but there are ways around it I've seen a lot of people go from a lab tech role into maybe an EHS advisory role or becoming lab managers later on in their careers but an academic Demian there's definitely a ceiling that can be tough to reach without a higher degree as a masters or PhD industry Labs or government position if you can make a little bit more than you do in academia maybe upwards of 70 or 80 thousand a year working on that can be incredibly fun and also frustrating if you're solving a problem or attempting to solve a problem that no one else has tackled before has really had an answer to you're doing something that no one else has done before and that's a really cool thing for me it makes sense that would also be incredibly frustrating because if you're solving something so difficult well there's a reason it's difficult here gonna experience a lot of failure a lot of issues along the way and so it's both good and bad being in that lab
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