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Science Technicians

Science technicians use their knowledge of science, mathematics, and technical processes to assist scientists in research and development and in a variety of production- related tasks.

In research and development, science technicians construct or maintain experimental equipment, set up and monitor experiments, and calculate and record the results. In production, science technicians follow the general directions of scientists and engineers, often without close supervision. Many do quality control testing to ensure that products contain the proper proportions of ingredients or meet strength and durability standards. In the petroleum industry, science technicians perform a wide variety of technical services.

Science technicians usually specialize in a particular area and often have a more specific job title, such as chemical technician, for example, rather than the general title of science technician.

Agricultural technicians work with agricultural scientists in food production and processing. Some conduct tests and experiments to improve the yield and quality of crops or to increase the resistance of plants and animals to disease, insects, or other hazards. Other agricultural technicians do animal breeding and nutrition work.

Biological technicians work with biologists studying living organisms. Microbiological technicians study microscopic organisms and may do medical research. Biological technicians also analyze biological substances such as blood, food, and drugs; some examine evidence in criminal investigations.

Chemical technicians work with chemists and chemical engineers, developing and using chemicals and related products and equipment. Most do research and development, testing, or other laboratory work. They often set up and conduct tests and experiments and collect and analyze data. Some chemical technicians collect and analyze samples of air and water to monitor pollution levels. Nuclear technicians operate nuclear test and research equipment, monitor radiation, and assist nuclear engineers and physicists in research. Some also operate remote control equipment to manipulate radioactive materials or materials to be exposed to radioactivity.

Mathematical technicians work with scientists and engineers to solve computational problems encountered in research and development and other areas. They also apply standardized mathematical formulas to translate data into graphs and charts.

Petroleum technicians perform a variety of tasks related to oil and natural gas production. Some petroleum technicians measure and record physical and geologic conditions in oil or gas wells using instruments lowered into wells or by analysis of the mud that is circulated down and back up wells. Other petroleum technicians help geologists search for new oil and gas deposits by collecting and examining geological data or by testing geological data or by testing geological samples to determine petroleum and mineral content. Some petroleum technicians are called scouts. They investigate and collect information about oil and gas well drilling operations, geological and geophysical prospecting, and land or lease contracts.

Other science technicians collect weather information, test manufactured products to ensure their quality, or assist oceanographers.

Working Conditions

Science technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Many work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments that can't be completed during regular working hours. Others such as agricultural and petroleum technicians perform much of their work outdoors, sometimes in remote locations, and some may be exposed to hazardous conditions. Chemical technicians sometimes work with toxic chemicals, nuclear technicians may be exposed to radiation, and biological technicians sometimes work with disease-causing organisms. However, there is little risk if the proper safety procedures are followed.


Science technicians held about 234,000 jobs in 1990. About 40 percent worked in manufacturing, especially in the chemical, petroleum refining, and food processing industries. Over one-quarter worked in service industries, mainly in colleges and universities.

In 1990, the Federal Government employed almost 19,600 science technicians, mostly in the Departments of Defense, Agriculture, Commerce, and Interior.

Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

There are several ways to qualify for jobs as science technicians. Most employers prefer applicants who have at least 2 years of specialized training or experience. Many junior and community colleges offer associate degree programs which either give training for a specific type of science technician job or give a more general education in science and mathematics. Technical institutes generally offer the technical training needed for a specific type of job but less theory and general education than junior or community colleges. The length of programs at technical institutes varies, although 2-year associate degree programs are common. Many science technicians have a bachelor's degree in science or mathematics, or have had science and math courses in 4-year colleges. Some with bachelor's degrees become science technicians because they can't find a job as a scientist. In some cases, they may be able to move into jobs as scientists, managers, or sales workers in the organization.

Some companies offer training programs or extensive on-the-job training for science technician jobs. Technicians also qualify for their jobs with training obtained in the armed Forces.

Persons interested in a career as a science technician should have an aptitude for science and mathematics and should take as many high school science and math courses as possible. They should also be able to work well with others since technicians often are part of a team.

Advancement opportunities for science technicians vary by the type of technician and employer. Technicians usually begin work as trainees in routine positions under the direct supervision of a scientist or experienced technician. As they gain experience, they take on more responsibility and carry out a particular assignment under only general supervision. Some eventually become supervisors. Job Outlook

Science technicians with good technical and communications skills should experience very good employment opportunities through the year 2000. Employment is expected to increase about as fast the average for all occupations through the year 2000 due to an expected growth in scientific research and development and production of technical products. Because of the growth of biotechnology, employment of biological technicians is expected to grow faster than other science technicians. Employment of chemical, nuclear and petroleum technicians is expected to grow more slowly.

Despite the projected growth, most job openings will be to replace technicians who transfer to other occupations or leave the labor force.


Median annual earnings of science technicians were about $22,400 in 1990; the middle 50 percent earned between $16,900 and $30,600. Ten percent earned less than $13,400, and 10 percent earned over $39,500.

In the Federal Government in 1990, science technicians could start at $13,032, $14,629, or $16,300 depending on their education and experience. The average salary for science technicians employed by the Federal Government was $22,500 in 1990.

Related Occupations

Other technicians who apply scientific principles in their work include engineering technicians, electrical and electronics technicians, broadcast technicians, drafters, and health technologists and technicians. Some of the work of agricultural and biological technicians is related to that of agriculture and forestry occupations.

Sources of Additional Information

For information about a career as a chemical technician, contact:

American Chemical Society, Education Division, cAreer Services, 1155 16th St. NW., Washington, D.C. 20036.

Norman J. Worth, Chairman, National Conference of Chemical Technicians Affiliates, E 302/315. DuPont Experimental Station, Wilmington, Del. 19898. For more information about a career as a biological technician and other biology- related careers, contact:

American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1401 Wilson Blvd., Arlington, VA 22209.


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