Science technicians ultimately invent and improve processes and products; to do this, they use principles and theories of both science and mathematics to assist in the research and development of these products and processes. While this group often works with scientists, their jobs are much more practical. They spend a significant amount of time working in laboratories setting up, maintaining and operating equipment, and calculating and recording results of experiments; because they must keep detailed logs of their work, an eye for the details is crucial.
Additionally, as procedures and the instruments have become more complex to use, science technicians have increasingly been working under the direct supervision of scientists to develop and adapt lab procedures to decipher data and get the best results. Because of the dependency scientists have on science technicians to recognize when laboratory equipment is malfunctioning, this group of professionals must be lab-equipment experts.
There are several different specialties of science technicians including agricultural and food science technicians, biological technicians, chemical technicians, environmental science and protection technicians, forensic science technicians, forest and conservation technicians, geological and petroleum technicians, and nuclear technicians.
Agricultural technicians conduct research, development, and testing on food and other products that come from the agricultural sector; some even breed animals for the sole purpose of studying nutrition. On the other hand, food science technicians work on quality control and may conduct tests on food additives and preservatives to ensure compliance with Food and Drug Administration regulations.
As their titles suggests, biological technicians work with biologists who study living organisms, while chemical technicians work with chemists and chemical engineers in experimental laboratories and manufacturing and industrial plants to develop and use chemicals and related products and equipment. Their work may include analyzing samples of air and water to monitor pollution levels. This work should not be confused with that of environmental science and protection technicians who monitor environmental resources and determine the contaminants and sources of pollution in the environment. Another group that works with the environment includes forest and conservation technicians who work with natural lands; they may gather basic information and data on water and soil quality, disease and insect damage to trees and plants, and any conditions that may pose a fire hazard.
Forensic science technicians have what some consider the most exciting job of all science technicians – they analyze physical evidence from crime scenes. Through the collection of this physical evidence, they are able to decipher DNA, potential firearms used, fiber, glass, hair, tissue and body fluid evidence; it is crucial that this collection is done by a professional forensic science technician to preserve the integrity of the evidence so that it may possibly be used in court. These technicians are often called upon in court to testify as expert witnesses to provide opinions to investigators.
Oil and gas exploration operations are handled by geological and petroleum technicians, while nuclear technicians operate and test nuclear research equipment, monitor radiation, and assist nuclear engineers and physicists in research.
For the most part, some postsecondary education is needed for science technicians; this could be an associate’s degree or a certificate in applied science or science-related technology, unless one is looking for a career as a biological or forensic science technician – these careers call for a bachelor’s degree. While there are many ways to qualify for a position as a science technician, most employers prefer candidates with a degree. Regardless of whether or not a science technician has a formal degree, on-the-job training is almost always necessary.
The job forecast for the field of science technicians is good and opportunities will continue to be available, although they will vary by specialty; two areas that will see rapid growth are those that deal with the environment and those that deal with forensics. Most science technicians are paid an hourly wage and the rate varies widely, beginning around $15 per hour and capping out at around $32 per hour, depending on the specialty.