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Careers in Laboratory Science
June 24, 2020
From accurately conducting genetic cancer tests to carefully analyzing forensic DNA samples, the need for skilled laboratory science technologists across a wide range of fields is strong. Employment for clinical laboratory scientists and technicians is expected to increase 11% between 2018 and 2028, much faster than the average job growth of 5%, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
Laboratory science professionals enjoy dynamic careers in a variety of settings including hospital, veterinary, forensic, molecular biotechnology, and industrial research labs. To prepare for an exciting career in laboratory science, students should pursue relevant degrees such as a Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science. The following are five specific careers that demonstrate the versatility of a laboratory science degree.
Clinical Testing and Analysis
One of the primary workplace settings for laboratory scientists is the clinical medical lab. In this position, medical professionals can have a direct impact on the well-being of large patient populations, whether by enabling healthy patients to thrive or by helping the ill uncover underlying conditions.
The core job duties for a clinical laboratory technologist, commonly called a medical laboratory scientist, include:
- Collecting and performing tests on biological samples, including body fluids and tissue
- Using sophisticated equipment such as cell counters, microscopes, centrifuges, and automated or computerized instruments
- Analyzing test results
- Recording test findings in digital patient record systems
- Transmitting results to doctors and other health professionals
Clinical laboratory technologists typically work in hospital, commercial diagnostic laboratory, and physician practice settings. They may also work for universities, government agencies, or specialty medical facilities such as blood banks, veterinary labs, or molecular biology labs.
To pursue a career in clinical testing and analysis, laboratory scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree. These technologists are often assisted by laboratory technicians, who perform simpler tests and may only need an associate's degree or postsecondary certification. They may also work alongside pathologists, who are medical doctors specializing in disease diagnosis.
Another popular laboratory science career is that of a medical researcher. The medical research professional plays an important role in improving healthcare quality by working to understand the causes of diseases and identify new ways to treat illnesses.
Some of the job duties of a medical researcher may include:
- Conducting tests and experiments on biological samples to investigate toxicity, pathogens, or disease causes
- Testing of new medical and diagnostic tools, including in clinical trials
- Comparing and analyzing test results
- Documenting and reporting observations and results
A medical lab researcher helps conduct studies to advance knowledge of diseases and health conditions, such as examining the connection between exercise and heart disease. They also assist in clinical trials that aim to improve medical treatments, such as testing the potency of a new diabetes medication or developing a more versatile hip implant. Researchers might specialize in emerging high-growth medical fields such as immunotherapy or biotechnology.
Medical researchers typically work in government, higher education, corporate, or research hospital laboratories. Medical research technicians should have a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field and typically work alongside doctoral-level medical scientists. Demand is high for medical researchers; biological technicians and medical scientists are projected to see 7% and 8% job growth, respectively, between 2018 and 2028, according to the BLS.
For those looking for an exciting role in crime investigation, forensic medicine can be a rewarding career in laboratory science. Forensic science technicians aid in law enforcement investigations by analyzing crime scene evidence.
Job duties of forensic medicine laboratory specialists can include:
- Analyzing evidence using microscopes and other tools
- Performing chemical or biological tests on evidence
- Discovering links between crimes and suspects using DNA samples and other tools
Forensic medicine specialists may conduct a variety of tests or may serve in a specific role such as forensic biologist or forensic chemist. Advances in technologies that help identify weapons and perpetrators are driving demand for specialists in fields such as ballistics and DNA.
Forensic science technicians have a strong job outlook due to high crime caseloads among local governments and increased use of laboratory evidence in criminal trials. The BLS expects employment to increase 14% by 2028. Crime labs are typically located in local or state government facilities, though some medical and testing labs provide forensic research. Large cities are more likely to have forensic labs than small towns.
Public health laboratories work closely with government agencies to monitor and respond to disease outbreaks and other health-related emergencies. A public health laboratory specialist may be tasked with determining the impact of a chemical spill, tracing the reach of a foodborne illness, or discovering how a virus strain spreads. They might also investigate why residents in a certain area experience similar health conditions.
Public health lab professionals play a unique role in government efforts to protect the well-being of populations, providing services that can’t be easily replicated in other medical labs. Public health labs are on alert for emergencies around the clock and have advanced instruments and analytical tools to provide rapid responses, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories.
Public health labs collaborate with federal, state, and local officials to detect threats and draw actionable insights from research to inform response measures. Laboratory science careers focused on public health might also be connected to the World Health Organization or other international entities. Some lab technicians might specialize in disease, environmental, agricultural, or food safety fields.
Product Research and Development
Companies across a wide variety of industries utilize research laboratories in their product development programs. In fact, there are a number of laboratories that exist solely to provide product testing services for corporations or other entities.
A product researcher might test the durability of a new packaging material, the effectiveness of a new soap, or the texture of a new plant-based food product. In these cases, the new products may undergo laboratory testing to ensure that they do not pose any health risks such as chemical inhalation, skin irritation, or food poisoning. New medical equipment and pharmaceuticals must also undergo rigorous safety testing during product development stages.
More than 60% of Americans have concerns about the products they consume or put on and around their bodies, including cleaners, foods, supplements, and personal care products, according to NSF International. As companies become increasingly vigilant about product safety, the demand for product research laboratory specialists will only increase.
Pursue a Career in Laboratory Science
Students looking to pursue a high-impact career in one of the diverse laboratory science fields can explore Louisiana State University Online’s Bachelor of Science in Medical Laboratory Science degree. LSU Online boasts one of the top medical laboratory science programs in the region, offering a flexible, high-quality virtual learning environment with numerous support resources. The MLS program provides students with a solid background in the testing, diagnosing, and monitoring of medical conditions, allowing them to make a strong impact in an important healthcare field.
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