Being an animal technician allows you to care for animals every day while also contributing to important advances in scientific and medical research

As an animal technician, you'll get to work with animals every day and will care for them within scientific and medical research laboratory facilities. The UK has strict welfare regulations to protect animals used in scientific and medical research and you will be responsible for making sure the highest standards of care and welfare are met for them.

You'll work in a role that is important for supporting high quality scientific research in areas such as developing new treatments and looking at different methods of diagnosis. At a higher level you may become directly involved in experimental work, assisting researchers in their planning of research project tasks.

The working environment can vary depending on the species you're caring for and the set of experiments that are being carried out.

Responsibilities

As an animal technician, you'll need to:

  • ensure a high level of animal welfare and work to improve the quality of life for laboratory animals
  • clean cages, pens, trays, equipment and fittings, to keep animals clean and comfortable
  • feed and water animals
  • handle and move animals safely
  • administer medicines
  • check the environment (for example, temperature and humidity)
  • monitor the condition of animals and recognise and resolve any behavioural problems
  • obtain samples and measurements
  • collect and record data
  • understand the requirements of the Animal (Scientific Procedure) Act 1986 which governs the use of animals in scientific research.

Depending on your employer and level of experience, you may also:

  • design studies and set the conditions and protocols that will provide scientists with the information required - drawing on your understanding of the physical, behavioural and environmental requirements of individual species
  • predict and interpret the animals' responses
  • help to breed animals for use in research - you would monitor pregnancies, care for newborn animals and measure weight gain and growth
  • play a key role in selecting animals for studies - as well as carrying out and developing dosing, assessment and sampling techniques.

Some of these tasks will only be carried out once you reach a more senior role such as animal technologist.

Salary

  • Trainee animal technicians earn salaries of up to £17,000. This may be slightly more within London.
  • Salaries for trained technicians with at least two years’ experience are in the region of £19,000 to £28,000.
  • In a more senior role such as senior animal technologist or team leader, expected salaries are around £25,000 to £35,000.
  • Facility managers or specialists with high levels of responsibility can earn between £35,000 and £55,000.

Income data from the Institute of Animal Technology (IAT). Figures are intended as a guide only.

Working hours

As a technician you'll typically work around 37 hours a week. This usually includes some early morning, late night, weekend and bank holiday working on a rota basis, as animal care is needed 24/7. Overtime payments may be available for weekend and holiday work.

Part-time work is available for experienced and qualified technicians.

What to expect

  • Most of the work takes place indoors and can involve sterile conditions or hot, humid environments. There is some outdoor work with certain species.
  • The work can be physically demanding and tiring, and you'll need a high level of concentration and attention to detail.
  • You'll wear protective clothing, which will vary depending on the species of animal and type of study being undertaken. As a minimum, technicians wear a full outfit of clean protective clothing every day.
  • Animal research is a controversial issue. Although there is considerable support available from colleagues, you need to be prepared to deal with adverse comments (and sometimes actions) from members of the public or animal rights groups.
  • There are opportunities for qualified technicians to work overseas.

Qualifications

You don't need a degree or HND to become an animal technician, as many employers will be more concerned with your genuine interest in animal care.

There are however, certain degrees that may be useful for the role, including:

  • animal behaviour/management
  • biology
  • pharmacology
  • physiology
  • toxicology.

At a higher level, knowledge of immunology and pathology, microbiology and genetics may be helpful.

Although not essential, you can take a relevant HND in subjects such as:

  • animal care and welfare
  • animal management
  • animal science.

Another route in is through the Animal Technician Development Programme. This provides structured training in areas such as welfare, ethics, legislation, animal husbandry and bio security. It lasts for 24 weeks and includes around two weeks of work experience and 12 weeks of paid learning. The programme runs in partnership with employers who aim to offer vacancies to trainees who have completed the course. See Animal Technician Development Programme (ATDP) for more information.

You may also want to consider joining the IAT. By becoming a member you'll gain access to its journal, stay up to date with developments in the industry and receive a discount on courses and resources. This can provide a way to stay connected and make contacts within the industry.

Skills

You'll need to show:

  • a love of animals and a willingness to care for them
  • attention to detail
  • good mathematical and computing skills
  • high levels of concentration
  • a responsible attitude and an understanding of the need for confidentiality
  • a good standard of physical fitness
  • a willingness to work as part of a team
  • good communication skills, as it's often necessary to consult with a variety of professionals
  • an awareness of the ethical issues surrounding this work.

Work experience

It's vital to convince a potential employer of your genuine interest in, and commitment to, animal care and welfare. Direct experience of working with animals, either paid or voluntary, is useful.

This can include caring for pets or working in dog kennels, on farms or in a veterinary practice for a sustained period of time.

It could also be useful to demonstrate your interest in working in a laboratory to show you are genuinely keen to work in this environment. This could include gaining some voluntary or part-time work in a laboratory or scientific setting to show you’re familiar with lab procedures.

Employers

You can find work in a range of academic and commercial institutions, including:

  • pharmaceutical companies
  • research institutes and other government or private organisations
  • specialist animal breeding laboratories
  • teaching hospitals
  • universities
  • veterinary and medical colleges.

There are opportunities for employment in research centres in most of these areas across the UK but there are more pharmaceutical research centres in London and the South East.

The life sciences industry is growing in Scotland and ranges from university start-ups to multinational companies. Some employers are located in remote, isolated areas - see Life Sciences Scotland for more information.

Look for job vacancies at:

Vacancies are also handled by specialist recruitment agencies such as S3 Science.

Professional development

As a trainee animal technician, your training will involve a combination of practical, on-the-job experience and part-time study for qualifications awarded by the IAT. There are various levels of qualification, including:

  • IAT Level 2 Diploma in Laboratory Animal Husbandry - an entry-level qualification, focusing on the importance of high standards of routine care and legal responsibility of animal technologists.
  • IAT Level 2 Diploma in Laboratory Animal Science and Technology - builds on animal husbandry knowledge and gives a broad understanding of key scientific principles.

After completing these and having been in the job for a few years, you may look to move into the more experienced role of animal technologist. For this, it is likely that you will need to complete the IAT Level 3 Diploma in Laboratory Animal Science and Technology. The qualification helps to prepare you for the additional responsibility you will have in the role.

Following this there are other qualifications offered by the IAT which can lead to higher degrees. See IAT - Learning & Development for more information.

If you enter the higher level role of animal technologist, you may also look to become licensed under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. This will allow you to carry out certain procedures on animals, such as giving injections, as well as being able to become involved in the experimental side of the work. You will need to have a required amount of experience and will need to complete a short training course.

Continuing professional development (CPD) is an important part of the job as you need to keep up to date with advances in legislation and refresh your skills and knowledge. The IAT provides seminars, workshops and courses that support CPD.

Career prospects

Practical experience is considered to be of prime importance and you need to build this up before progressing in the job. At first you'll start with routine tasks, such as feeding and watering the animals and cleaning out cages.

Studying for IAT qualifications will open up good progression opportunities and you can do this part time while you work. Qualification will enable you to become a senior technologist and (with a personal licence) carry out procedures on animals. You may also supervise trainee technicians, have line management responsibility and make sure standards are met.

From this you can progress to the role of facility manager/specialist, where you'll have full responsibility for the running of the facility, making sure it meets all legislative and health and safety requirements, as well as budget and staffing control. Specialisation is also possible, for example in areas such as breeding or genetically altered animals.

Being a holder of the IAT Membership or Fellowship Diploma, combined with five years' relevant experience (including two years post qualification) qualifies you for entry to the Register of Animal Technologists.

Technicians with expert knowledge and suitable experience of animal technology may be nominated as a Named Animal Care and Welfare Officer (NACWO) under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986.

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