Although there is no fromal certification required, there are several ways to qualify for a job as a biological technician. Many employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years of specialized training or an associate degree in applied science or science-related technology. Because employers' preferences vary, however, some technicians have a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, or forensic science, or have taken several science and math courses at 4-year colleges.
Many technical and community colleges offer associate degrees in a specific technology or a more general education in science and mathematics. A number of 2-year associate degree programs are designed to provide easy transfer to a 4-year college or university, if desired. Technical institutes usually offer technical training, but provide less theory and general education than technical or community colleges. The length of programs at technical institutes varies, although 1-year certificate programs and 2-year associate degree programs are common.
Some schools offer cooperative-education or internship programs, allowing students the opportunity to work at a local company or other workplace, while attending classes in alternate terms. Participation in such programs can significantly enhance a student's employment prospects. Persons interested in careers as science technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high school, in an associate's or bachelor's program, should be laboratory oriented, with an emphasis on bench skills. Because computers and computer-interfaced equipment often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should have strong computer skills. Communication skills are also important. Technicians often are required to report their findings both through speaking and in writing. Additionally, technicians should be able to work well with others, because teamwork is common. Organizational ability, an eye for detail, and skill in interpreting scientific results are also important.
Prospective biological technicians can acquire good career preparation through 2-year formal training programs that combine the teaching of scientific principles and theory with practical hands-on application in a laboratory setting with up-to-date equipment. Graduates of 4-year bachelor's degree programs in science who have considerable experience in laboratory-based courses, have completed internships, or held summer jobs in laboratories, are also well-qualified for science technician positions and are preferred by some employers. However, those with a bachelor's degree who accept technician jobs generally cannot find employment that uses their advanced academic education.
Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions, under the direct supervision of a scientist or a more experienced technician. Job candidates whose training or educational background encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including computers and related equipment, usually require a short period of on-the-job training. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibility and carry out assignments under only general supervision, and some eventually become supervisors. However, technicians employed at universities often have their fortunes tied to particular professors; when professors retire or leave, these technicians face uncertain employment prospects.
The data sources for the information displayed here include: Virginia Career VIEW Research.