A laboratory technologist or "lab tech" is someone who performs research in a science lab. The term encompasses a wide variety of scientific and medical fields, and there are many different ways to become a laboratory technologist. While a Bachelor's degree is not always required, in general the best way to become a laboratory technologist is to earn a Bachelor's degree in the area of science most interesting to the individual. Gaining research experience as an undergraduate would be very helpful in gaining a position as a lab tech upon graduation from college.
A laboratory technologist can be employed in any science field that performs research in the laboratory, from geology to chemistry, genetics, or medicine. Some laboratory technologists are employed by universities, others by hospitals or pharmaceutical companies. Laboratory technologists are usually supervised by Ph.D. or M.D. level scientists or laboratory managers. They may have a lot of autonomy in their work, or they may be closely supervised. Laboratory technicians with several years experience often train and supervise others as they learn to become a laboratory technologist.
In general, laboratory technologists employed in university and industrial settings are trained on the job. They receive general theoretical and practical knowledge in their degree program, but the practical work they perform in their jobs is usually more specialized than what they have learned in school. A generalized knowledge of the scientific field in which they work, and some experience in laboratory research is generally adequate for an entry level position.
While the term laboratory technologist refers to workers in a wide variety of science jobs, some laboratory technician careers are more specialized. For instance a medical technologist is specifically trained to perform diagnostic tests on blood and body fluids in a hospital laboratory. They do not work in academic or industrial research laboratories. A medical technologist is also sometimes known as a clinical laboratory technologist.
To become a laboratory technologist in a clinical setting, an individual would need a Bachelor's degree in medical technology, or in a life science. Clinical laboratory technologists receive much of their training on the job, as do other laboratory technologists. Workers in small labs perform a wide variety of tests, while those in larger labs often specialize. Laboratory technologists may advance to become laboratory managers, but further opportunities for career advancement in this field are limited, though this may vary somewhat from field to field.