Laboratory technicians conduct tests and perform directed research in laboratories in a variety of different disciplines. The number of years of school that it takes to become a laboratory technician can vary based on the field of laboratory technology in which the technician works. Possible fields include biological, chemical, and nuclear technology, as well as forensic science, environmental science, dental laboratory technology, and clinical medical technology. Becoming a lab technician typically takes two to four years for most disciplines.
General Education Coursework
General education coursework is required regardless of what degree program or field of science an aspiring lab technician decides to enter. General education coursework typically includes a number of different areas of study in fields such and English, history, psychology, math, physical education, and speech and communication. These courses are generally completed during the first two years of a bachelor's degree program, and taken during both years of most associate degree programs. General education requirements amount to one to two years of study time for most degrees.
Many fields of laboratory technology only require that an applicant have a two-year associate degree. Those working in the fields of environmental science, agricultural and food science, and forest and conservation science can complete an associate degree. Careers that only require an associate degree typically allow applicants to have a degree in either applied science or a field of technology related to science. Applicants for positions in these fields need to have significant hands-on laboratory experience.
Many career fields for science technicians require the completion of a bachelor's degree. For instance, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that biological lab technicians need a bachelor's degree in biology, and that chemical technicians need to have a bachelor's degree in chemistry. Forensic science technicians typically need a bachelor's degree in biology or chemistry, or in forensic science. Four-year degree programs in these fields generally require students to complete a combination of coursework and clinical laboratory rotations during the last two years of undergraduate studies.
The length of time needed to become a science technician in other fields can be considerably less than four years and, in some cases, less than two years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that medical, dental and ophthalmic laboratory technicians can learn through on-the-job training rather than having to obtain a formal degree. The length of the training required depends upon how fast a technician picks up his job duties. It can be as little as a few weeks or months in some cases.
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