What is a laboratory technician?
A laboratory technician’s primary role is to support complex scientific investigations by carrying out routine laboratory-based technical tasks and experiments, such as sampling, testing and recording results. They work predominantly within the research and development stages of science and play a crucial role in discovering and developing products and techniques.
The nature of a laboratory technician’s responsibilities will depend on the industry and type of company they work for. For example, those who work within pharmaceuticals may be testing new drugs to be put onto the market, whereas those working within food production might be testing food samples to ensure quality. The general responsibilities of a laboratory technician are to:
- Conduct and supervise laboratory experiments using standard equipment to produce data that supports wider scientific investigations
- Obtain and prepare samples for analysis
- Maintain, monitor and clean the laboratory and its equipment to ensure strict safety requirements are met at all times
- Record experiment results and prepare reports to present to senior members off staff
- Write detailed summaries and reviews of the investigations taking place and their findings
- Provide technical support to other laboratory technicians and scientists
Types of employers
Laboratory technicians are employed within a wide range of industries, such as pharmaceuticals, biopharmaceuticals, chemicals, and food. Within these industries and others, the types of employers that tend to actively recruit for these positions include:
- University research departments
- Hospitals and health organisations
- Cosmetic companies
- Environmental agencies
- Drug discovery companies
- Chemical manufacturers
- Food and drinks production companies
- The Civil Service
To find out who’s hiring right now, search our latest laboratory technician roles here.
Qualifications and experience required
A degree is not essential to become a laboratory technician, although some employers may require a degree in a relevant scientific subject and many technicians do hold one. University graduates will need a qualification in a field such as chemistry, biology, pharmacology, biomedical science or biotechnology to get onto this career path. Alternatively, holding an HND/HNC or pursuing an apprenticeship after GCSEs or A Levels can also be effective ways into the field, however you are less likely to be able to progress into senior research roles without a degree.
In terms of experience, employers tend to value some form of pre-entry laboratory experience as this demonstrates your familiarity with lab procedures and shows your interest in the field. Many university courses include a placement year, which can be a great opportunity to build on the knowledge learnt during teaching and gain a better understanding of the science industries. If your degree doesn’t include a year in industry or you are pursuing a different route, you could look for summer voluntary work programmes or approach employers directly for shadowing opportunities.
How to become a laboratory technician
You should be able to demonstrate a range of skills when applying for jobs as a laboratory technician. You should ensure that these skills are incorporated into your CV:
- Attention to detail
- Excellent written and verbal communication skills
- Good time-management and organisational skills
- The ability to work effectively within a team
- Observational and analytical skills, as well as patience
- Technical skills to be able to use complex lab equipment
In an interview you may be asked questions that help you to demonstrate your experience using these skills, so it is important to use the STAR technique to explain your achievements effectively. You may also be asked to explain knowledge of specific scientific methods and regulations (such as cell culture, diagnostics or ISO 90001), how you would tackle relevant problems you are likely to encounter within the role or how you would effectively present findings to senior team members.
There are a variety of ways to search for lab technician jobs, depending on the type of company you are aiming to work for. University and hospital websites are a great place to start if a medical route is the one for you, or scientific publications such as New Scientist Jobs. You may also find opportunities listed on professional networking sites such as LinkedIn. Specialist recruitment agencies, such as CK Science, are another effective way to search for and land jobs, as they are able to offer tailored support and advice.
Find downloadable CV and cover letter templates here.
Starting salaries tend to be between £18,000 – £22,000 depending on the industry and type of company that you are working for. Starting salaries can also depend on your qualifications, as the more qualified you are the more you are likely to be offered. With some experience, you can expect to earn around £25,000 or upwards of £30,000.
Private companies tend to pay more than university and hospital organisations.
By undertaking a PhD, you may also be able to move into the research field and pursue a career in academia as a university lecturer or professor.
From being a laboratory technician, you could progress onto a role as a senior laboratory technician, laboratory technologist, laboratory analyst or laboratory manager, for example. You will learn invaluable skills and techniques in an entry-level role which will stand you in good stead to progress into more senior roles with increased responsibility and more complex tasks. You may be given your own team to manage or be able to apply for jobs within a global, innovative company that allows you to progress successfully.
Jobs related to the title of laboratory technician include:
- Laboratory Analyst – primarily involves using specialist scientific equipment to test and analyse samples, specimens and materials in order to make discoveries and produce reports.
- Laboratory Assistant – a more entry-level role tasked mainly with checking laboratory stock, ordering new supplies, ensuring equipment and samples are stored safely, entering data and filing reports for scientists.
- Research Assistant – an entry-level role that requires individuals to help plan and conduct experiments alongside scientists, collect and log data and produce findings for researchers to present reports. Read the full job profile here.