Lab technicians, also known as laboratory technicians, perform various tasks inside of scientific laboratories. Most lab technicians work in medical labs, but you could also work with rocks, fluids, or other non-organic substances as needed.
Lab technician jobs focus heavily on tests, usually under the supervision of a senior scientist managing an overall project. Their duties could include testing blood samples for pathogens, experimenting with drugs to see if they work, or using analytical equipment and recording the results.
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Interested in this career path? Here’s everything you need to know about what a lab technician is, how much they earn, and how to become one.
What Does a Lab Technician Really Do?
In short, lab technicians use equipment and do paperwork to help the lab function.
Daily activities tend to be quite regulated, with specific outlines detailing how to perform each task in the lab. Making mistakes during any part of this process could have severe consequences, so we think this job is much better for people who like regularity in their day, even if the exact tests may change from day to day.
Incidentally, this makes it a bit harder to answer questions about your failures during a job interview. Answering such questions well requires balancing honesty with convincing the employer that you’re still safe to hire.
Outside of this, most lab technicians are also responsible for upholding privacy regulations. In research labs, this means keeping data confidential so competitors can’t steal it. In medical labs, this requires upholding patient privacy laws. In both cases, information leaks can be a firing offence, so the ability to memorize and follow these regulations is paramount.
What is an Average Day for a Lab Technician?
The average day for a clinical laboratory technician can start at any hour, although most lab technicians have relatively regular hours. The exceptions are mostly those who work in emergency medical facilities, where getting lab results back quickly is essential for a patient’s health.
From there, the day’s work changes depending on the work that supervisors want to get done. Tasks could include:
- Collecting blood or tissue samples.
- Analyzing existing samples.
- Preparing chemical solutions.
- Preparing and sterilizing sensitive testing equipment.
A medical lab technician will probably double-check lab orders, label specimens and tests, prepare reports, and maintain any other quality standards throughout the day.
By the end of the day, lab technicians often enter data and prepare final reports, clean and sterilize equipment again, or discuss specific test results with healthcare providers, insurance companies, or anyone else who needs to know some information.
Labs that don’t focus on medical processes have similar day-to-day activities, but usually with fewer conversations outside the lab.
Attention to detail is especially important in this role because misplacing or mislabeling samples could be extremely harmful to people. This is why most lab technicians check all instructions thoroughly, even when they’re already familiar with the process.
Finally, some lab technicians will spend time studying new laboratory techniques and equipment for the lab. Depending on the need, lab technicians may also track resource use and order new parts or supplies for the lab.
Is Being a Lab Technician a Good Career?
That depends on what you’re looking for in a career. While most people will gladly leave for a better opportunity, lab technicians typically have good job security and some opportunity for advancement within the lab.
The main reason for this is that laboratories are costly to set up and run, so anybody running a lab probably has long-term plans or needs for that. This could be anything from a pharmaceutical company testing new drugs to a hospital performing tests on patients.
Either way, there’s a near-constant need for laboratories, and therefore the services of lab technicians. Some labs run 24/7, especially in dense urban areas where you’d need to process things as quickly as possible. Labs outside of urban regions tend to have set hours instead.
Career routes can vary, but most lab technicians either remain in this position or advance to a leadership role. Depending on experience, you could wind up overseeing a team of other lab technicians or advancing to a senior role if you have the right education.
Lab Technician Salary
According to Salary.com, the average lab technician salary is a little over $60,000 annually. This is a comfortable amount in most areas, although it may be a little low for comfortable living in major urban centers (New York City, Seattle, and so on).
Newer lab technicians may only earn around $40,000 each year, but this usually goes up with experience.
How to Become a Lab Technician
Convincing a lab that they should hire you sounds easy on paper, but it’s hard to talk your way into a laboratory technician role with no experience. Laboratories heavily emphasize safety, and that includes focusing on workers who will be reliable and have a good reason for leaving their current job.
It is possible to become a laboratory technician with only a high school diploma or a GED. In fact, this makes up a noticeable percent of lab workers. The difference here is that most labs value experience more than almost anything else, so spending at least two years in scientific labs will usually qualify you for a position here.
About half of all lab technicians have at least a bachelor’s degree, and a small percent have either a master’s degree or better. Education is a key factor in opportunities for advancement.
A bachelor’s degree usually isn’t enough for a truly senior role within a lab. While a technician may eventually get to run a team, most labs only accept head scientists who have at least a master’s degree in a relevant field.
The head scientists often oversee tests and have the final responsibility for ensuring everything is done correctly, so labs don’t take this role lightly.
College students often spend some time in a lab while in school, which makes it much easier to get a job after graduating. If you aren’t currently in school, you might be able to volunteer at a lab and perform some basic tasks for them to get experience. This can eventually lead to getting a job as a lab technician.