Laboratory technician: job description

Laboratory technicians support laboratory-based scientific investigations by undertaking a range of routine technical tasks and experiments.

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You don't need a science degree to become a technician – but you will need a logical mind and good communication skills.

What does a laboratory technician do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Laboratory technicians are the backbone of a scientific research lab. Their work is almost entirely laboratory-based and technicians may work alone or as part of a team of scientific staff. They can work in most areas of science including forensics, health and manufacturing.

The area a laboratory technician works in will largely dictate the work they do. If they’re in a medical environment, they might be analysing body fluids or tissues, conducting blood tests and examining cells. If they work for a food and drink manufacturer, they might be testing food and drink samples to detect contamination or ensure quality.

Typical responsibilities of a lab technician include:

  • conducting and supporting scientific investigations and experiments
  • planning, setting up and undertaking controlled experiments and trials
  • recording and analysing data
  • demonstrating procedures
  • collecting, preparing and/or testing samples
  • maintaining, calibrating, cleaning and testing sterility of the equipment
  • providing technical support
  • presenting results to senior staff
  • writing reports, reviews and summaries
  • keeping up to date with relevant scientific and technical developments
  • supervising staff
  • carrying out risk assessments
  • ordering and maintaining stock and resources

Typical employers of laboratory technicians

  • Environmental agencies
  • Specialist research organisations or consultancies
  • Universities
  • Hospitals and clinics
  • The Civil Service
  • Water companies
  • Pharmaceutical companies
  • Chemical companies
  • Food and drink companies

Early applications are recommended for opportunities with major employers. Vacancies are advertised by recruitment agencies and careers services, in newspapers, in relevant scientific publications such as New Scientist , Science , Nature and Laboratory News and their online equivalents and in journals published by the professional institutions.

  • The recruitment process is likely to involve a technical interview. Read our article on technical interviews to find out what these involve and how you can tackle them.
  • If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.

Qualifications and training required

Both university graduates and school leavers can become lab technicians. Graduates will need a degree in a relevant scientific subject such as biology, biochemistry, chemistry or physics. They will typically start off as a laboratory technician and work their way up to a more senior research and development role.

A school leaver can apply for an apprenticeship or an entry-level role. Typically, you’ll need GCSEs or Standard Grades and you might also need A levels or Scottish Highers, including a scientific subject. With experience, a school leaver could progress to a supervisor role in the lab. To move into a research role, however, you would need to get a degree.

To find out about how you can get into this career via a school leaver route (eg an apprenticeship or a school leaver training programme), see the science section of TARGETcareers, our website aimed at school leavers.

Key skills for laboratory technicians

  • Independence
  • Meticulous attention to detail
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills
  • Good teamworking skills
  • Analytical skills
  • Time management

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