Laboratory Technician Job Description - Requirements, Skills, Duties and Career
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What Does a Lab Technician Do?
Laboratory technicians (often abbreviated as lab technician) perform tests and analyses in analytical laboratories, research and development laboratories, production laboratories and quality control laboratories.
The role of the laboratory technician is an operational one, providing support to the team of scientists (e.g. chemists, biologists, engineers, technicians and researchers) working in the laboratory. The principal task of a laboratory technician is performing quantitative and qualitative analyses, laboratory tests and measurements and writing reports detailing the procedures carried out.
Lab technicians possess extensive knowledge of the methods, procedures and techniques used to perform laboratory tests and analyses, as well as of all the relevant laboratory equipment and instruments, which include microscopes, spectrometers, densimeters, chromatographs, distillation columns, centrifuges, mixers, as well as test tubes, flasks, beakers and other glassware. They are also familiar with the methods used to record and present data from sample analyses.
The responsibilities of a laboratory technician include the maintenance of lab instruments, i.e. calibrating and adjusting, cleaning and sterilizing them, as well as conducting periodic tests on them to ensure they function efficiently and accurately. Laboratory technicians are also responsible for checking stocks of materials to ensure that the laboratory has everything it needs to carry out its day-to-day operations, i.e. disposable materials and tools, chemical substances, reagents etc. They may also provide advice to the laboratory’s scientific personnel on the correct use of equipment, and evaluate the introduction of new methods and instruments.
The work of a laboratory technician varies according to the type of analysis - e.g. chemical, biomedical, environmental etc. - that the laboratory performs.
In industrial or manufacturing sectors, such as the petrochemical sector, the textiles industry, the production of plastics and polymers, the agri-food business or the manufacturing of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics, laboratory technicians work in chemical analysis laboratories, where their principal tasks include performing quality control tests on raw materials, intermediate products, and finished goods.
Lab technicians are also employed in research and development on innovative materials, processes and treatments for a wide range of sectors, including automotive, industrial equipment and medical devices.
In the healthcare sector, laboratory technicians work in biomedical laboratories in hospitals, clinic and other facilities. The role of a technician in a biomedical laboratory involves conducting analyses on bodily tissues and fluids and performing blood and immunological tests.
In the environmental sector, lab technicians perform chemical and microbiological analyses on soil, water and air samples, to determine their composition and detect the presence of pollutants and contaminants.
Laboratory technicians are also employed in scientific laboratories at universities and research centres.
The working hours of a laboratory technician may vary depending upon the workplace. Typically, standard full time hours are applied, but in some areas, such as the industrial and pharmaceutical sectors, where continuous production may be in place, lab technicians may be required to work shifts, including nights.
Due to the risks associated with the presence of hazardous chemical substances and the need to ensure a sterile environment for testing, strict safety procedures are followed in analytical laboratories and staff are required to wear personal protective equipment (PPE), such as gloves, lab coats and protective eyewear.
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Laboratory Technician Duties and Responsibilities
The duties of a lab technician include:
- Preparing equipment and materials for experiments
- Performing qualitative and quantitative analyses on samples of materials
- Collecting data, documenting analyses and producing reports
- Presenting results to laboratory management
- Maintaining, calibrating and sterilizing laboratory instruments
- Following strict testing and safety protocols
- Maintaining stocks of materials required to support laboratory operations, ordering more as needed
- Managing laboratory waste in accordance with applicable legislation
How to Become a Lab Technician: Education, Qualifications and Requirements
Candidates wishing to become a lab technician will require at least a technical diploma from a vocational college or school-leaving qualifications with an emphasis on sciences. In reality, however, many companies prefer candidates to have a degree in a science subject, such as chemistry, pharmaceutical chemistry, biology, biotechnology, chemical engineering or material sciences.
In addition to scientific knowledge, aspiring laboratory technicians require a knowledge of testing procedures and protocols, the ability to use laboratory instruments and equipment without supervision and familiarity with software applications used for collecting data, documenting test results and producing reports.
Lab Technician Skills
A laboratory technician requires the following skills:
- Laboratory testing and analysis skills
- Knowledge of technical properties of raw materials being analysed
- Ability to use traditional and digital instruments and equipment
- Knowledge of statistical data collection methods
- Ability to calibrate, maintain, and sterilize laboratory equipment
- Ability to work without supervision in accordance with quality standards
- Analytical skills
- Precision and accuracy
Laboratory Technician Career Path
The career of a lab technician will typically start in a position such as laboratory assistant, where they will gain experience in the role and familiarity with all the relevant testing and analytical procedures and laboratory equipment.
Subsequent opportunities for career advancement - for example, progressing to become a laboratory manager - may depend on the type of organization, with promotion likely to be easier to obtain in larger, more modern laboratories.
Specializing in a specific field, such as quality control, laboratory testing or R&D may open up alternative career paths.
Top Reasons to Work as a Laboratory Technician
Working as a lab technician is particularly suited to accurate, precise, highly-organized individuals who feel at home in the intense working environment of a laboratory. Although, on the face of things, the analytical work done by lab technicians is low-key, it can actually have wide-ranging consequences. For example, a careless analysis of a batch of raw materials could compromise a whole production run, leading to a whole series of adverse effects, while, conversely, an accurate microbiological analysis could play a crucial role in safeguarding the health of the general public.