Science technicians in production jobs can be employed on
day, evening, or night shifts; some other technicians work outdoors,
sometimes in remote locations.
Many employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years
of specialized training or an associate’s degree.
Projected job growth varies among occupational specialties;
for example, forensic science technicians will grow much faster
than average, while chemical technicians will grow more slowly
Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of
applied science technology programs.
Nature of the Work
Science technicians use the principles and theories of science
and mathematics to solve problems in research and development
and to help invent and improve products and processes. However,
their jobs are more practically oriented than those of scientists.
Technicians set up, operate, and maintain laboratory instruments,
monitor experiments, make observations, calculate and record results,
and often develop conclusions. They must keep detailed logs of
all of their work-related activities. Those who perform production
work monitor manufacturing processes and may be involved in ensuring
quality by testing products for proper proportions of ingredients,
for purity, or for strength and durability.
As laboratory instrumentation and procedures have become more
complex, the role of science technicians in research and development
has expanded. In addition to performing routine tasks, many technicians
now develop and adapt laboratory procedures to achieve the best
results, interpret data, and devise solutions to problems, under
the direction of scientists. Moreover, technicians must master
the laboratory equipment, so that they can adjust settings when
necessary and recognize when equipment is malfunctioning.
The increasing use of robotics to perform many routine tasks
has freed technicians to operate more sophisticated laboratory
equipment. Science technicians make extensive use of computers,
computer-interfaced equipment, robotics, and high-technology industrial
applications, such as biological engineering.
Most science technicians specialize, learning skills and working
in the same disciplines in which scientists work. Occupational
titles, therefore, tend to follow the same structure as those
for scientists. Agricultural technicians work with agricultural
scientists in food, fiber, and animal research, production, and
processing. Some conduct tests and experiments to improve the
yield and quality of crops or to increase the resistance of plants
and animals to disease, insects, or other hazards. Other agricultural
technicians breed animals for the purpose of investigating nutrition.
Food science technicians assist food scientists and technologists
in research and development, production technology, and quality
control. For example, food science technicians may conduct tests
on food additives and preservatives to ensure compliance with
Food and Drug Administration regulations regarding color, texture,
and nutrients. These technicians analyze, record, and compile
test results; order supplies to maintain laboratory inventory;
and clean and sterilize laboratory equipment.
Biological technicians work with biologists studying living
organisms. Many assist scientists who conduct medical research—helping
to find a cure for cancer or AIDS, for example. Those who work
in pharmaceutical companies help develop and manufacture medicinal
and pharmaceutical preparations. Those working in the field of
microbiology generally work as laboratory assistants, studying
living organisms and infectious agents. Biological technicians
also analyze organic substances, such as blood, food, and drugs,
and some examine evidence in a forensic science laboratory. Biological
technicians working in biotechnology laboratories use the knowledge
and techniques gained from basic research by scientists, including
gene splicing and recombinant DNA, and apply them in product development.
Chemical technicians work with chemists and chemical engineers,
developing and using chemicals and related products and equipment.
Generally, there are two types of chemical technicians: research
and development technicians who work in experimental laboratories
and process control technicians who work in manufacturing or other
industrial plants. Many research and development chemical technicians
conduct a variety of laboratory procedures, from routine process
control to complex research projects. For example, they may collect
and analyze samples of air and water to monitor pollution levels,
or they may produce compounds through complex organic synthesis.
Most process technicians work in manufacturing, testing packaging
for design, integrity of materials, and environmental acceptability.
Often, process technicians who work in plants also focus on quality
assurance, monitoring product quality or production processes
and developing new production techniques. A few work in shipping
to provide technical support and expertise for these functions.
Environmental science and protection technicians perform
laboratory and field tests to monitor environmental resources
and determine the contaminants and sources of pollution in the
environment. They may collect samples for testing or be involved
in abating, controlling, or remediating sources of environmental
pollution. Some are responsible for waste management operations,
control and management of hazardous materials inventory, or general
activities involving regulatory compliance. Many environmental
science technicians employed at private consulting firms work
directly under the supervision of an environmental scientist.
Forensic science technicians investigate crimes by collecting
and analyzing physical evidence. Often, they specialize in areas
such as DNA analysis or firearm examination, performing tests
on weapons or on substances such as fiber, glass, hair, tissue,
and body fluids to determine their significance to the investigation.
Proper collection and storage methods are important to protect
the evidence. Forensic science technicians also prepare reports
to document their findings and the laboratory techniques used,
and they may provide information and expert opinion to investigators.
When criminal cases come to trial, forensic science technicians
often give testimony, as expert witnesses, on specific laboratory
findings by identifying and classifying substances, materials,
and other evidence collected at the scene of a crime. Some forensic
science technicians work closely with other experts or technicians.
For example, a forensic science technician may consult either
a medical expert about the exact time and cause of a death or
a technician who specializes in DNA typing in hopes of matching
a DNA type to a suspect.
Forest and conservation technicians compile data on the
size, content, and condition of forest land tracts. These workers
usually work in a forest under the supervision of a forester,
conducting specific tasks such as measuring timber, supervising
harvesting operations, assisting in roadbuilding operations, and
locating property lines and features. They also may gather basic
information, such as data on species and populations of trees,
disease and insect damage, tree seedling mortality, and conditions
that may pose a fire hazard. In addition, forest and conservation
technicians train and lead forest and conservation workers in
seasonal activities, such as planting tree seedlings, putting
out forest fires, and maintaining recreational facilities. Increasing
numbers of forest and conservation technicians work in urban forestry—the
study of individual trees in cities—and other nontraditional specialties,
rather than in forests or rural areas.
Geological and petroleum technicians measure and record
physical and geologic conditions in oil or gas wells, using advanced
instruments lowered into the wells or analyzing the mud from the
wells. In oil and gas exploration, these technicians collect and
examine geological data or use scanning electron microscopes to
test geological samples to determine their petroleum content and
their mineral and element composition. Some petroleum technicians,
called scouts, collect information about oil and gas well-drilling
operations, geological and geophysical prospecting, and land or
Nuclear technicians operate nuclear test and research
equipment, monitor radiation, and assist nuclear engineers and
physicists in research. Some also operate remote control equipment
to manipulate radioactive materials or materials to be exposed
Other science technicians collect weather information or assist
Science technicians work under a wide variety of conditions.
Most work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours.
Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments
that cannot be completed during regular working hours. Production
technicians often work in 8-hour shifts around the clock. Others,
such as agricultural, forest and conservation, geological and
petroleum, and environmental science and protection technicians,
perform much of their work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations.
Some science technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment,
chemicals, or toxic materials. Chemical technicians sometimes
work with toxic chemicals or radioactive isotopes, nuclear technicians
may be exposed to radiation, and biological technicians sometimes
work with disease-causing organisms or radioactive agents. Forensic
science technicians often are exposed to human body fluids and
firearms. However, these working conditions pose little risk if
proper safety procedures are followed. For forensic science technicians,
collecting evidence from crime scenes can be distressing and unpleasant.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement
There are several ways to qualify for a job as a science technician.
Many employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years of
specialized training or an associate’s degree in applied science
or science-related technology. Because employers’ preferences
vary, however, some science 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’s degrees
in a specific technology or a more general education in science
and mathematics. A number of 2-year associate’s degree programs
are designed to provide easy transfer to a 4-year college or university.
Technical institutes usually offer technician training, but provide
less theory and general education than do technical or community
colleges. The length of programs at technical institutes varies,
although 1-year certificate programs and 2-year associate’s degree
programs are common.
Approximately 20 colleges or universities offer a bachelor’s
degree program in forensic science; about another 20 schools offer
a bachelor-of-science degree in chemistry, biochemistry, or genetic
engineering with an emphasis on forensic science or criminology;
a few additional schools offer a bachelor-of-science degree with
an emphasis in a specialty area, such as criminology, pathology,
jurisprudence, investigation, odontology, toxicology, or forensic
accounting. In contrast to some other science technician positions
that require only a 2-year degree, forensic science positions
usually require a 4-year degree to work in the field. Knowledge
and understanding of legal procedures also can be helpful. Prospective
forestry and conservation technicians can choose from more than
20 associate’s degree programs in forest technology accredited
by the Society of American Foresters.
Most chemical process technicians have a 2-year degree, usually
an associate’s degree in process technology, although in some
cases a high school diploma is sufficient. These workers usually
receive additional on-the- job training. Entry-level workers whose
college training encompasses extensive hands-on experience with
a variety of diagnostic laboratory equipment generally require
less on-the-job training. Those with a high school diploma typically
begin work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more
experienced process technician. Many with only a high school diploma
eventually earn a 2-year degree in process technology, often paid
for by their employer.
Some schools offer cooperative-education or internship programs,
allowing students the opportunity to work at a local company or
some other workplace while attending classes during 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
degree program, should be laboratory oriented, with an emphasis
on bench skills. A solid background in applied basic chemistry,
physics, and math is vital. Because computers often are used in
research and development laboratories, technicians should have
strong computer skills, especially in computer modeling. Communication
skills also are important: technicians often are required to report
their findings both orally and in writing. In addition, 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 important as well. A high mechanical aptitude,
attention to detail, and analytical thinking are all important
characteristics of science technicians.
Prospective science 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 have held summer jobs in laboratories also are 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 more advanced
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 those of particular professors; when those professors
retire or leave, these technicians face uncertain employment prospects.
Science technicians held about 324,000 jobs in 2004. As indicated
by the following tabulation, chemical and biological technicians
accounted for 39 percent of all jobs:
Forest and conservation technicians
Environmental science and protection technicians,
Agricultural and food science technicians
Geological and petroleum technicians
Forensic science technicians
Chemical technicians held jobs in a wide range of manufacturing
and service-providing industries. Thirty-five percent worked in
chemical manufacturing and another 26 percent worked in professional,
scientific, or technical services firms. About 27 percent of biological
technicians also worked in professional, scientific, or technical
services firms; most other biological technicians worked in pharmaceutical
and medicine manufacturing or for Federal, State, or local governments.
Significant numbers of environmental science and protection technicians
also worked for State and local governments and professional,
scientific, and technical services firms. About 75 percent of
forest and conservation technicians held jobs in the Federal Government;
another 13 percent worked for State governments. Around 18 percent
of agricultural and food science technicians worked for food-processing
companies; most of the rest worked for scientific research and
development services firms and State governments. Approximately
23 percent of all geological and petroleum technicians worked
for oil and gas extraction companies, and forensic science technicians
worked primarily for State and local governments.
Job opportunities are expected to be best for graduates of applied
science technology programs who are well trained on equipment
used in industrial and government laboratories and production
facilities. As the instrumentation and techniques used in industrial
research, development, and production become increasingly more
complex, employers are seeking individuals with highly developed
technical and communication skills.
Overall employment of science technicians is expected to increase
about as fast as average for all occupations through the year
2014. The continued growth of scientific and medical research—particularly
research related to biotechnology—as well as the development and
production of technical products should stimulate demand for science
technicians in many industries. The increase in the number of
biological technicians will be about as fast as average, as the
growing number of agricultural and medicinal products developed
with the use of biotechnology techniques will boost demand for
these workers. Also, stronger competition among pharmaceutical
companies and an aging population are expected to contribute to
the need for innovative and improved drugs, further spurring demand
for biological technicians. The fastest employment growth of biological
technicians should occur in the pharmaceutical and medicine manufacturing
industry and educational services.
Job growth for chemical technicians is projected to be slower
than average. The chemical manufacturing industry, the major employer
of chemical technicians, is anticipated to experience a decline
in overall employment as companies downsize and turn to outside
contractors to provide specialized services. Job opportunities
are expected to be more plentiful in pharmaceutical and medicine
manufacturing as the public continues to demand newer and better
pharmaceuticals. To meet this demand, pharmaceutical manufacturing
firms are expected to continue to devote money to research and
development, either through in-house teams or, increasingly, by
contracting to professional, scientific, and technical services
firms, spurring employment growth of chemical technicians in that
industry. An increasing focus on quality assurance will require
a greater number of process technicians, further stimulating demand
for these workers.
Employment of environmental science and protection technicians
should grow about as fast as the average; these workers will be
needed to help regulate waste products; to collect air, water,
and soil samples for measuring levels of pollutants; to monitor
compliance with environmental regulations; and to clean up contaminated
Limited demand for forest and conservation technicians within
the Federal Government will lead to slower-than-average growth
in this occupation, due to general downsizing and continued reductions
in timber management on Federal lands. Opportunities at State
and local governments within specialties such as urban forestry
and geographic information systems (GIS)—a locator system that
uses satellites—may, however, provide some new jobs. In addition,
an increased emphasis on specific conservation issues, such as
environmental protection, preservation of water resources, and
control of exotic and invasive pests, may provide some employment
opportunities. Few opportunities will be available in the private
Employment of agricultural and food science technicians is projected
to grow about as fast as the average. Best opportunities will
be in specific segments of the food-processing industry and in
agricultural biotechnology, specifically in scientific research
and development services. Research—particularly biotechnological
research—will be necessary as it becomes increasingly important
to balance greater agricultural output with protection and preservation
of soil, water, and the ecosystem. In particular, research will
be needed to combat insects and diseases as they further adapt
to pesticides and as soil fertility and water quality continue
to need improvement. State and local government also should provide
many opportunities due both to projected increases in employment
and as the need to replace retiring workers is expected to accelerate.
Jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to increase
much faster than average. Crime scene technicians who work for
State Public Safety Departments should experience favorable employment
prospects. Jobseekers with a 4-year degree in a forensic science
will enjoy much better opportunities than those with only a 2-year
Slower-than-average employment growth is expected for geological
and petroleum technicians because employment in the oil and gas
extraction and mining industries, among the largest employers
of geological and petroleum technicians, is expected to decline.
Due to a lack of qualified candidates, however, prospective jobseekers
should experience little competition for positions, especially
in energy-related fields. Job opportunities also will be favorable
in professional, scientific, and technical services firms because
geological and petroleum technicians will be needed to assist
environmental scientists and geoscientists as they provide consultation
services for companies regarding environmental policy and Federal
Government mandates, such as those requiring lower sulfur emissions.
Along with opportunities created by growth, many job openings
should arise from the need to replace technicians who retire or
leave the labor force for other reasons. During periods of economic
recession, science technicians may be laid off.
Median hourly earnings of science technicians in May 2004 were
Forensic science technicians
Geological and petroleum technicians
Environmental science and protection technicians,
Agricultural and food science technicians
Forest and conservation technicians
In 2005, the average annual salary in nonsupervisory, supervisory,
and managerial positions in the Federal Government was $38,443
for biological science technicians; $50,264 for physical science
technicians; $62,854 for geodetic technicians; $48,238 for hydrologic
technicians; and $58,725 for meteorological technicians.
Other technicians who apply scientific principles at a level
usually acquired in 2-year associate’s degree programs include
engineering technicians, broadcast and sound engineering technicians
and radio operators, drafters, and health technologists and technicians,
especially clinical laboratory technologists and technicians,
diagnostic medical sonographers, and radiologic technologists
Sources of Additional Information
For information about a career as a chemical technician, contact:
American Chemical Society, Education Division, Career Publications,
1155 16th St. NW., Washington, DC 20036. Internet: http://www.acs.org/
For career information and a list of undergraduate, graduate,
and doctoral programs in forensic sciences, contact:
American Academy of Forensic Sciences, P.O. Box 669, Colorado
Springs, CO, 80901. Internet: http://www.aafs.org/
For general information on forestry technicians and a list of
schools offering education in forestry, send a self-addressed,
stamped business envelope to: