Even if you are not cut out to pursue a traditional academic career, there are many ways in which you can be involved in research. You could, for example, consider a career as a laboratory technician, or as a research associate. Laboratory technicians are employed in every scientific field to assist with experiments and analysis in the lab. Research associates, on the other hand, are employed in a wider range of academic disciplines as junior members of research teams.
To become a laboratory technician, you need a high school diploma and a clear interest in science. No further qualifications are necessary, but an associate's or bachelor's degree may improve your chances, especially if your degree is in chemistry, physics, biology or technology. Previous lab experience and a familiarity with lab procedures can be advantageous, as well. Research associates need at least a master's degree in a relevant discipline. If you are aiming to work in a university, you will certainly need to have a doctorate and to have completed a post-doctoral research fellowship.
All organizations with laboratories employ lab technicians. Universities and research institutions are obvious employers, but you could also consider hospitals and large companies in scientific industries such as pharmaceuticals. "Research associate" is not a standard academic title, but there are similar opportunities within universities to work on stand-alone research projects. Other potential employers at this level include companies in scientific industries, hospitals, and independent research institutions.
A lab technician is likely to report to a senior technician or someone in an administrative or premises management role. However, a research associate is part of a research team and typically reports to the principal investigator.
Lab Technician Responsibilities
As a lab technician your basic duties are maintaining, cleaning and operating standard lab equipment and ensuring that the lab is well stocked with equipment and other resources. You prepare specimens and samples for laboratory testing. You also perform some routine tests yourself, following strict methodologies described by the principal investigator. As you gain experience, you may be asked to record and sometimes interpret results to present to senior colleagues.
Research Associate Responsibilities
A research associate's main duty is to undertake research -- in collaboration with others in the research team -- under the direction of the research project's principal investigator. Depending on the field of research, this could involve laboratory work, coding interviews, or inputting technical data. Associates are expected to make detailed observations, analyze data, and interpret results. With the rest of the team, associates contribute to producing research reports and publications, and assist with writing presentations. In addition, as this is a research role, associates are expected to keep up-to-date with current research in the field, and contribute ideas for developing the research project.
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