Biological Technician

A biological technician is a laboratory professional who supports scientists, researchers, and engineers in conducting experiments and analyzing data. They typically work in research institutions, universities, and government agencies and may specialize in microbiology, genetics, or botany. They are responsible for tasks such as preparing samples, running experiments, and maintaining laboratory equipment. Their work is essential to the advancement of scientific knowledge and the development of new technologies and treatments.

At a Glance

Imagine you walk into a sterile, brightly lit room, surrounded by beakers, test tubes, Petri dishes, and the hum of electronic equipment. You are a biological technician, and your workday is a flurry of activity with a wide range of laboratory tasks.

As the day begins, you check on the various underway experiments, carefully measuring precise quantities of liquids and reagents. You may be working on a project to test the effects of a new drug or studying the growth patterns of microorganisms in different conditions.

Throughout the day, you are constantly on the move, checking in on experiments, recording data, and preparing samples for analysis. You might be running tests to analyze DNA or measuring the activity of enzymes.

In addition to the technical work, biological technicians must be organized and detail-oriented, carefully documenting their work and keeping meticulous records. They must communicate effectively with other technicians and scientists, collaborating on experiments and sharing their findings.

Despite the long hours and intense focus required, you are motivated by a sense of purpose, and you know that your work contributes to advancing scientific knowledge and developing new technologies and treatments. Each day is a chance for you to make a difference in science. 

Job Duties

Job duties vary significantly from one position to the next, but in general, biological technicians are involved in the following job duties:

  • Record and analyze experimental data for evaluation by research personnel.
  • Assist and conduct research, including collecting information and samples such as water and soil.
  • Prepare chemical reagents and media.
  • Conduct standardized biological, microbiological, and biochemical tests and laboratory analyses.
  • Monitor and observe experiments.
  • Ensure compliance with applicable regulations, for example, environmental, occupational health and safety, and animal-care regulations.
  • Write reports and summaries of findings.
  • Set up, adjust, calibrate, clean, maintain, and troubleshoot laboratory and field equipment.
  • Order equipment and supplies, including researching new equipment and contacting vendors for detailed specifications, pricing, and on-site demonstrations.
  • Work with vendors to design custom equipment.

Work Environment

Biological technicians work in a variety of locations, including:

 The office: 

  • Operating computerized feed and environmental monitoring systems
  • Maintaining databases of information, for example, records of growth, feeding, and mortality rates
  • Communicating on the phone and in meetings with colleagues and supervisors
  • Set up, maintain, clean and operate lab equipment.
  • Supervise and assist lab personnel engaging in research.

The field: 

  • Monitoring, maintaining, and cleaning equipment.
  • Help and support environmental and conservation scientists in performing research.
  • Operate a global positioning system (GPS) to mark and trace locations.
  • Develop and organize wildlife photo databases.
  • Collect data.

Where to Work

There are a number of places biological technicians/technologists can find employment. They include:

  • Scientific research and development services
  • Colleges, universities and professional schools, state, local, amd private
  • Federal, provincial/territorial, and municipal government departments
  • Pharmaceutical and biotechnology firms
  • Marine science institutions and aquariums
  • Marine science institutions and aquariums
  • Self-employed consultant


Search for jobs on the ECO Canada Job Board.

Education and Skills

Education

If you are considering a career as a biological technician, you should have a strong interest in:

  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Mathematics

The minimum education requirement is usually a bachelor’s degree from an accredited post-secondary university. Secondary education institutions and research facilities often hire biological technicians upon graduation, so this is an especially ideal occupation for people who enjoy lab work with an eye for detail.

If you are a post-secondary student considering a career as a biological technician, the following programs are most applicable:

  • Mathematics
  • Statistics
  • Physics
  • Earth Sciences
  • Chemistry
  • Biology

Our Environmental Professional (EP) designation can also help you progress in your chosen environmental career.

Skills

Technical Skills

  • Projecting outcomes
  • Researching and Investigating
  • Planning
  • Examining and Diagnosing
  • Analyzing Information
  • Equipment Repair
  • Data Analysis

Personal and Professional Skills

  • Operations
  • Detail Oriented
  • Self-Motivated
  • Research
  • Quality Control
  • Communications
  • Interpersonal Communications
  • Willingness to Learn
  • Creative Thinking

Education and Skills

Melanie Towers

Growing up on a farm in Saskatchewan, Melanie Towers remembers that she and her brother were frequently encouraged to play outside. "I was always out playing in the dirt with snakes, mice, frogs, and lizards, whatever animal I happened to find. My parents felt it was important for me to explore the natural world.” Those years of exploration led to a love of biology in high school and, many years later, an advanced Biotechnology diploma from the Saskatchewan Institute of Applied Science and Technology.

Today Melanie is a Microbiology Research Technician with Droycon Bioconcepts Incorporated in Regina. The spring, summer, and early fall months are Melanie’s busiest period. This is when she spends much of her time in the lab conducting tests. Most of her testing pertains to the bacterial content of commercial and private water wells in Saskatchewan, Alberta, and British Columbia. As a microbiological technician, Melanie tests for biofouling in wells. "There are lots of microbes that grow in water wells, but when one type of microbe grows too quickly, it can plug up the well—that’s called biofouling.”

Melanie’s job is to test bacterial samples of the blocked well and determine which microbes are causing the problem. She uses a reactivity test to measure the water samples for a variety of bacteria, as well as the rate of activity. One of the pluses of Melanie’s work is the assignments she’s given: "Every morning I come into work and I never know what’s going to be thrown at me!” A good example of this is a project involving five water treatment plants in northern Saskatchewan. Melanie travelled to the remote plants many times to teach staff how to use a new procedure to test for coliform bacteria in their water. Until then, these plants were sending their water samples to the laboratory in Saskatoon, and it could take up to two weeks to get the results back.

The lapse in time to get the samples to the lab can affect the samples’ microbial makeup and make for an inaccurate reading of the water’s bacterial content. In addition, the delay in getting results back to the community may be detrimental to the quality of the drinking water. "Our company’s motto is to bring the laboratory to the sample, not the other way around. We are teaching these communities to test for the bacteria on their own.” The quicker turnaround time means the plant can treat its water sooner if coliform bacteria are present.

It’s unique projects like this that help Melanie feel she is making a positive contribution to the environment. "Helping these people conduct their own test for coliform bacteria means they can attack a problem more quickly.” And in doing so, the community and the environment that come into contact with the water are protected. "It feels good to know I’ve had a hand in protecting the area’s natural environment.”

Your Impact

Biological technicians play a crucial role in the scientific community, as their work is essential to advancing scientific knowledge and developing new technologies and treatments. By supporting scientists and researchers in conducting experiments and analyzing data, biological technicians help to generate new insights and discoveries in areas such as genetics, microbiology, and botany.

The impact of biological technicians spans various fields, including medicine, agriculture, and environmental science. For example, biological technicians working in medical research may help to develop new treatments for diseases or conduct clinical trials to evaluate the safety and efficacy of new drugs. In agricultural research, they may assist in developing new crop varieties or methods for controlling pests and diseases. In environmental science, they may monitor ecosystems and conduct experiments to evaluate the effects of pollution or climate change.

Overall, the work of biological technicians contributes to our understanding of the natural world and the development of new technologies and treatments. Their contributions are vital to the success of scientific research and have the potential to impact the lives of people around the world.

Occupational Classification

Biological technologists are classified in the following occupational grouping:

 

NOC Code: 22110 – Biological technologists and technicians

What is an NOC Code? 

The National Occupation Classification (NOC) provides a standardized language for describing the work performed by Canadians in the labour market. It gives statisticians, labour market analysts, career counsellors, employers, and individual job seekers a consistent way to collect data and describe and understand the nature of work within different occupations.

The opinions and interpretations in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the Government of Canada.

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