Case Study: Biology Laboratory Technician - Anne

What do you do?

I work in a lab where I test water, primarily industrial water. These tests aren't to see how factories pollute the water around them but to check why water is causing rust to form on the inside of air conditioners, hot water heaters, things like that.

I need to look for metal content, hard water and chloride content.

I'm a supervisor, so I oversee the work of others in the lab. I write a report on our findings at the end of each week.

What is your background?

I really enjoyed science when I was growing up, especially biology and chemistry. After my A levels, I got a job as a laboratory assistant at a local company.

They gave me excellent training and the next job I went for was as a biological lab technician. I've been in my current job for seven years.

What characteristics do you need to be successful in your job?

You have to think of ways to overcome problems with tainted samples. Something could get in the water after you've taken the sample, especially if the lab equipment isn't properly sanitised, and that can seriously compromise the results. For that reason, you need a very organised lab.

Lab tests require precision and accuracy. If you're not organised and you don't communicate well with other people, you're asking for problems. Any miscommunication can equally lead to useless results.

What other jobs could you do using the skills from this job?

There are many jobs that require this combination of experience in biology and lab techniques.

For example, we may perform quality control tests for food companies, cosmetic companies or pharmaceutical companies.

We could test the quality of drinking water, work in forensic labs or check company waste discharges, making sure they meet environmental standards.

What changes will there be in the future?

I think the demand will remain stable, but new lab technology should make the work easier in the future. The number and sophistication of automated testing systems will increase. However, trained people will always be needed to interpret the output.

What are the biggest challenges in your job?

For me, the most challenging part of my job is the computer work. Before I started this job, I had hardly used computers at all. Now, I have to prepare all my reports on one, and we're increasingly using computers to analyse results in the lab.

Are there many opportunities to enter this career?

The stronger your lab skills, the better you'll look to employers straight away. If you are hard working and can quickly produce accurate lab results, you will improve your chances.

What do you like about your job?

I'm an active person and I don't like to sit at one place and work. This job gives me an opportunity to move around, doing experiments and operating lab instruments. I seldom sit down, just to type and print my reports.

What do you dislike about your job?

My biggest dislike is all the computer work. I'm a slow typist, so, for me, preparing reports on the computer is time consuming.

There are also a lot of new computer programs I need to learn for graphing and analysing my lab results, and this takes time.

One part of the job that can be very stressful is doing lots of tasks at once.

What advice would you give to someone interested in your career?

Focus on developing both your lab skills and your understanding of the theory while you are at school or college. Your lab skills will make you marketable right away.

Your understanding of biology and chemistry could allow you to move between different areas in the field and on to a higher level.

A day in the life

8:00 am - 9:00 am

Logging samples into the computer.

9:00 am - 11:30 am

Performing lab tests on the samples.

11:30 am - 12:30 pm

Lunch.

12:30 pm - 4:00 pm

Performing lab tests on the samples.

4:00 pm - 5:00 pm

Preparing reports to summarise the results of those tests.

5:00 pm - 6:00 pm

Cleaning the lab, completing routine maintenance on the equipment.

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