What does a laboratory technician do? (Plus skills and tips)
By Indeed Editorial Team
Updated 7 September 2022 | Published 30 November 2021
Updated 7 September 2022
Published 30 November 2021
The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.
Laboratory technicians work in laboratories to support scientific research and analysis. If you're considering a career as a laboratory technician, it's important to understand what the role involves. Knowing what this role entails can help you determine whether this career is right for you. In this article, we explore what laboratory technicians do, define the role, discuss primary duties and salary, discover necessary skills, learn how to become a laboratory technician and list possible career opportunities.
What does a laboratory technician do?
If you're considering becoming a laboratory technician, you may ask, 'what does a laboratory technician do?'. As a laboratory technician, your responsibilities may vary between roles, but you generally have to carry out various lab-based processes to support the work of scientists and other science professionals. Some of the typical duties of a lab technician include:
carrying out laboratory testing in order to produce data in support of scientific research
preparing samples and specimens
assembling, maintaining and using standard laboratory equipment such as centrifuges and pH meters
cleaning equipment and safely disposing of lab waste
recording and interpreting test results
stocking, cleaning and organising the laboratory
following and implementing strict lab safety guidelines
using computers to organise data and prepare graphs
Your specific responsibilities in a lab depend on how much experience you have as a lab technician and in what field you work. For example, if you work as a laboratory technician for a company that researches and develops new medicines and drugs, you may be spending your time testing different chemical compounds to see how they react together and how they might affect people or animals taking them. If you worked in environmental health you might be analysing soil samples to look for traces of chemicals and other hazardous substances.
What is a laboratory technician?
Laboratory technicians carry out work in a lab that allows scientists to focus on more complex analytical tasks. Laboratory technicians assist scientists in carrying out laboratory research and testing and can work within the biological, chemical, physical or life science areas. Lab technicians perform an essential function in laboratories, providing technical support to ensure that all lab personnel carry out lab research safely and accurately.
Related: How to become a clinical scientist
Laboratory technician's salary and work environment
The average salary for a laboratory technician is £22,151 per year, although this salary can depend upon your education, experience and where you work. You can increase your salary as a lab technician by studying for further qualifications and developing your relevant skills in order to secure more senior positions within a lab. Most lab technicians have a working week of around 37 hours, most of which take place in a laboratory setting.
In some employment settings, you may be on call for emergencies or to take on some night shifts. Laboratory technician jobs are available in labs throughout the UK, and you are likely to spend most of your day working with other technicians and scientists in a lab. This role may involve some heavy lifting and you have to work with dangerous chemicals and substances on a regular basis.
What skills do laboratory technicians need?
Once you know the answer to 'what do laboratory technicians do', it's important to consider whether this career path is right for your strengths and abilities. Lab work can be hard, and it often means long hours spent working under pressure and on your feet. It's important to develop the skills you need to succeed in a laboratory job. Use the lab technician skills checklist below to make sure you have the skills necessary to become a laboratory technician:
Technical problem-solving: You learn specific skills relating to how to use laboratory equipment and use your initiative to solve technical issues when they occur.
Time-management skills: You require time management skills to manage several research projects at the same time.
Physical stamina: You may work on your feet all day, so having adequate stamina to do this without losing concentration is important when performing specific tasks.
Communication skills: You may possess strong verbal and written communication skills, both to communicate with other technicians and scientists working in the lab and write up accurate reports on your findings during testing.
Dexterity and fine motor skills: Lab work is precise, requiring you to use needles and other small lab instruments accurately. Fine motor skills and steady hands are important for work as a lab technician.
Attention to detail: You may have excellent attention to detail in order to monitor the progress and results of various tests and follow the instructions of laboratory tests and experiments exactly.
To become a laboratory technician, you may also have good essential maths and computing skills and knowledge of laboratory equipment and testing methods. You may also need management skills to progress to more senior roles in a laboratory.
How to become a lab technician?
You don't always need a degree to become a lab technician, but some qualifications in scientific subjects can help you secure your first role in a lab. You can also become a lab technician by taking an apprenticeship. See some recommended steps below:
1. Get qualified
Lab technician roles are competitive, so getting qualifications in a relevant subject can increase your chances of successfully applying for a role in a lab. Examples of qualifications that can help you to secure a position as a lab technician include:
an undergraduate degree in chemistry, biology, life sciences or physics
an HND or HNC in biology, pharmacology, forensic science, biochemistry and other similar subjects which involve lab time
relevant NVQsin laboratory sciences or similar
You rarely need any postgraduate degrees or qualifications to secure a position as a lab technician, however, you may choose to study for further qualifications while working in a lab in order to qualify for more senior positions.
Related: How to become a lab technician
2. Apply for an apprenticeship
If you decide to study while you work, you may prefer to become a lab technician by applying for a lab-based apprenticeship. This route into the career is less common, but it can be a good choice for candidates who want to go straight into work. You can search for laboratory technician apprenticeships online using job listings websites.
3. Get lab experience
Gaining experience working in a professional laboratory setting can help you to secure your first job as a lab technician. You can apply for internships or contact local laboratories and ask them if you can volunteer or shadow in a lab for a week or two. This demonstrates to future employers that you understand what working in a professional lab setting is like and are familiar with the strict health and safety protocols that you must follow when working in a lab.
4. Write a lab technician CV
It's important to write a new CV for every position you apply for, even if they are all lab technician roles. Use the job advert of the role you're applying for as a reference and make sure that you highlight in your CV all of the experience and skills that your future employer is seeking. You can apply to all the positions you find that are suitable for you in terms of location, salary and responsibilities.
Career opportunities for lab technicians
Once you have secured a job as a lab technician, you can likely carry on training on the job, learn new skills and develop your existing skills. Continuing professional development is important for laboratory technicians, who must be careful to keep their knowledge of lab equipment and testing protocols up to date.
You can work towards the Registered Science Technician Award (RSciTech), which formally recognises your experience as a lab technician and may help you to gain more senior leadership positions in a lab. You can also consider going back to university to study for more advanced degrees, such as a master's degree or a PhD if you may like to further your career as a scientist. Possible routes for promotion as a laboratory technician include:
Technician roles, including senior and lead technician
Laboratory manager roles
Lead scientist roles, with further study
In order to gain a promotion, you may take on further responsibilities at work and may need to apply for positions with other employers, particularly if you are currently working in a smaller lab. There are many employers of lab technicians around the country, including utility companies, food manufacturing companies, government departments and pharmaceutical companies.
Salary figures reflect data listed on Indeed Salaries at time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location. Please note that none of the companies, institutions or organisations mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
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