For those pursuing a career in research or research development, starting out as a lab technician or part of lab training programme sponsored by a university can offer a great path of personal and career satisfaction. This is because working in a lab offers a host of challenges and opportunities, as well as interactive environments. It might not be the easiest career path to get into, especially in the hard sciences which require lots of credentials and difficult coursework, but that’s also part of the game.
According to Mareike Herrmann, a research technician within the Department of Physics at the University of Warwick, “You're constantly learning, trying new things, solving problems and tackling new challenges— this is because research changes all the time. I like this aspect of the job as you never get bored.”
Aside from having your own career as a lab technician and spending hours doing trial and error research and trying to come up with new findings in your field, there’s also a bigger opportunity for those interested in the lab setting—teaching.
Teaching as a transitional role
Technicians specifically often work closely with student lab members. This enhances lab technicians' CVs with teaching experience, which is a great in current job market where everyone seems to have a good resume. Such exposure can also lead lab technicians to transition from full research roles to more intensive student training and masters training programs. Lab technicians who switch from major responsibilities of being a researcher to major responsibilities of being a teacher in the lab have to obviously like working with students. But moreover one can see how career options can sort of branch out of the lab role.
Of course, lab technicians might also like the financial and job security of a teaching role given that, across the sciences, there is always going to be a demand for good teachers and role models.
Teaching in this regard also offers a rewarding experience when previous postdoctoral researchers who transition to more of a teaching role are familiar with the problems that trip students up. It can be intriguing to see what type of research methods students use and how they go about their processes in the lab, and eventually teachers or trainers will be able to see the learning curves associated with certain projects. As students develop, gain confidence, and work independently as their projects progress, teachers finally feel the reward and job satisfaction after risking going into more of a teaching role.
Independent work for different personality types
While some researchers transition to a more teaching-friendly role, other professionals might stay on a career track that involves less interaction with people and more focus and independent thinking. Teaching in general is a profession for more extroverted individuals, as it requires a high degree of interpersonal communication on a daily basis. Some people, however, prefer the more consistent and less interactive approach to research.
Some who are driven to make discoveries and win scientific prizes or have a very particular methodology and don’t like being disrupted, might prefer independent research or working in very small teams as a long term career trajectory. This type of career development is more about the researcher, some would even say the ego. These groups of individuals are looking to publish their findings in academic journals and make strides for the sake of knowledge. While this type of career does not offer as much in terms of being a good networker or perhaps some of the excitement that big organizations feel collectively, it is one driven by the quest of breakthroughs and innovation. For some this career track is simply more appealing.