Research assistant vs Lab technician

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What is the difference between lab technician and research assistant? I have been told that Lab technician doesn't get as much autonomy and doesn't look as good to adcoms compared to research assistants. I'm just want to know adcom's perspective.

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My response to your question depends on the *field* you're working in (e.g., medicine, biology, pharmacology, psychology, chemistry, zoology) and the job description (e.g., what you are expected to do as a "lab tech" or as a "research assistant" in any given lab).

At times, the job duties of a lab tech and a research assistant might overlap, differ, or sound fairly similar, depending on the work, objectives and needs of the lab.

At universities, it is common for undergraduate students working in labs to be called student lab assistants (LA) or undergraduate research assistants (RA). Some positions are "paid" positions; and other positions are unpaid positions, or provide the student with academic credit. The lab job "title" may be interchangeable - and my AMC uses both job titles, depending on the medical department or lab to which the student is assigned. If I interview someone, I am interested in their educational level (e.g., MS3), as well as the types of experiences, skills, and knowledge that the individual has already accumulated - for example, are they familiar with scientific method, hypotheses, research design, critical analysis, etc? Can they speak intelligently about these things?

In general, lab techs and student RAs are not independent because they are performing work, experiments and other assignments at the direction of the AMC, or faculty, or PI; and they are under the supervision of the AMC, faculty, PI or lab supervisor. If the RA wants to perform an independent study, they'll need approval from someone with proper legal authority, such as AMC admin, IRB, principal faculty, PI (depending on their proposed project).

Just for general reference ... a lab technician at an AMC might do the following things:
  • Provide assistance in all lab procedures (e.g., draw serum samples)
  • Use specialized laboratory equipment and other apparatus when conducting experiments, taking and examining samples, and running scientific procedures
  • Prepare and conduct chemical and biological analyses, as directed by the PI or laboratory supervisor
  • Adjust, calibrate, and ensure the effective functioning of laboratory instruments and equipment
  • Prepare, catalogue, and identify samples for examination or storage
  • Record, store, and analyze test and experiment results for later study
  • Do whatever else they are authorized and instructed to do
A "student research assistant" might do the following things in a university lab:
  • Conduct basic literature reviews
  • Collect, enter and analyze data
  • Prepare interview questions
  • Recruit and/or interview subjects
  • Maintain accurate records of interviews, safeguarding the confidentiality of subjects, as necessary
  • Summarize interviews
  • Provide ready access to all experimental data for the PI
  • Request or acquire equipment or supplies necessary for the project
  • Attend project meetings
  • Summarize project results
  • Prepare other articles, reports, and presentations
  • Do whatever else their faculty advisor/PI asks them to do
Hope this information is useful to you.
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