Pros and Cons of a Biological Technician Career
Biological technicians work in laboratories to research diseases, test medicines and study organisms. Check out these pros and cons to see if becoming a biological technician is right for you.
|Pros of a Biological Technician Career|
|Average growth field (Employment projected to grow 10% from 2012-2022)*|
|No licensing requirements*|
|Opportunities to work in various industries*|
|Satisfaction of improving people's lives*|
|Cons of a Biological Technician Career|
|Possible exposure to hazardous materials*|
|May require hours of standing or stooping**|
|Requires strict attention to detail**|
|Advanced computer and math skills required*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **National Institutes of Health
Essential Career Info
Biological technicians can work in any industry where biological research is being performed. The largest industry employers are scientific research companies, universities, governmental departments, pharmaceutical companies and hospitals. Generally, biological technicians do not work overtime or evening hours, but sometimes you may need to check on an experiment that is completed outside of traditional working hours. Working with biological materials can be hazardous, especially if you work with certain diseases, but following standard precautions and procedures should cut down on exposure.
Salary and Job Prospects
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported in May 2014 that biological technicians made a median annual wage of $41,000 (www.bls.gov). Those working the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing industry made an average annual wage of $51,280, while those in hospitals made an average of $42,910. The BLS projected a 10% increase in employment of biological technicians from 2012-2022, which is about as fast as the average for all occupations. This increase will be mostly due to an aging population's demand for improved pharmaceuticals as well as biotechnological solutions in agriculture.
Education and Training Requirements
Although some scientific technicians can begin work with an associate's degree, biological technicians generally need a bachelor's degree to begin work in the field. You could choose a major in biology or another life science in order to learn the fundamentals of the field and to gain lab experience. After completing a bachelor's degree program, you may still require some on-the-job training, particularly if the lab in which you're employed uses equipment you haven't seen before. You would work under the supervision of a biologist and perform more complex procedures as you learn the skills specific to the laboratory.
What Employers Are Looking for
Generally, most employers list a bachelor's degree in biology as required education. Check out these summaries of job postings open in March 2012 to get an idea of what employers are looking for:
- A lab in Kansas was looking to hire a biological technician to work in the specimen processing department on a flexible schedule. Qualifications included a bachelor's degree, data entry skills and the ability to stand for extended periods of time.
- A Pennsylvania laboratory was searching for a biological technician to work with cell cultures in the cell biology department. The posting mentioned a bachelor's degree or a combination of experience and education as qualifications.
- An animal vaccine manufacturer in Minnesota was looking for a biological technician with sterile environment experience, preferably a bachelor's degree in biology and 2-3 years of experience in a biological laboratory.
How to Stand out in the Field
Make High School Count
If you know you want to work in a biological laboratory, you should take as many math and science classes as you can during your high school curriculum. If your school offers advanced placement (AP) courses, you could enroll in those and take the AP exams. If you score well on the exams, colleges may accept your test score in place of a required introductory course. This way, you could begin more advanced college coursework earlier, and gain more lab experience and specific biological knowledge.
Get an Internship
During your college years, if you want to gain laboratory experience outside of your courses' required hours, consider participating in an internship. Whether through your university or with a private company, you could learn the basics of working in a lab and get a head start on your professional lab training.
Other Careers to Consider
If you want to work in a lab but want to work in a more direct healthcare setting, consider a career as a clinical or medical lab technician. Working to prepare and test blood, tissue and other patient specimens, clinical lab techs aid in diagnosing illness and determining treatment. Med lab techs attend 2-year training programs. The BLS reported for May 2011 that medical and clinical laboratory technicians made a median annual wage of $37,000 and predicted job growth of 15% for these technicians from 2010-2020.
If you want to work in the field of biology but would prefer not to be in a lab all day, you could become a forest or conservation technician. These workers collect data on the natural world and attempt to help humans navigate it less harmfully. You can begin work as a forest technician with a degree in a life science. The BLS reported for May 2011 that forest and conservations technicians, most of whom work for government agencies, made a median annual wage of $35,000 and could expect a decline in job openings of one percent from 2010-2020.