Biological Technicians

Summary

biological technicians image
Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct research.
Quick Facts: Biological Technicians
2012 Median Pay $39,750 per year
$19.11 per hour
Entry-Level Education Bachelor’s degree
Work Experience in a Related Occupation None
On-the-job Training None
Number of Jobs, 2012 80,200
Job Outlook, 2012-22 10% (As fast as average)
Employment Change, 2012-22 8,000

What Biological Technicians Do

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Work Environment

Biological technicians typically work in laboratories. Most biological technicians work full time.

How to Become a Biological Technician

Biological technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. It is important for prospective biological technicians to gain laboratory experience while in school.

Pay

The median annual wage for biological technicians was $39,750 in May 2012.

Job Outlook

Employment of biological technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Continued growth in biotechnology and medical research is expected to increase demand for these workers.

Similar Occupations

Compare the job duties, education, job growth, and pay of biological technicians with similar occupations.

More Information, Including Links to O*NET

Learn more about biological technicians by visiting additional resources, including O*NET, a source on key characteristics of workers and occupations.

What Biological Technicians Do About this section

Biological technicians
Biological technicians prepare samples for further testing.

Biological technicians help biological and medical scientists conduct laboratory tests and experiments.

Duties

Biological technicians typically do the following:

Set up, maintain, and clean laboratory instruments and equipment, such as microscopes, scales, and test tubes

  • Gather and prepare biological samples, such as blood, food, or bacteria cultures, for laboratory analysis
  • Conduct biological tests and experiments 
  • Document their work, including procedures, observations, and results
  • Analyze experimental data and interpret results
  • Write reports that summarize their findings

Most biological technicians work on teams. Biological technicians typically are responsible for doing scientific tests, experiments, and analyses under the supervision of biologists or other scientists who direct and evaluate their work. Biological technicians use traditional laboratory instruments, advanced robotics, and automated equipment to conduct experiments. They use specialized computer software to collect, analyze, and model experimental data. Some biological technicians will need to collect samples. To do this, they may need to have certain skills, such as handling a boat so they could collect water samples.

Biological technicians work in many research areas. They may assist medical researchers by helping to develop new medicines and treatments used to prevent, treat, or cure diseases.

Biological technicians working in a microbiological context, sometimes referred to as laboratory assistants, typically study living microbes and perform techniques specific to microbiology, such as growing cultures in Petri dishes or staining specimens to aid in identification.

Technicians working in biotechnology apply the knowledge and techniques they have gained from basic research to product development.                                  

Biological technicians also may work in private industry and assist in the study of a wide range of topics concerning mining and industrial production. They may test samples in environmental impact studies, or monitor production processes to help ensure products are not contaminated.

Biological technicians working for the U.S. Department of the Interior or other government agencies may perform biological testing to support wildlife and resource management goals.

Work Environment About this section

Biological technicians
Most biological technicians work in laboratories.

Biological technicians held about 80,200 jobs in 2012. The industries employing the most biological technicians in 2012 were as follows:

Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state, local, and private32%
Research and development in the physical, engineering, and life sciences23
Federal government, excluding postal service15
Chemical manufacturing8
Hospitals; state, local, and private8
Testing laboratories4

Biological technicians typically work in laboratories and offices, where they conduct experiments and analyze the results under the supervision of biological scientists and medical scientists. Some biological technicians who do fieldwork may be exposed to weather events and wildlife, such as mosquitoes.

Biological technicians must follow strict procedures to avoid contaminating the experiment, themselves, or the environment. Some experiments may involve dangerous organisms or toxic substances.

Biological technicians work together on teams under the direction of biologists or other scientists.

Work Schedules

Most biological technicians work full time and keep regular hours. About 1 in 5 biological technicians worked part time in 2012.

How to Become a Biological Technician About this section

Biological technicians
Most biological technicians gain laboratory experience while in school.

Biological technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. It is important for prospective biological technicians to gain laboratory experience while they are in school.

Education

Biological technicians typically need a bachelor’s degree in biology or a closely related field. Most colleges and universities offer bachelor’s degree programs in the biological sciences.

Biological science programs usually include courses in general biology, as well as in specific subfields such as ecology, microbiology, and physiology. In addition to taking courses in biology, students must study chemistry, mathematics, and physics. Computer science courses are helpful for learning how to model and simulate biological processes and for learning how to operate some laboratory equipment. 

Laboratory experience is important for prospective biological technicians, and students should take biology courses that emphasize laboratory work.

Important Qualities

Analytical skills. Biological technicians need to be able to conduct scientific experiments and analyses with accuracy and precision.

Communication skills. Biological technicians must be able to understand and follow the instructions of their managing scientists. They also need to be able to clearly communicate their processes and findings in written reports.

Critical-thinking skills. Biological technicians draw conclusions from experimental results through sound reasoning and judgment.

Observational skills. Biological technicians must constantly monitor their experiments. They need to keep a complete, accurate record of their work, such as the conditions under which the experiment was carried out, the procedures they followed, and the results they obtained.

Technical skills. Biological technicians must be able to set up and operate sophisticated equipment and instruments. They also may need to adjust equipment to ensure that experiments are conducted properly.

Other Experience

Prospective biological technicians should have laboratory experience. In addition to coursework, laboratory experience may be gained during summer internships with prospective employers, such as pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturers, or in university laboratories.

Advancement

Biological technicians may advance to scientist positions, such as a microbiologist, after a few years of experience working as a technician or after earning a graduate degree. Gaining more experience and higher levels of education often allows biological technicians to move into positions such as natural sciences managers or postsecondary teachers.

Pay About this section

Biological Technicians

Median annual wages, May 2012

Life, physical, and social science occupations

$60,100

Biological technicians

$39,750

Total, all occupations

$34,750

 

The median annual wage for biological technicians was $39,750 in May 2012. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $25,280, and the top 10 percent earned more than $64,880.

In May 2012, median annual wages for biological technicians in the top six industries employing these technicians were as follows:

Chemical manufacturing$45,380
Research and development in the physical, engineering,
and life sciences
42,330
Colleges, universities, and professional schools; state,
local, and private
40,450
Hospitals; state, local, and private38,450
Testing laboratories36,260
Federal government, excluding postal service33,630

Most biological technicians work full time and keep regular hours. About 1 in 5 biological technicians worked part time in 2012.

Job Outlook About this section

Biological Technicians

Percent change in employment, projected 2012-22

Total, all occupations

11%

Life, physical, and social science occupations

10%

Biological technicians

10%

 

Employment of biological technicians is projected to grow 10 percent from 2012 to 2022, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Greater demand for biotechnology research is expected to increase the need for these workers. 

Biotechnology research plays a key role in scientific advancements that improve our quality of life. Biological technicians will be needed to help scientists develop new treatments for diseases, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

In agriculture, biotechnology research will be used to create genetically engineered crops that provide greater yields and require less pesticide and fertilizer. Efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean and preserve the environment will also continue to add to job growth. In addition, biological technicians will be needed to help develop alternative sources of energy, such as biofuels and better sources of renewable biomass.

Job Prospects

Applicants who have laboratory experience, either through coursework or through previous work experience, should have the best opportunities.

Employment projections data for biological technicians, 2012-22
Occupational Title SOC Code Employment, 2012 Projected Employment, 2022 Change, 2012-22 Employment by Industry
Percent Numeric

SOURCE: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Employment Projections program

Biological technicians

19-4021 80,200 88,300 10 8,000 [XLS]

Similar Occupations About this section

This table shows a list of occupations with job duties that are similar to those of biological technicians.

Occupation Job Duties ENTRY-LEVEL EDUCATION Help 2012 MEDIAN PAY Help
Agricultural and food science technicians

Agricultural and Food Science Technicians

Agricultural and food science technicians assist agricultural and food scientists by performing duties such as measuring and analyzing the quality of food and agricultural products.

Associate’s degree $34,070
Biochemists and biophysicists

Biochemists and Biophysicists

Biochemists and biophysicists study the chemical and physical principles of living things and of biological processes, such as cell development, growth, and heredity.

Doctoral or professional degree $81,480
Chemical technicians

Chemical Technicians

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, and produce chemical products and processes.

Associate’s degree $42,920
Environmental science and protection technicians

Environmental Science and Protection Technicians

Environmental science and protection technicians do laboratory and field tests to monitor the environment and investigate sources of pollution, including those affecting public health. Many work under the supervision of environmental scientists and specialists, who direct the technicians’ work and evaluate their results.

Associate’s degree $41,240
Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists

Epidemiologists are public health professionals who investigate patterns and causes of disease and injury in humans. They seek to reduce the risk and occurrence of negative health outcomes through research, community education, and health policy.

Master’s degree $65,270
Forensic science technicians

Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Most forensic science technicians spend some time writing reports.

Bachelor’s degree $52,840
Geoscientists

Geoscientists

Geoscientists study the physical aspects of the Earth, such as its composition, structure, and processes, to learn about its past, present, and future.

Bachelor’s degree $90,890
Medical and clinical laboratory technologists and technicians

Medical and Clinical Laboratory Technologists and Technicians

Medical laboratory technologists (commonly known as medical laboratory scientists) and medical laboratory technicians collect samples and perform tests to analyze body fluids, tissue, and other substances.

See How to Become One $47,820
Medical scientists

Medical Scientists

Medical scientists conduct research aimed at improving overall human health. They often use clinical trials and other investigative methods to reach their findings.

Doctoral or professional degree $76,980
Microbiologists

Microbiologists

Microbiologists study microorganisms such as bacteria, viruses, algae, fungi, and some types of parasites. They try to understand how these organisms live, grow, and interact with their environments.

Bachelor’s degree $66,260
Zoologists and wildlife biologists

Zoologists and Wildlife Biologists

Zoologists and wildlife biologists study animals and other wildlife and how they interact with their ecosystems. They study the physical characteristics of animals, animal behaviors, and the impacts humans have on wildlife and natural habitats.

Bachelor’s degree $57,710
Suggested citation:

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, Biological Technicians,
on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biological-technicians.htm (visited October 20, 2014).

Publish Date: Wednesday, January 8, 2014