What Is a Biological Technician?
If you are passionate about pursuing a career in STEM, you have many choices to consider. One of these is the role of biological technician. What is a biological technician, and what is the process for how to become a biological technician? Get the answers in this detailed career guide.
The Role of a Biological Technician
A biological technician is also sometimes referred to as a laboratory assistant. These professionals work in scientific research, although they do not hold advanced degrees. This makes it the perfect career choice for students who are interested in scientific research yet are not sure they want to go through the lengthy process of earning a doctoral degree.
Biological technicians are charged with supporting the work of medical and biological scientists (such as microbiologists or marine biologists). They work under the supervision of these scientists, helping them perform experiments, collect samples and log the results.
What Does a Biological Technician Do?
A biological technician can perform a wide range of tasks for the scientists with whom they work. A typical day in the life of a laboratory assistant will depend largely on their subspecialty and the specific goals of the scientist’s research. In general, however, these professionals can expect to perform tasks such as the following:
- Determine which laboratory instruments and equipment are needed for a particular experiment, and set them up
- Maintain all laboratory instruments and equipment, ensuring that everything is sterilized properly according to lab protocols
- Collect and prepare samples for analysis (i.e., bacteria cultures, food, body fluids and other biological samples)
- Operate the lab equipment to perform tests and experiments
- Monitor ongoing experiments, record data and create summaries and findings of their work
- Prepare written reports, graphs, charts and other visual materials based on the findings of the experiments
- Perform any duties necessary for the daily operations of the lab, such as logging all daily work activities and ordering any needed supplies
Where Do Biological Technicians Work?
A biological technician’s typical workday takes place in the lab and/or the office. However, some biological technicians may need to go out into the field to collect samples or conduct experiments.
The majority of biological technicians work for companies involved with scientific research and development. Other professionals work for universities and colleges, federal governmental agencies or manufacturers that develop and produce pharmaceuticals.
How To Become a Biological Technician
If you’re in high school and find the job description of a biological technician appealing, you can get right to work on your career goals. A high school guidance counselor can help you adjust your schedule to reflect your aspirations. It’s ideal to take as many math and science classes as possible, including courses in biology, physics and chemistry.
Some high schools may offer Advanced Placement (AP) classes in math and science. An AP course is a college-level class that is taken in high school. Students can earn college credit that may transfer to the university they attend after their high school graduation.
Earn a Biological Sciences Degree
After high school, the first step in the process of becoming a biological technician is to earn an undergraduate degree. There is some flexibility regarding the type of degree that students can earn in order to pursue this career path. For instance, some come to this field with a background in biology, physical science or ecology.
For most, however, a biological sciences degree is a sound choice. This particular type of STEM degree is highly interdisciplinary. This means that students develop well-rounded competencies that will serve them well in any subspecialty they may choose. The specific curriculum will vary depending on the school, but in general, you can expect to study topics such as the following:
- Various biological concepts, including the structure and function of organisms at the molecular, cellular and organismal levels, as well as the relationships among different organisms
- Fundamental principles of chemistry, such as nomenclature, atomic structure, dimensional analysis, thermodynamics and chemical bonding
- The theories and applications of physics in biological sciences, such as how the laws of physics limit cellular processes
- The essentials of scientific research, writing and presentation, with a look at the scientific method and comprehension of science communications
- Biological diversification and change at the molecular, cellular, organismal and population levels
A biological sciences degree will combine classroom instruction with hands-on learning experiences in laboratory settings. Because of this, it’s usually not possible to complete this degree program entirely online. In an on-campus setting, you’ll benefit from in-person interactions with your peers and instructors.
Depending on the particular program, you may be required to complete a capstone course during your senior year. A capstone course is typically a major research project that draws upon everything you have learned during the previous three years. It’s an opportunity to demonstrate your research, writing and presentation skills.
While you’re working toward your degree with the goal of pursuing a biological sciences career, it’s a good idea for you to explore relevant internship and part-time job opportunities. In general, the more lab experience you get, the more employable you will be after graduation. Students are strongly encouraged to make use of their school’s career services or student advising center for help identifying local positions that are relevant to their career goals.
Join a Professional Organization
You can begin applying for positions as a lab assistant right after you graduate with a bachelor’s degree. For help landing your first entry-level job, you may decide to join a professional organization. Professional organizations offer networking opportunities, continuing education resources, career advice and, quite often, job boards.
The specific professional organization you should join will depend on your particular interests in the field. For instance, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) welcomes all who have a professional interest in biopharmaceuticals. Other possible choices include the following:
- American Institute of Biological Sciences
- American Society for Clinical Laboratory Science
- Institute of Food Technologists
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
- American Society for Nutritional Sciences
- American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology
Decide Whether to Earn a Master’s Degree
You can begin applying for positions as a lab assistant right after graduating with a bachelor’s degree, but earning a master’s degree will significantly enhance your career qualifications. It can provide a pathway toward earning a doctoral degree and becoming a medical or biological scientist later on.
If you do decide to earn a master’s degree in biological sciences or biology, you can expect another two years of full-time study. It is possible to earn a master’s degree while working as a biological technician. However, the length of time it will take to earn the graduate degree may increase to three or four years, depending on your schedule.
Earning a master’s degree will involve taking classes and, quite often, writing a master’s thesis. (Not all master’s degree programs require a master’s thesis.) A master’s thesis is a major-intensive research and writing project. On average, a master’s thesis may be 40 to 60 pages, although requirements vary by school and program.
Earn a Doctoral Degree To Become a Full Scientist
If you decide that you would like to move up from the position of biological technician to become a biological scientist, you will need to plan on earning a Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Biological Sciences. A PhD in biology — or in a subfield such as marine biology — is another option.
The average PhD program will take at least five years of full-time study, and possibly seven years or longer. As a doctoral student, you will spend the first couple of years taking classes and completing rotations. You may also serve as a teaching assistant in your department.
After taking all of the necessary classes, you often must pass a qualifying exam. Upon successful completion, you will become a doctoral candidate, whereupon you will devote your efforts to working on your dissertation. The dissertation is an original research project that involves designing and conducting your own experiments and interpreting your results. You must then defend your dissertation before a dissertation committee.
Essential Skills and Characteristics of a Biological Technician
There are many skills and traits that are helpful for aspiring biological technicians. Both lab assistants and scientists alike often have an inquisitive nature. They enjoy conducting lab experiments to discover more about how the world around them works and how to improve quality of life for humanity as well as other species. In addition to curiosity, other important characteristics and skills include the following:
- Observational skills: Ongoing monitoring is necessary for the proper execution of lab experiments. Biological technicians need to stay alert to the conditions of their experiments and the procedures they follow.
- Communication skills: Biological technicians work as part of a team in the lab and in offices. It’s essential to have solid verbal and written communication skills. Sometimes, biological technicians need to simplify their findings so that a lay audience can understand them.
- Analytical reasoning: A biological technician must be able to accurately analyze the data from experiments. Objectivity and rational thinking are crucial.
- Technical skills: Biological technicians are responsible for working with sophisticated lab instruments and equipment.
- Computer literacy: These professionals must be able to use sophisticated computer programs.
Some biological technicians perform fieldwork. Those who choose a subspecialty where fieldwork is likely (such as wildlife biology or zoology) may need to hike and otherwise travel through rugged terrain. Physical stamina and strength are assets for such professionals.
You can gain a solid academic foundation for pursuing a career in biological sciences when you earn your degree at Grand Canyon University. The Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences degree program uses a multidisciplinary approach to instill strong competencies in biology, ecology, chemistry and mathematics, just to name a few core areas. Click on Request Info at the top of your screen to begin exploring your future at GCU.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.
More About GCU