Learn About Being a Lab Technician

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated May 9, 2022 | Published December 10, 2019

Updated May 9, 2022

Published December 10, 2019

What does a lab technician do?

A lab technician performs highly mechanical, technical, or diagnostic tests in a scientific laboratory. Lab techs may work independently or under the direction of a professional in a laboratory or field setting. They are responsible for a variety of tasks, including recording data, protecting the accuracy and efficiency of scientific experiments, maintaining equipment and lab tools and keeping the lab organized. All work that lab technicians complete follows strict guidelines and regulations. 

Lab technicians have the following responsibilities:

  • Conducting experiments, gathering data and performing basic investigations

  • Adjusting, calibrating and ensuring the proper function of laboratory equipment and instruments

  • Disinfecting and cleaning working area and equipment

  • Preparing catalogs and identifying biological samples for storage or examination

  • Maintaining accurate and detailed records of research findings and entering results in a database

  • Ordering and stocking lab supplies

Average salary

Most lab technicians are full-time employees who make an hourly wage. Depending on the type of work, location and size of the organization, a lab technician’s salary can vary. 

  • Common salary in the U.S.: $17.56 per hour

  • Typical salaries range from $7.25 to $41.30 per hour.

Lab technician requirements

Lab technicians often have a mix of education, training, skills and certifications to perform their job effectively. 

Education

Lab technicians need at minimum a high school diploma or equivalent to work. Most companies prefer at least an Associate’s Degree in Laboratory Science or related major. It can be helpful to earn a degree from an institution accredited by the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences. You can obtain a Bachelor’s or Master’s Degree in Laboratory Sciences to gain more knowledge about the field and increase your earning potential. 

Training

The type of training lab technicians receive depends on the field. Institutions often instruct lab techs on specific laboratory procedures during on-the-job training. Training could include learning about particular methods, preparing reports and how to dispose of waste properly.

Lab techs can also receive off-the-job training in the form of scientific seminars and conferences. There are a variety of conferences lab techs can attend depending on their fields and specializations. During these conferences, they can learn more about their fields to help them stay current with industry trends and scientific discoveries. 

Certifications

Some lab technicians need to obtain certifications to work. Certifications include:

Medical Lab Technician certification

Offered by the American Society for Clinical Pathology or the American Association of Bioanalysts, an MLT demonstrates your ability to work proficiently in a medical laboratory. Many states require an MLT to work as a lab technician in a medical setting. To earn an MLT, you must have your associate’s degree and attend an extensive training course. After meeting the requirements, you must pass an exam. You must renew your certification every three years by submitting proof of your ongoing training and education. 

Medical Laboratory Scientist certification

Also offered by the ASCP or the AAB, an MLS certification shows you can perform higher responsibilities in a medical laboratory. To earn an MLS, you must have a bachelor’s degree and experience in a lab. Other requirements include obtaining another relevant certification and completing a training program. You must also pass an exam. You will need to renew your MLS every three years by submitting proof of your ongoing training and education. 

Skills

Depending on the type and nature of the company, lab technicians will need a diverse set of skills. The most common skills shared by lab techs include: 

Problem-solving

Lab techs should be able to review a variety of data and choose the appropriate solution. The problem-solving process should be systematic and thorough to obtain satisfactory results. 

Analysis

Since lab techs often need to gather and analyze large amounts of data and information. They should be able to find connections in results by using analytical methods.

Organization

Both organized records and work environments help lab techs perform their jobs effectively. They should be able to sort through records quickly and keep their work area clean to maintain safety standards. 

Communication

Lab techs often work closely with coworkers, so the ability to communicate verbally is essential. They should be able to work together to complete tasks and experiments.  Additionally, lab techs should have excellent written communication skills as they need to write reports on their findings so that others can understand the information.

Time management

Lab techs sometimes perform timed tests. They should be able to schedule their days so they can monitor each step of the process. Good time-management skills also help lab technicians complete a variety of concurrent tasks.

Lab technician work environment

Depending on the field, a lab technician may work in the following settings: 

  • Laboratories: Many lab techs work in a laboratory environment where they handle hazardous materials. 

  • Offices: Laboratory technicians can work in an office environment collecting, analyzing and writing data results.

  • Construction sites: Lab techs may work on a construction site obtaining soil and water samples.

  • Industrial plants: Industrial plants hire lab techs to perform experiments on new chemicals and record results.

In many of these settings, lab techs may have a designated workspace, called a lab bench, where they use a variety of scientific instruments to perform tests and analyze results. Lab technicians could spend their time sitting, standing and moving around their workspace while completing tasks.

Depending on the role and environment, lab techs will wear pants, close-toed shoes and shirts with long sleeves. They may also wear protective gear, such as goggles, a lab coat and gloves.

Depending on the setting, lab techs can work a variety of hours. Most lab techs work full time during regular business hours, though some overtime may be necessary when conducting extensive research. Some lab techs may work occasional nights and weekends when conducting a timed experiment.

How to become a lab technician

Follow these steps to become a lab technician:

1. Earn a high school diploma

Some companies may hire you with a high school diploma and offer on-the-job training. In many cases, you can substitute a high school diploma with a GED.

2. Obtain an associate’s or bachelor’s degree

Depending on your preferences, you can earn a degree in laboratory sciences or a related major. Since many companies prefer a bachelor’s degree over an associate’s degree, a four-year degree may increase your job opportunities. 

3. Get certified

Depending on the state in which you intend to work, you may need to earn a certification. Review your state’s requirements to determine if you need a lab technician certificate. Even if your state does not require certification, you should consider obtaining one to demonstrate your professionalism and relevant knowledge. 

4. Continue learning

As there are continually new scientific discoveries, staying current in the field can help you excel in this career path. Additionally, if you obtained a lab tech certification, you will need to attend courses or training to maintain your certificate. You can complete online courses, go to conferences or read about your field in scientific journals.

Lab technician job description example

Our manufacturing plant is seeking a lab technician to join our team. The quality control manufacturing lab technician will maintain laboratory equipment and materials in adherence with company and government standards. They will prepare reagents and solutions and keep track of general laboratory supplies, logbooks and labels. They will also participate in hazardous waste training and maintain lab databases. The right candidate will be committed to the highest standards of compliance and ethics, take ownership of actions, enthusiastically embrace change and strive to understand the needs of our customers. Business demands may require extended hours. 

The ideal candidate will have: 

  • A Bachelor’s Degree in Laboratory Sciences or related field

  • Four years of experience in a lab setting

  • Some experience working in a manufacturing setting

  • Excellent time-management and problem-solving skills

  • The ability to work alone and with a team 

Related careers

  • Pathologist 

  • Phlebotomist

  • Lab assistant

  • Medical assistant

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