Lab technicians play a critical role in the laboratory ecosystem. They provide technical support throughout an array of projects, enabling scientists and other researchers to shift their focus onto more complex analytical tasks, so projects can progress efficiently.
In healthcare, the improved pace lab technicians bring to a laboratory translates to new treatments reaching and supporting patients faster- helping to transform lives and drive the field of medicine forward in a tangible way.
But what does a lab technician do day-to-day to accomplish this?
Read on as we delve behind the job title in an interview with Gamila Ersan, a lab technician working at a leading global healthcare company as part of a deployed team from Synergy Scientific Services.
- What attracted Gamila to work as a lab technician
- What a lab technician does day to day
- The core challenges of working as a lab technician
- The highlights of working as a lab technician
- Gamila’s key advice for future lab technicians
- What the future holds for the laboratory sector
What attracted you to work as a lab technician?
The role has been a natural progression from my Bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry and Molecular Medicine. Biochemistry is such a vast field, and the most impactful way for me to advance my career after graduating meant taking the next leap of faith by starting as a lab tech.
I discovered Synergy by chance while looking for work as a lab tech and found the idea of a science agency that recruits and integrates scientists in industry an intriguing prospect. As an undergraduate, I spent time working in contracting models through the hospitality industry, so felt comfortable with the concept, despite not having seen it being executed in a scientific context before.
What does a lab technician do day-to-day?
My role is very dynamic, and I spend a great deal of time being ‘everywhere-at-once’ depending on what support the scientific team require on the day.
I tend to spend some time at the start of my day organising my calendar, by blocking out time for pre-agreed tasks for the day.
This includes tasks like:
- Seeding cells
- Changing media
- Attending meetings
- Validating assays
- Optimising assays
Throughout the day, I add in additional tasks as needed, and update previous tasks that are either moved along, or completed ahead of schedule.
As an example, on Friday I arrived at 8:40, settled in for the day and started organising my calendar at 9am.
From 9am to midday I stained monocytes and treated them onto endolethial cells, which I then harvested through RNA extraction for quantification. At 12, I attended a seminar where I had my lunch, while gaining an insight into advancing my career as a scientist.
In the afternoon, I returned to the laboratory, fixed cells, and harvested serum for the rest of the day.
What are the core challenges of working as a lab technician
I think as a fresh graduate it can be intimidating to work amongst titans in the scientific field. When I started work, I sat through several induction meetings regarding the projects I would be helping with, and I was both taken aback, and in awe at how life-changing each and every project was.
Before my current role, I became very attuned to working on protocols on paper in an academic laboratory environment. Being surrounded by scientists who are challenging themselves, the field, and the wider industry by innovating with new techniques is a refreshing challenge. There is always something new to learn around the corner.
As a lab technician, one of the biggest challenges you can face is juggling different projects. It can be difficult to switch between “fields of view” when working on different areas – for example, when switching between working on adipocytes to hepatocytes or monocytes, I have to employ a completely different workflow and adjust my mindset to align with the task’s nuances to ensure that I’m working in the most effective way. It generally takes me a moment before I can adjust, so it’s not a major hurdle, but a challenge to keep in mind.
Another challenge is working with robotics in the laboratory, as they don’t always have the same level of flexibility as human touch, meaning that cells on plates can be at risk of being washed away – undoing days or sometimes weeks of work. At the same time, when you’re working at the forefront of research, where high throughput assays and data need to be processed in a limited amount of time, robotics are indispensable due to the speed at which they work. But that’s science! We learn and adapt to deliver a better tomorrow.
What are the highlights of working as a lab technician?
I think the challenges mentioned above, working amongst titans in the scientific field, having variety in my work, and working with robotics act as highlights as well as challenges. It’s inspiring being around people working at the summit of their field, and I enjoy being in an environment that feels fundamentally motivating.
Additionally, having the opportunity to have variety in my work means that I can dabble in an array of different tasks, and learn new things every day – my work is rarely stagnant.
Finally, being able to utilise cutting-edge technology and robotics as a lab technician is exciting and can help streamline work. Instead of 90 well plates taking an hour to manually maintain, robots can process the same plates in a sterile environment with no risk of human error in just 15 minutes.
What advice would you give to future lab technicians?
The practical side of science offers a range of options for graduates as many science degrees equip you with transferable skills, which means you can join a company without always having specialised in a specific area beforehand. It is important to note that there are peaks where large cohorts of graduates seek jobs in concert, such as summer and winter, which results in heightened competition, but this is something you can prepare for by optimising your application.
After applying for a job, I’d highly recommend going through LinkedIn, and finding a hiring manager working at the organisation you’ve applied to work at. Then, send a connection request, and add a message to the request itself explaining who you are, information on what role you’re applying for, why you’d be a good fit, and the offer to carry on the conversation. Remember to add your personality so they remember you’re a person!
Additionally, tailoring your CV to every job application is a really important step that many candidates skip out on. Taking the time to integrate the same keyword from the job posting into your CV can make a world of difference to your interview rates – even if you think the terminology you have and the job description describe the same thing. For example, if you have cell seeding on your CV, and the job description asks for tissue culture, it may be easy to think that you’ve already covered the topic – but without change, your skill will be far less likely to be seen by a recruiter.
What do you think the future holds for the laboratory sector?
I think that the oncoming age of automation and robotics will continue to drive an increasing demand for biostatisticians and in-silico scientists to work in laboratories.
Laboratories today need more people who can program (particularly in R). If you’re thinking of joining the scientific industry and working in a laboratory environment, it’s important to think forward, and look into statistics and bioinformatics.
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