If you want to work with animals and are interested in scientific research, a career as an animal technician could suit you
Animal technicians are responsible for the care and welfare of laboratory animals used in scientific and medical research.
The work contributes to developing treatments for diseases and new methods of diagnosis. Some technicians at certain levels are also directly involved in experimental work.
You will mostly care for rats and mice, but other species are also used. The different requirements of each species and each set of experiments mean the working environment varies considerably.
Animal research is strictly regulated in the UK and a high level of animal welfare is required. You must understand and adhere to this law, as well as trying to improve the quality of life for laboratory animals.
Much of your work will involve routine tasks essential to the care and welfare of animals, including:
You may be involved in designing studies and setting the conditions and protocols that will provide scientists with the information required. You need to understand the physical, behavioural and environmental requirements of individual species and be able to predict and interpret the animals' responses.
As an experienced technician, you could help to breed animals for use in research. You would monitor pregnancies, care for newborn animals and measure weight gain and growth.
Technicians play a key role in selecting animals for studies, as well as carrying out and developing dosing, assessment and sampling techniques. You will need some understanding of the science supporting individual studies.
Salaries vary according to the location, type of employer and nature and level of the work undertaken.
Income figures are intended as a guide only.
Technicians 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 hours a day, all year round. Overtime payments may be available for weekend and holiday work.
Part-time work is available for experienced and qualified technicians.
You do not need to have a degree or HND to enter this career as many employers will be more concerned with you having a genuine interest in animal care.
There are however, certain degrees that may be useful for the role:
At a higher level, knowledge of immunology and pathology, microbiology and genetics may be required.
You can take a relevant HND in subjects such as:
You may want to consider joining the Institute of Animal Technology (IAT). It will give you access to the IAT's journal, help you to keep up to date with developments in the industry and give a discount on courses and resources.
You will need to show:
It is vital to convince a potential employer of your genuine interest in, and commitment to, animal care and welfare. Direct experience, either paid or voluntary, of working with animals 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.
Animal technicians work in a range of academic and commercial institutions including:
There are opportunities for employment in research centres in most large cities within 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.
Look for job vacancies at:
Vacancies are handled by specialist recruitment agencies such as:
Training involves 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:
The IAT also offers higher education qualifications, delivered through the College of Laboratory Animal Science & Technology (CLAST), including:
For more information see IAT - Education.
Employers may grant day-release, allowing staff to study for the IAT qualifications at local colleges. Study is also possible via distance learning. Most employers provide financial assistance for fees and travel.
Understanding and implementing the legal controls on animal research is essential to the job and is taught at all levels of qualification.
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.
Under the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986, animal technicians are required to have a personal licence to carry out certain procedures on animals, such as giving injections. You can typically get a licence after gaining practical experience of routine work and completing a short training course. You will then be able to get involved in the experimental side of the work as well as caring for animals.
It is likely that you will start out by undertaking routine tasks, such as feeding and watering the animals and cleaning out cages. Practical experience is considered to be of prime importance and you need to build this up before progressing in the job.
If you are prepared to start at a basic level and study part time for IAT qualifications you will receive good progression opportunities.
You can move on to become a senior technician, where you may carry out procedures on animals, as long as you have the necessary personal licence, as well as supervising trainee technicians and assisting the running of the animal facility.
Following this you can progress to facility manager, where you will have full responsibility for the running of the facility, making sure it meets all legislative and health and safety requirements.
It may be possible to specialise in areas such as breeding, genetically altered animals, management, training, facility design and specific research areas including safety testing, immunology and pathology. Specific roles are available such as animal welfare specialist and training specialist.
The IAT maintains a register of animal technicians who agree to abide by an ethical code of conduct. Entry to the register is restricted to technicians who hold the IAT membership or fellowship qualifications and have at least five years' relevant experience, two of which must be post-qualification. Members of the register may use the letters RAnTech after their name. For more information see IAT - Registered 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.
NACWOs are actively involved in safeguarding the welfare of animals used in designated establishments and advise project and personal licence holders how to fulfil their responsibilities.