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Biological Science Technician
Significant Points
  • Biotechnological research and development should continue to drive much faster than average employment growth.
  • A Ph.D. is usually required for independent research, but a bachelor's degree is sufficient for some jobs in applied research or product development; temporary postdoctoral research positions are common.
  • Competition for independent research positions in academia is expected.
Nature of the Work

Biological scientists study living organisms and their relationship to the environment. They perform research to gain a better understanding of fundamental life processes and apply that understanding to developing new products or processes. Research can be broken down into two categories: basic and applied. Basic research is conducted without any intended aim; the goal is simply to expand on human knowledge. Applied research is directed towards solving a particular problem. Most biological scientists specialize in one area of biology, such as zoology (the study of animals) or microbiology (the study of microscopic organisms).

Basic research in biological sciences advances our knowledge of living organisms so that we can develop solutions to human health problems and improve the natural environment. These biological scientists mostly work in government, university, or private industry laboratories, often exploring new areas of research. Many expand on specialized research they started in graduate school.

Many biological scientists involved in basic research must submit grant proposals to obtain funding for their projects. Colleges and universities, private foundations, and Federal Government agencies, such as the National Institutes of Health and the National Science Foundation, contribute to the support of scientists whose research proposals are determined to be financially feasible and to have the potential to advance new ideas or processes.

Biological scientists who work in applied research or product development apply knowledge gained through basic research to develop new drugs, treatments, and medical diagnostic tests; increase crop yields; and develop new biofuels. They usually have less freedom than basic researchers do to choose the emphasis of their research, and they spend more time working on marketable treatments to meet the business goals of their employers. Biological scientists doing applied research and product development often work in teams, interacting with engineers, scientists of other disciplines, business managers, and technicians. Those working in private industry may be required to describe their research plans or results to nonscientists who are in a position to veto or approve their ideas. These scientists must consider the business effects of their work. Some biological scientists also work with customers or suppliers and manage budgets.

Scientists usually conduct research in laboratories using a wide variety of other equipment. Some conduct experiments involving animals or plants. This is particularly true of botanists, physiologists, and zoologists. Some biological research also takes place outside the laboratory. For example, a botanist might do field research in tropical rain forests to see which plants grow there, or an ecologist might study how a forest area recovers after a fire. Some marine biologists also work outdoors, often on research vessels from which they study fish, plankton, or other marine organisms.

Swift advances in knowledge of genetics and organic molecules spurred growth in the field of biotechnology, transforming the industries in which biological scientists work. Biological scientists can now manipulate the genetic material of animals and plants, attempting to make organisms more productive or resistant to disease. Those working on various genome (chromosomes with their associated genes) projects isolate genes and determine their function. This work continues to lead to the discovery of genes associated with specific diseases and inherited health risks, such as sickle cell anemia. Advances in biotechnology have created research opportunities in almost all areas of biology, with commercial applications in areas such as medicine, agriculture, and environmental remediation.

Most biological scientists specialize in the study of a certain type of organism or in a specific activity, although recent advances have blurred some traditional classifications.

Microbiologists investigate the growth and characteristics of microscopic organisms such as bacteria, algae, or fungi. Most microbiologists specialize in environmental, food, agricultural, or industrial microbiology; virology (the study of viruses); immunology (the study of mechanisms that fight infections); or bioinformatics. Many microbiologists use biotechnology to advance knowledge of cell reproduction and human disease.

Work environment. Most biologists spend their time in laboratories conducting research and in offices writing up results and keeping up with the latest research discoveries. Some biological scientists, particularly botanists, ecologists, and zoologists, do field studies that involve strenuous physical activity and primitive living conditions for extended periods of time. Biological scientists in the field may work in warm or cold climates, in all kinds of weather. Biological scientists usually are not exposed to unsafe or unhealthy conditions. Those who work with dangerous organisms or toxic substances in the laboratory must follow strict safety procedures to avoid contamination.

Many biological scientists, particularly those employed in academic settings, depend on grant money to support their research. They may be under pressure to meet deadlines and to conform to rigid grant-writing specifications when preparing proposals to seek new or extended funding.

Biological scientists typically work regular hours. While the 40-hour workweek is common, some biological scientists work longer hours. Some researchers may be required to work odd hours in laboratories or other locations (especially while in the field), depending on the nature of their research.

Biological Science Aid, GS-0404-03

Major Duties

Performs standardized routines in support of research projects. Such duties involve standardized tests, procedures, routines, or operations which require a general knowledge of basic biological science and the ability to know when and how to resolve problems encountered or to make adaptations in the sequencing of the tasks performed. Keeps detailed records of experimental data and tabulates data using personal computers and software packages.

Maintains and cleans glassware, materials, equipment and work areas used by biologists, chemists or other scientists in routine processing and analyses of samples. Assists in inventory control of glassware and supplies.

Aids in preparation of microbiological media, reagents or test materials. Performs simple and repetitive duties in support of research study while learning more complex technical procedures.

Typical, but not all-inclusive, duties are illustrated by performance of any combination of the following:

Laboratory -- prepares routine media, and solutions, by weighing and measuring constituents according to established methods; uses common laboratory equipment and apparatus such as autoclaves, sterilizers, centrifuges and homogenizers; prepares labels for specimens; maintains work area in a neat and orderly manner and may wash or clean other laboratory equipment. Assists in other closely related duties.

Field -- performs simple repetitive tasks incidental to the research project; assists in plot preparation and maintenance, plant harvesting and sample preparation and maintenance, as well as sample and seed sorting, or processing for analysis and storage; may perform such duties as servicing and cleaning insect traps, keeping simple records of work accomplished, etc.

Greenhouse -- performs simple repetitive tasks incidental to the research project such as watering, fertilizing, weeding, potting, and maintaining plants. Maintains work area in a neat and orderly manner.

Biological Science Technician, GS-0404-05

Major Duties

Establishes monitoring plots in a variety of vegetation/fuel types in accordance with established guidelines and directions from the Lead. Follows monitoring procedures outlined in the NPS National Fire Monitoring Handbook and/or adopted park protocols. Makes minor site-specific decisions relating to plot location and vegetation composition. Recognizes and reports deviations from standard procedures and expected results. Seeks assistance for situations not covered by instructions or protocols. Informs supervisor of monitoring implementation problems and proposes solutions.

Monitors plots and makes field observations of resource conditions. Evaluates observed conditions and problems, and makes preliminary determinations on the cause of the problems noted. Provides results to higher-level specialists for analysis along with suggestions for protection, mitigation, etc.

Independently identifies grasses, herbs, shrubs, and trees to species. Prepares herbarium specimens correctly, and records microhabitat and plant association data.

Collates and reports live and dead fuel loading, fuel moistures, and fire behavior and weather data relating to spread rate, flame length, and other prescription elements.

Prepares fire behavior monitoring documentation forms for prescribed burns. Utilizing a basic knowledge of biology selects locations and establishes fire behavior observation cycles/intervals according to established protocols and instructions from the Lead or Burn Boss.

Prepares field maps and photographs of natural features from the ground. Accurately navigates with map and compass to locate predetermined points anywhere in the park.

Locates field plots using GPS. Enters natural resource field data into a personal computer using customized software. Runs simple statistical analyses. Performs data entry quality control. Identifies and reports problems in computer data entry and analysis software.

Catalogs, labels, and stores plant materials collected during the season. Prepares fuel loading samples and processes fire weather, behavior and effects data.

Prepares and submits regular time management reports and a monthly summary of work accomplished. Operates four-wheel drive vehicles.Performs other incidental duties as assigned.

Biological Science Technician, GS-0404-06

Major Duties

Establishes monitoring plots in a variety of vegetation/fuel types in accordance with established guidelines. Follows monitoring procedures outlined in the NPS National Fire Monitoring Handbook and/or adopted park protocols. Makes site-specific decisions relating to plot location and vegetation composition. Recognizes and reports deviations from standard procedures and expected results. While standard methods, practices, and procedures are available to reference, the incumbent is frequently required to use judgment to make adjustments.

Monitors plots and makes field observations of resource conditions. Evaluates observed conditions and problems, and makes preliminary determinations on the cause of the problems noted. Provides results to higher-level specialists for analysis along with suggestions for protection, mitigation, etc.

Prepares fire behavior monitoring documentation forms for prescribed burns. Utilizing a basic knowledge of biology, selects locations and establishes fire behavior observation cycles/intervals according to established protocols and instructions from the Lead or Burn Boss.

Independently identifies grasses, herbs, shrubs, and trees to species. Prepares herbarium specimens correctly, and records microhabitat and plant association data.

Collates and reports live and dead fuel loadings, fuel moistures, and fire behavior and weather data relating to spread rate, flame length, and other prescription elements.

Prepares field maps and photographs of natural features from the ground. Accurately navigates with map and compass to locate predetermined points anywhere in the park. Locates field plots using GPS.

Enters natural resource field data into a personal computer using customized software. Runs simple statistical analyses. Performs error checking and data entry quality control. Identifies and reports problems in computer data entry and analysis software.

Catalogs, labels, and stores plant materials collected during the season. Prepares fuel loading samples and processes fire weather, behavior and effects data.

Prepares and submits regular time management reports and a monthly summary of work accomplished.

As assigned, may temporarily lead one or a few other employees in the accomplishment of the above duties. In addition to performing the above work, the incumbent may be required to prepare equipment, monitor work progress, verify that assignments are completed, and resolve non-complex on-site problems.

Performs other incidental duties as assigned.

Biological Science Technician, GS-0404-07

Major Duties

Serves as program lead for the fire monitoring program for one or several parks. Examines existing fire monitoring programs, data, and documentation at the park(s), identifies and prioritizes needs within the context of broader goals and objectives.

Trains and leads technicians and volunteers to establish and monitor monitoring plots in a variety of fuel/vegetation types. Verifies that plots are selected and monitored according to established guidelines. Monitors work progress, analyzes and solves operational problems, recognizes and reports system design flaws, and recommends solutions or alternatives. Develops protocols to monitor vegetation, soil, air quality, and faunal parameters not specified in the National Fire Monitoring Handbook and/or in the adopted park protocols.

Selects and/or approves locations and establishes fire effects observation cycles/intervals according to established protocols.

Leads and participates in the monitoring, collation, and reporting of live and dead fuel loadings, fuel moistures, and fire behavior and weather data relating to spread rate, flame length, and other prescription elements.

Independently identifies grasses, herbs, shrubs, and trees to species. Prepares -herbarium specimens correctly, and records microhabitat and plant association data. Confirms that field and voucher specimens are properly collected, identified, prepared and stored by other employees. Produces vegetation maps. Prepares field maps and photographs of natural features from the ground. Accurately navigates with map and compass to locate predetermined points anywhere in the park. Locates field plots using GPS.

Enters natural resource field data into a personal computer using customized software. Routinely performs error checking, data entry quality-control, and simple to complex statistical analyes.

Performs analyses of fire weather, behavior, fire history and effects data. Identifies and reports problems in computer data entry and analysis software. Works with fire behavior computer models such as the BEHAVE software program, and assists with the preparation of prescribed burn plans. Prepares regular time management summaries from the daily work logs of coworkers.

Prepares estimates of predicted and actual work progress. Monitors current literature in the field of fire ecology and fire effects.

Prepares monthly work progress reports for supervisor, Prepares reports for each park of all work accomplished during the season. Provides the Regional Fire Monitoring Program Specialist with a seasonal summary report evaluating the status and progress of each park’s fire monitoring program. Informs supervisor of monitoring implementation problems and proposes solutions.

Documents all deviations taken, and why, from standardized procedures. Responds to, and initiates, written and verbal natural resources management inquiries relating to fire and vegetation management in an accurate and professional manner. Occasionally makes presentations to special interest groups on fire and vegetation management. Presents results of data analysis to fire and resource management staff at each park.

Coordinates program activities with various neighboring federal, state, and local government entities/agencies.

Serves as an instructor for nationally and/or regionally sponsored courses in fire effects monitoring as requested.

Lead Duties

Serves as a lead for a minimum of 3 employees/volunteers permanently and/or temporarily assigned to this function, one of which is at the GS-5 level. May supervise up to a few employees/volunteers, primarily on a seasonal basis, but this does not account for at least 25% of the position’s time. Plans work schedules and logistics of field/lab crews and coordinates activities with park resource management and/or fire management staff at each park. Prepares a timetable for seasonal work to be done.

Biological Science Laboratory Technician, GS-0404-09

Major Duties

  • With a detailed knowledge of the animal visual system and brain anatomy, histology and histopathology, particularly in mice and dogs, conducts creative research and perform critical analysis of experimental data.
  • Creates and submits applications to the Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC) and will ensure the accuracy and breadth of information contained.
  • Responsible for keeping project information up to IACUC standards and is responsible for preparing IACUC modifications & continuing reviews.
  • Design and conduct research projects to improve diagnostic and treatment modalities for blinding diseases affecting military and veteran populations with particular focus on the regional (eye, brain) and systemic organ complications (cardiovascular, respiratory) associated with glaucoma, compressive optic neuropathy, laser-induced retinal damage, and ischemic optic nerve diseases.
  • Requires knowledge of the effects of intravitreal neurotrophic growth factors for treatment of glaucoma, compressive optic neuropathy, and laser-induced retinal damage and knowledge of the structural and functional optic nerve changes in animal models of glaucoma, compressive optic neuropathy, and laser-induced retinal damage.
  • Supervise and train students, graduate students, clinical residents and postdoctoral fellows in the fields of animal models of disease, drug safety and toxicity in studies conducted in the VA Center of Excellence.
  • Publication of papers, journals, books, manuscripts, technical reports, and other media.  
  • Assist in preparation of grant proposals. It is requested that the employee present data at national meetings.
  • Must have knowledge and experience with general anesthesia in different animal species (rodents, canines)
  • Research experience in animal pathology, cardiovascular, and respiratory physiology.
  • Perform necropsy and histopathology analysis of ocular, brain and other tissues in animal models of glaucoma, compressive optic -neuropathy, laser-induced retinal damage, traumatic brain injury, traumatic blast injury and auto-immune retinopathy based on the good laboratory practice (GLP) and FDA standards.
  • Implementation of GLP and FDA standards in animal drug toxicity and safety studies and experience in veterinary pathology, respiratory and cardiovascular physiology, neuroscience, molecular biology and clinical applicative research.
Training, Other Qualifications, and Advancement

Basic Requirements:

  1. Degree: microbiology; or biology, chemistry, or basic medical science that included at least 20 semester hours in microbiology and other subjects related to the study of microorganisms, and 20 semester hours in the physical and mathematical sciences combining course work in organic chemistry or biochemistry, physics, and college algebra, or their equivalent.

    OR

  2. Combination of education and experience -- courses equivalent to a major in microbiology, biology, chemistry, or basic medical science that included courses as shown in A above, plus appropriate experience or additional education.

Graduate Education: Microbiology, or specific area of study such as bacteriology, virology, mycology, algology, protozoology, parasitology, immunology, serology, microbial genetics, or soil microbiology; or specific applied fields of microbiology such as clinical and public health microbiology, food tech-nology, production processes, industrial fermentation, pollution, etc. Graduate study in related fields such as experimental pathology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, biochemistry, animal or plant physiology, genetics, plant pathology, and insect disease control, may also be pertinent, provided it has direct application to microbiological work.

Evaluation of Education: Microbiology is a broad field of science encompassing a number of scientific disciplines or areas of science, the fields in which this science is applied, and related fields where the work is concerned with or involves microbiology. The scientific disciplines or areas of this science include bacteriology, immunology, serology, algology, mycology, parasitology, protozoology, rickettsi-ology, tissue culture, virology, and similar disciplines or areas of science. The applied fields include environmental, food, dairy, soil, industrial, public health, clinical, and agricultural microbiology, and similar areas in which microbiology is applied. Related fields include taxonomy and systematics, plant, animal, or human physiology or pathology, infectious diseases, epidemiology, ecology, and similar areas of science where the work is directly related or applies to microbiology. Except where the course work deals with a limited and specific segment of the science, where it might be limited in usefulness, most of the work, including that dealing with the development and use of microbiological methods, procedures, and techniques, is qualifying. In interpreting the substantive value of the course work, credit may be given for courses in related fields, depending on the degree to which the courses are related to micro-biological work.

Evaluation of Experience: For positions at GS-9 that involve a substantial amount of work in a specific specialized area or applied field of microbiology, at least 6 months of the experience must either have been in the appropriate area of specialization or applied field of microbiology, or have direct application in the area for which the applicant is being considered. For the GS-11 and higher grade levels of such specialized positions, the experience must have been sufficiently specialized to insure adequate familiarity with the area of specialization or applied field of microbiology, or have direct application in the area for which the applicant is being considered.

Alternate requirement: For GS-14 clinical and public health microbiology positions, certification by the American Board of Medical Microbiology/American Board of Medical Laboratory Immunology, or election to Fellowship in the American Academy of Microbiology fully meets the experience requirement for such positions.

 

Job Outlook

Employment of biological scientists is expected to increase much faster than the average for all occupations although there will continue to be competition for some basic research positions.

Employment change. Employment of biological scientists is projected to grow 21 percent over the 2008—18 decade, much faster than the average for all occupations, as biotechnological research and development continues to drive job growth. Biological scientists enjoyed very rapid employment gains over the past few decades—reflecting, in part, the growth of the biotechnology industry. Employment growth will moderate somewhat as the biotechnology industry matures, with fewer new firms being founded and existing firms merging or being absorbed by larger biotechnology or pharmaceutical firms. However, much of the basic biological research done in recent years has resulted in new knowledge, including the isolation and identification of genes. Biological scientists will be needed to take this knowledge to the next stage, understanding how certain genes function within an entire organism, so that medical treatments can be developed to treat various diseases. Even pharmaceutical and other firms not solely engaged in biotechnology use biotechnology techniques extensively, spurring employment for biological scientists. For example, biological scientists are continuing to help farmers increase crop yields by pinpointing genes that can help crops, such as wheat, grow in more extreme climate conditions.

In addition, efforts to discover new and improved ways to clean up and preserve the environment will continue to add to job growth. More biological scientists will be needed to determine the environmental impact of industry and government actions and to prevent or correct environmental problems, such as the negative effects of pesticide use. Some biological scientists will find opportunities in environmental regulatory agencies, while others will use their expertise to advise lawmakers on legislation to save environmentally sensitive areas. New industrial applications of biotechnology, such as new methods for producing biofuels, also will spur demand for biological scientists.

The Federal Government is a major source of funding for basic research and development, including many areas of medical research that relate to biological science. Large budget increases at the National Institutes of Health in the early part of the decade led to increases in Federal basic research and development expenditures, with research grants growing both in number and dollar amount. However, the increase in expenditures slowed substantially in recent years. Going forward, the level of Federal funding will continue to impact competition for winning and renewing research grants.

There will continue to be demand for biological scientists specializing in botany, zoology, and marine biology, but opportunities will be limited because of the small size of these fields. Marine biology, despite its attractiveness as a career, is a very small specialty within biological science.

Job prospects. Doctoral degree holders are expected to face competition for basic research positions in academia. Furthermore, should the number of advanced degrees awarded continue to grow, applicants for research grants are likely to face even more competition. Currently, about 1 in 4 grant proposals are approved for long-term research projects. In general, applied research positions in private industry are somewhat easier to obtain, but may become more competitive if increasing numbers of scientists seek jobs in private industry because of the difficulty finding positions in colleges and universities.

Prospective marine biology students should be aware that those who would like to enter this specialty far outnumber the very few openings that occur each year for the type of glamorous research jobs that many would like to obtain. Almost all marine biologists who do basic research have a Ph.D.

People with bachelor's and master's degrees are expected to have more opportunities in nonscientist jobs related to biology, in fields like sales, marketing, publishing, and research management. Non-Ph.D.s also may fill positions as science or engineering technicians or as medical health technologists and technicians. Some become high school biology teachers.

Biological scientists are less likely to lose their jobs during recessions than those in other occupations, because many are employed on long-term research projects. However, an economic downturn could influence the amount of money allocated to new research and development efforts, particularly in areas of risky or innovative research. An economic downturn also could limit the possibility of extension or renewal of existing projects.

Earnings

Median annual wages of zoologists and wildlife biologists were $55,290 in May 2008. The middle 50 percent earned between $43,060 and $70,500. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $33,550, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $90,850.

Sources of Additional Information

For information on careers in the biological sciences, contact:

  • American Institute of Biological Sciences, 1444 I St. NW., Suite 200, Washington, DC 20005. Internet: http://www.aibs.org
  • Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, 9650 Rockville Pike, Bethesda, MD 20814. Internet: http://www.faseb.org

Information on obtaining Biological Science Technician positions with the Federal Government is available from the Office of Personnel Management through USAJOBS, the Federal Government's official employment information system. This resource for locating and applying for job opportunities can be accessed through the Internet at http://www.usajobs.gov or through an interactive voice response telephone system at (703) 724–1850 or  (703) 724–1850  or TDD (978) 461–8404 and   (978) 461–8404. These numbers are not toll free, and charges may result. For advice on how to find and apply for Federal jobs, download the Insider's Guide to the Federal Hiring Process” online here.

Sources:

  • Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2010-11 Edition; and
  • Office of Personnel Management, Position Classification Standards.

Last Modified Date: March 7, 2011

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