Pros and Cons of a Chemistry Lab Technician Career
Chemistry lab technicians generally work alongside chemists and other technicians, organizing the lab workspace, maintaining cleanliness of equipment, creating chemical solutions, and performing chemical experiments. Check out the chart below for some ups and downs to a chemistry lab technician career.
|Pros of a Chemistry Lab Tech Career|
|An associate's degree is the typical educational requirement for entry-level jobs*|
|Can work in a variety of lab industries (environment, medicine, food, paint, textiles)**|
|With experience, you may have job freedom to design new experiments**|
|May advance to chemist position, if you have a bachelor's degree*|
|Cons of a Chemistry Lab Tech Career|
|Average job growth of 9% predicted between 2012 and 2022 for all chemical technicians*|
|Entry-level salaries can be low***|
|Exposure to hazardous chemicals*|
|May have to juggle several projects at once*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Del Mar College, ***Online job postings from September 2012
Essential Career Information
Chemistry lab technicians generally work alongside chemists and other technicians. A full-time schedule is common. Typical job duties include organizing the lab workspace, maintaining cleanliness of equipment, creating chemical solutions, and performing chemical experiments. With job experience and skill level, you may advance to designing your own experiments and creating new chemical formulas.
You may work in a research and development lab, helping to create and test new medicines or sustainable forms of chemical energy. Alternatively, you might complete chemical tests on a variety of substances, for quality control or for assessment of environment pollutant levels. Furthermore, you might work in labs focusing on testing of plastics, food, or petrochemicals. You're also responsible for presenting the results of your work, through graphs and reports, with explanations that are comprehensible by non-scientists.
Salary Info and Employment Outlook
As reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2014, chemical technicians earned a mean salary of around $47,000, which is right on base with the national average wage. Technicians working for the federal executive branch made the highest salaries, with a $68,000 mean annual wage. From 2012 to 2022, employment of chemical technicians is expected to increase by 9%, which is as fast as the national average.
What Are the Requirements?
Education and Training
An associate's degree is the standard level of education required to obtain an entry-level position. A 2-year degree program in chemical laboratory technology will likely include courses in chemical calculations, analytical chemistry, organic chemistry, and instrumental analysis. Laboratory courses provide the hands-on, experiential learning you need to familiarize yourself with lab equipment, common techniques, and safety procedures. You also learn research and communication skills you need for a job, and some schools even help you craft a portfolio that demonstrates your capabilities. If you earn a bachelor's degree in chemistry or a related discipline with chemistry courses and several lab courses, you can also qualify for lab technician jobs.
Once hired, you can expect to go through a period of on-the-job training. You'll need to learn lab procedures and safety protocols specific to the industry in which you're working.
Important Skills and Qualities
Chemistry laboratory technicians must have high-level laboratory skills. You'll need to know how to use equipment including various types of flasks, gas burners, fume hoods, balances, and vacuum pumps. Knowledge of common lab procedures, like microscopy, spectroscopy, chemical separation, and chromatography, is also necessary.
In addition to technical know-how, precise measurements and attention to detail during experiments are crucial to producing accurate results. Moreover, you need strong reasoning and writing skills to accurately convey the results in lab reports. Since you'll usually work on a team with supervising chemists and other lab technicians, clear spoken communication skills and willingness to collaborate are also necessary.
What Employers Look For
Online job postings from September 2012 reveal that chemistry lab technicians typically needed a few years of laboratory experience for entry-level jobs. A college degree is not always required, though it can make you a more desirable candidate. The job posting summaries below provide a snapshot of requirements for chemistry lab technicians:
- A community college in New Jersey needed a technician to supervise students in the lab as well as maintain the lab equipment and inventory. An associate's degree was required, though a bachelor's was preferred. Experience preparing chemical solutions and knowledge of safety standards were necessary.
- An Ohio steel manufacturing company was looking for someone to chemically analyze steel samples. Knowledge of automated chemistry software and spectrometers and an ability to learn to operate industry machines were required. The minimum educational requirement was a high school diploma and two years of laboratory experience, but an associate's degree was preferred.
- A Texas-based petrochemical company sought a chemical technician to test gasoline and diesel as well as other flammable fuels. One year of postsecondary chemistry courses plus laboratory experience were requested, though not absolutely necessary, since on-the-job training was provided.
How Can I Stand Out?
According to the BLS, graduating from an applied science degree program and having strong skills in using high-tech laboratory equipment can give you an edge. To enhance your lab skills, consider completing an internship or other practical training program while earning your degree, so that you can enter the job market with experience.
Though it will require completing an extra two years of education, consider earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Employers may prefer a candidate with a bachelor's degree, and some chemistry laboratory technician positions require it as well. Another bonus of having a bachelor's degree is that you may be able to advance to the position of chemist and lead a team of technicians after gaining years of experience.
If you would like a higher level of job independence in the chemistry field and you're willing to undergo a longer postsecondary program, consider becoming a chemist. With a bachelor's degree, you can work in entry-level positions, though with a graduate degree you'll have better prospects of attaining research jobs. To lead major research projects, you typically need a doctorate. Gaining practical experience, through internships or research assistantships, is encouraged. Many chemists focus on a particular discipline, such as organic chemistry, analytical chemistry, or medicinal chemistry. You need to learn to use complex lab equipment and sophisticated computer software.
According to the BLS, earning potential is quite a bit higher; chemists earned a mean annual wage of $75,000 in May 2011. Unfortunately, job growth is also expected to be slow, with a predicted 4% increase between 2010 and 2020.
If the slow job growth projections for chemistry lab technicians and chemists discourage you, another technician-level job with good job prospects that you might consider is that of an environmental science technician. An associate's degree in a life science or technical science field qualifies you for jobs with government agencies or environmental consulting services, working to reverse destruction and protect the environment. You usually work on teams of scientists and receive some on-the-job training. Sometimes, you would be out in the field, ensuring that buildings are environmentally safe or collecting samples of water, soil, or smog. You'd also work in a lab to analyze those samples. Environment technicians use a variety of technology, including GIS and remote sensing. Having a bachelor's degree, plus experience, can set you up for promotions and higher responsibility. Some states require environmental science technicians to obtain licenses.
The mean annual wage for environmental science technicians was approximately $45,000 in May 2011, as reported by the BLS. From 2010 to 2020, a 24% increase in jobs is expected; this rate is faster than the national average.