There are several ways to qualify for a job as a science technician. Many employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years of specialized training or an associate's degree in applied science or science-related technology. Because employers' preferences vary, however, some science technicians have a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, or forensic science or have taken several science and math courses at 4-year colleges.
Many technical and community colleges offer associate's degrees in a specific technology or a more general education in science and mathematics. A number of 2-year associate's degree programs are designed to provide easy transfer to a 4-year college or university. Technical institutes usually offer technician training, but provide less theory and general education than do technical or community colleges. The length of programs at technical institutes varies, although 1-year certificate programs and 2-year associate's degree programs are common.
Approximately 20 colleges or universities offer a bachelor's degree program in forensic science; about another 20 schools offer a bachelor-of-science degree in chemistry, biochemistry, or genetic engineering with an emphasis on forensic science or criminology; a few additional schools offer a bachelor-of-science degree with an emphasis in a specialty area, such as criminology, pathology, jurisprudence, investigation, odontology, toxicology, or forensic accounting. In contrast to some other science technician positions that require only a 2-year degree, forensic science positions usually require a 4-year degree to work in the field. Knowledge and understanding of legal procedures also can be helpful. Prospective forestry and conservation technicians can choose from more than 20 associate's degree programs in forest technology accredited by the Society of American Foresters.
Most chemical process technicians have a 2-year degree, usually an associate's degree in process technology, although in some cases a high school diploma is sufficient. These workers usually receive additional on-the- job training. Entry-level workers whose college training encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of diagnostic laboratory equipment generally require less on-the-job training. Those with a high school diploma typically begin work as trainees under the direct supervision of a more experienced process technician. Many with only a high school diploma eventually earn a 2-year degree in process technology, often paid for by their employer.
Some schools offer cooperative-education or internship programs, allowing students the opportunity to work at a local company or some other workplace while attending classes during alternate terms. Participation in such programs can significantly enhance a student's employment prospects.
Persons interested in careers as science technicians should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. Science courses taken beyond high school, in an associate's or bachelor's degree program, should be laboratory oriented, with an emphasis on bench skills. A solid background in applied basic chemistry, physics, and math is vital. Because computers often are used in research and development laboratories, technicians should have strong computer skills, especially in computer modeling. Communication skills also are important: technicians often are required to report their findings both orally and in writing. In addition, technicians should be able to work well with others, because teamwork is common. Organizational ability, an eye for detail, and skill in interpreting scientific results are important as well. A high mechanical aptitude, attention to detail, and analytical thinking are all important characteristics of science technicians.
Prospective science technicians can acquire good career preparation through 2-year formal training programs that combine the teaching of scientific principles and theory with practical hands-on application in a laboratory setting with up-to-date equipment. Graduates of 4-year bachelor's degree programs in science who have considerable experience in laboratory-based courses, have completed internships, or have held summer jobs in laboratories also are well qualified for science technician positions and are preferred by some employers. However, those with a bachelor's degree who accept technician jobs generally cannot find employment that uses their more advanced academic education.
Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a scientist or a more experienced technician. Job candidates whose training or educational background encompasses extensive hands-on experience with a variety of laboratory equipment, including computers and related equipment, usually require a short period of on-the-job training. As they gain experience, technicians take on more responsibility and carry out assignments under only general supervision, and some eventually become supervisors. However, technicians employed at universities often have their fortunes tied to those of particular professors; when those professors retire or leave, these technicians face uncertain employment prospects.