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A chemistry lab technician assists chemists in organizing, carrying out, and documenting various lab experiments. Technicians have extensive formal education and training in their specialty, and understand the details and importance of proper techniques. They operate sophisticated equipment and perform complicated math equations to render accurate results. A chemistry lab technician might work a university, private research lab, or the research and development division of a chemical manufacturing plant.
Most chemistry lab technicians hold at least bachelor's degrees in chemistry or engineering, though some labs employ students who are still working on their degrees. Extensive education is important to provide a technician with a fundamental understanding of chemical properties and reactions. A technician needs to be very familiar with the periodic table of elements, common ions and compounds, and the physical and chemical changes that occur in various experiments. In addition, college chemistry lab classes allow future technicians to become familiar with the equipment and procedures they will utilize in their future careers.
A chemistry technician needs to be very organized and detail-oriented. Even the slightest oversights can taint the results of an experiment, such as miscalculating the amount of initial compounds or failing to heat a solution to the proper temperature. Since many experiments involve handling and manipulating potentially hazardous chemicals, a technician must take care to follow protocol and safety rules at all times to reduce the risk of injury. Depending on the type of experiment being performed, the technician may need to wear gloves, protective goggles, and a thick lab coat. The work of a technician is often stressful, though most professionals find the job very interesting and rewarding.
In most labs, technicians are responsible for the majority of tasks related to preparing and carrying out an experiment. A chemist may design and oversee an experiment, but a chemistry lab technician typically does much of the actual hands-on work. Before a project, he or she cleans tables and equipment, gathers supplies, and prepares standard lab reports. Following the instructions or personal guidance of the chemist, the technician carefully conducts the experiment. He or she records observations and outlines final results.
After a chemist has thoroughly reviewed and checked the findings, he or she may ask a chemistry lab technician to compose an official document. Strong technical writing skills are important to ensure that a paper presents accurate, easy-to-understand information. The technician may also be involved in the process of submitting the paper to science journals for peer review and publication.
Work study positions as chemistry lab assistants or technicians were coveted at my college. They tended to have more desirable hours than many other jobs, and because they were skill-based, they paid better than things like working in the cafeteria. I knew a few people who had these jobs, and it really helped them with practical experience for graduate school as well.
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