What Do Laboratory Assistants Do?

Laboratory assistants work in scientific and medical laboratory settings preparing experiments, processing specimens, maintaining lab equipment, and cleaning up after experiments. To become a lab assistant, you may seek an associate's degree in biotechnology or biological science. Read on to learn about typical lab assistant job duties. Schools offering Clinical Laboratory Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Lab Assistant Job Description

Laboratory assistants work in the field of science, assisting researchers and scientists during lab tests and experiments. Before an experiment, laboratory assistants process specimens and prepare the proper experimental set up. Afterward, they clean and maintain the lab and equipment. Lab assistants may work in medical lab settings and specialize in a specific area of lab assistance, such as a phlebotomy (collection of blood samples) or histology (cutting and dyeing of tissue samples). Other common names for lab assistants are laboratory technicians and laboratory technologists; the difference in these two roles is often education level (technologist positions require a bachelor's degree; technician positions require a certificate or associate's degree).

Important Facts About Laboratory Assistants

Key Skills Thorough researching, attention to detail, critical thinking, problem solving, reading comprehension, time management, close listening, clear communication
Work Environment Hospitals; medical and diagnostic laboratories; physicians offices; colleges, universities, and professional schools
Similar Occupations Biological technicians; chemical technicians; chemists and materials scientists; veterinary technologists and technicians

Lab Assistant Duties

The following sections detail some of the daily duties and responsibilities of a laboratory assistant, depending on the type of lab and subject area of research:

Prepare and Process Specimens

Laboratory assistants are responsible for setting up lab equipment and supplies, as well as preparing and processing lab samples. Lab assistants must know how to properly handle specimens according to established protocols and follow any regulations related to the type of sample.

Assist Researchers

As a laboratory assistant, you may operate a wide selection of laboratory equipment and instruments, such as microscopes, in addition to following lab safety procedures and recording detailed data during lab tests. You must also follow written and verbal directions given by scientists and researchers.

Maintain Laboratory Facilities and Equipment

Laboratory assistants are in charge of cleaning lab instruments, sterilizing the test area, calibrating test equipment, keeping inventory of lab equipment, and following safety procedures when handling dangerous chemicals. Laboratory assistants also ensure that the laboratory is stocked with the necessary supplies.

Educational Requirements

Laboratory assistant positions typically require some education beyond high school. In order to pursue a career as a laboratory technician, you may enroll in a community college or vocational school to obtain an associate's degree in biotechnology, biological science, or medical technology. In some cases a certificate program rather than an associate's degree is sufficient for employment. To become a laboratory technologist, you likely need to earn a bachelor's degree, which may yield more advanced employment opportunities. While working toward your degree, you may gain experience working as a laboratory assistant in your school's lab or research facilities. Some states require laboratory technicians and technologists to be licensed; your college or university should be able to help you with licensing information for your state.

Salary Information and Employment Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS, www.bls.gov) reported the median annual salary of medical and clinical laboratory technicians and technologists as $52,330 in May 2018. While job opportunities for medical and clinical lab technologists are expected to increase by about 12% between 2016 and 2026, according to the BLS, technicians will likely witness employment growth of about 14% during the same decade.

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