Biological Technologists and Technicians - What They Do

Biological technologists and technicians provide technical support and services to scientists, engineers and other professionals working in fields such as agriculture, resource management, environmental protection, plant and animal biology, microbiology, cell and molecular biology and health sciences, or may work independently in these fields. They are employed in both laboratory and field settings by governments, manufacturers of food products, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, biotechnology companies, health, research and educational institutions, environmental consulting companies, and resource and utilities companies.

Job duties

This group performs some or all of the following duties:

Biological technologists

  • Set up and conduct biological, microbiological and biochemical tests and laboratory analyses in support of research and quality control in food production, sanitation, pharmaceutical production, biotechnology and other fields
  • Apply methods and techniques such as microscopy, histochemistry, chromatography, electrophoresis and spectroscopy
  • Perform experimental procedures in agriculture, plant breeding, animal husbandry, biology and biomedical research
  • Conduct field research and surveys to collect data and samples of water, soil, and plant and animal populations
  • Conduct environmental monitoring and compliance activities for the protection of fisheries stock, wildlife and other natural resources
  • Analyze data and prepare reports
  • Conduct or supervise operational programs such as fish hatchery, greenhouse and livestock production programs.

Biological technicians

  • Assist in conducting biological, microbiological and biochemical tests and laboratory analyses
  • Perform limited range of technical functions in support of agriculture, plant breeding, animal husbandry, biology, biomedical research and environmental protection
  • Assist in conducting field research and surveys to collect data and samples of water, soil, and plant and animal populations
  • Assist in analysis of data and preparation of reports.

Job titles

  • microbiology technologist (except medical)
  • agricultural technician
  • agricultural technologist
  • agrology technician
  • aquaculture technician
  • bacteriological technician
  • biological laboratory technologist
  • botanical technician
  • fish hatchery technician
  • fisheries technician
  • food bacteriological technician
  • microbiology quality control technologist
  • plant breeding technician
  • seed technologist
  • wildlife biology technician
Employment Requirements

This is what you typically need for the job:

  • Completion of a two- to three-year college program in a field related to agriculture, biology, microbiology, wildlife or resource management is usually required for employment as a biological technologist.
  • Completion of a one- to two-year college program in a related field is required for employment as a biological technician.
  • Certification with provincial associations is available, but voluntary.

Essential Skills


  • Read labels on tank mix containers verifying batch numbers and combinations and concentrations of products. (1)
  • Read instructions for use and safety warnings on product labels. (2)
  • Read applications for research permits to ensure all sections have been checked and applicable information completed. (2)
  • Read e-mail from co-workers, customers, colleagues and government officials regarding operational and procedural requirements. For instance, fish and wildlife technicians read e-mail from co-workers when making arrangements for field trips. (2)
  • Read reference books, field guides and manuals to understand how to identify and differentiate between plant, animal and insect species. For example, wildlife technicians read bird banding manuals in order to follow the correct banding techniques for different bird species and to understand the codes found on banded birds. (2)
  • Read workplace hazardous material information system manuals and Material Safety Data Sheets to understand the safe use and storage of chemicals. (2)
  • Read industry magazines to learn about recent developments. For example, riparian technicians may read articles describing the latest research such as the effects of invasive plants on native vegetation, or changes in regulations for riparian management. (3)
  • Read equipment manuals to understand how to operate equipment, perform routine maintenance and identify possible causes of failure. For example, pump manuals provide operational, maintenance and troubleshooting instructions for fish technologists in aquaculture. (3)
  • Read policies and procedures to review testing and sampling practices. For example, fish culture technicians read the Methodology for the Culture of Lake Whitefish to understand the terminology, process and procedures for egg collection, incubation and early and advanced rearing of specimens. (3)
  • Read academic journal articles to understand the aetiology, pathology, diagnosis, prevention and treatment of diseases. For instance, fish health culture technicians may read scientific articles such as bacterial gill disease of freshwater fish. To understand and use the information in these articles, they must be familiar with scientific terminology used in the biological sciences field. (4)

Document use

  • Complete necropsy data sheets when examining specimens. For example, when examining the carcasses of otter, marten and bobcats, technicians may document the sex, weight, reproductive status and identified wildlife management zone of the specimen. (1)
  • Scan labels for names, dates, hazard symbols and information about biological specimens being studied. For example, wildlife technologists read tags on the jaws of big game and furbearers to note the sex, weight and harvesting location. (2)
  • Refer to tables in manuals to identify specifications, gather historical data and determine the parameters of projects. For example, technicians may refer to testing methods and procedure manuals to identify the allowable tolerance levels of noxious substances in seed samples. (2)
  • Read assembly drawings to identify parts when making minor repairs to equipment such as outboard motors. (2)
  • Obtain information from graphs, such as mortality rates for animal species, trends in bird populations, settings for 'electro-fishers' and plant growth patterns. (2)
  • Consult topographical maps to plot survey routes, identify hazards to navigation or find testing sites. They use the legends and symbols on the maps to identify the nature of the terrain being studied. (3)
  • May compare aerial photographs of survey locations with maps to identify changing physical features that could affect study results. For example, they may find new roads and buildings not on maps or altered topographical conditions such as changes in water courses. (3)
  • Complete standardized forms to document test results. For example, technicians may enter numerical and statistical information into tables to tabulate the number of furbearer and big game species in the province. (3)


  • Write short notes in day books and field notebooks. (1)
  • Write e-mail to co-workers, colleagues and clients about a variety of topics. For example, they may write research team members to confirm work locations, clarify research criteria and identify special requirements for tools, supplies and equipment. (2)
  • Write short daily summaries or reports which describe daily activities, tasks completed, observations and problems encountered. (2)
  • May write articles for newsletters. For example, technicians prepare updates for the 'Shorebird Newsletter'. (3)
  • Write safety procedures and testing, sampling and measurement protocols. For example, wildlife technologists may write procedures to outline hazards and describe the safe use, storage and disposal of tranquilizers. (3)
  • Write reports that describe the methodology used and the results obtained during biological research studies. For example, they may write reports for landowners which detail the health assessment scores of their riparian habitats. They supplement the text with tables, photographs and graphs to present the research clearly and concisely. (4)


Money Math

  • Purchase supplies, tools or equipment for jobs at remote locations. (1)
  • Calculate expense reimbursement amounts when carrying out work at distant sites or using personal vehicles for work. They calculate travel amounts based on kilometre rates, cost of meals and accommodation, and enter the totals on monthly expense claims. (2)

Scheduling, Budgeting & Accounting Math

  • Establish and monitor the discretionary expenditures portion of operating budgets. Discretionary expenditures include equipment purchases, maintenance and improvements to facilities. (2)
  • Review project schedules to ensure the activities are on track and make adjustments where required. For example, technicians involved with the assessment of inland streams review the summer work program and make adjustments to address delays caused by bad weather. (3)

Measurement and Calculation Math

  • Weigh and measure samples of the species being studied. For example, they may measure the length and weight of salmon harvested at fish hatcheries. (1)
  • Use ratios to mix ingredients when preparing solutions. For example, they prepare herbicide tank mixes by measuring ingredients into two litre bottles. The concentrations are proportional to the large tanks used by farmers and contractors in the field. (2)
  • Calculate basic statistics on test samples. For example, they conduct living seed tests to calculate percentage viable in seed samples. The seed is graded based on their calculations. (2)
  • Measure longitude and latitude field coordinates using global positioning systems to identify test sites on maps. (2)
  • Take precise measurements using specialized instruments. For example, agriculture technicians may use an inductively coupled argon plasma spectrometer to measure trace minerals and compounds in soil, water and fertilizer samples. (3)

Data Analysis Math

  • Compare measurements of plant, animal and insect species to standard measurements in order to determine age, sex, health or developmental stage. For example, they may compare the length and weight of fish to standard size charts to establish their ages. (1)
  • Collect and analyze data to follow changes in plant, animal and insect populations. For example, they summarize the age, size and sex structure of deer, moose and black bear harvests and compare the results with information gathered in previous years. (2)
  • Analyze data collected from surveys by calculating averages and percentages. For example, they analyze the results of seed sample measurements to identify the proportion of pure seed, inert bodies, weeds and seeds from other crops. (2)
  • Analyze information collected over multi-year studies to track changes and identify trends. For example, they analyze riparian data to link possible changes in vegetation and stream location with changes in land holding or grazing practices. (3)
  • May analyze plant growth comparison test results to identify optimum combinations of seed, herbicide, planting density, thinning practices and environmental conditions. For example, they compare results of herbicides applied at full strength, half strength applied twice and one third strength applied at three intervals to assess the performance of products. The results are analyzed and compared with the related costs of application to determine optimum treatment methods. (4)

Numerical Estimation

  • Estimate the number of species in the sample they are studying. For example, technicians estimate the number of species of birds in an area by listening to their songs. (2)
  • Estimate sample size by visual inspections. For example, they look at land adjacent to sites they are testing to estimate the percentage of turf grass, tame pasture, development and perennial forage. (3)
  • May estimate flood plain levels by referencing the depth of the river at its centre point. This measurement is doubled and transposed to the shoreline to scribe a line which defines the flood-plain area. (3)

Oral communication

  • Discuss work schedules and co-ordinate job tasks with co-workers. For example, they discuss job requirements with co-workers to choose the best partner with the right skills for specific tasks. (2)
  • Give instructions and demonstrations to new staff during orientation and initial training. They give instructions for survey and sampling procedures, review safety precautions, explain data entry and demonstrate the proper use of small and large equipment. They make themselves available to the new workers so that they can answer questions, give advice and provide timely supervision. (2)
  • Discuss highlights of research with colleagues when attending biological conferences. (2)
  • Persuade equipment manufacturers to expedite the shipment of parts required to repair equipment. (2)
  • Discuss data collection strategies with team members to ensure similar principles are used during the collection and analysis of the information to ensure consistency, validity and reliability. (3)
  • May present research findings to community groups. For example, wildlife technologists may present statistical summaries of the annual furbearer and big game harvest at trappers' conventions. (3)
  • Explain the implications of test results to customers. For example, a seed technician explains the discrepancy between the grades awarded by the laboratory and the seed cleaning company. (3)
  • Discuss operational requirements and expectations with their managers during annual performance appraisals. They describe accomplishments and challenges and identify options to address areas of concern. For example, they may identify areas requiring capital investment, recommend new procedures for data collection or identify areas requiring continuing research. (3)


Problem Solving

  • Encounter equipment failures which delay steps crucial to ongoing research. They rely on knowledge, personal experience and manuals to diagnose the problem. They are required to locate and order the required parts, and either fix it themselves or ship the equipment to repair shops. (2)
  • Experience delays in conducting field research due to bad weather. They monitor the weather forecast to identify small windows of opportunity. For example, inclement weather may reduce the reliability and validity of efficacy trials for herbicides application. (2)
  • May identify inconsistencies when analyzing research results. They conduct tests to verify the accuracy of past reports, arrange for records or databases to be corrected and run test sorts to ensure all irregularities have been eliminated. (3)
  • Discover that specimens they are using to conduct experimental procedures have died. For example, they discover that fish have died overnight, for no obvious reason. They investigate the cause, inspect the equipment, have water samples analyzed, review records, make the required adjustments and replenish the fish stock. (3)

Decision Making

  • Decide to make adjustments to standard operating procedures. For example, technicians in fish hatcheries may decide to increase the size or quantity of food pellets fed to the fish, as the stock increases in size and number. (1)
  • May decide which supplies and optional equipment to take with them to remote testing locations. The selection may vary based on site locations and the testing procedures being performed. (2)
  • May decide which summer students or members of field crews to hire. Depending on the position, employer and industry they are working for, they may write job descriptions and evaluation criteria, review applications, interview students and check references when making their decisions. (2)
  • Decide when to notify co-workers, management and government officials of unusual testing results. For example, technicians working in fish hatcheries decide when to alert others of unusual bacterial activity such as elevated levels of e-coli. (3)
  • Choose locations for biological trials, sampling or testing. For example, technologists in wildlife management decide where to set traps, build enclosures, or set up monitoring devices. They consider factors such as topography, vegetation and soil type and game movements. A poor choice of location can skew or invalidate data. (3)

Critical Thinking

  • Judge the reliability of data, prior to starting analyses or formulating recommendations. For example, wildlife technologists examine the time, duration, completeness, personnel involved, species studied, and sample numbers for all research from which they take data. They may consider the results from previous studies when assessing the reliability of their own test results. Reliable data will allow the technician to make logical inferences and sound recommendations. (2)
  • Evaluate the suitability of sites for field trials or biological surveys. For example, biological technologists may be asked to judge the suitability of several hundred sites for plant diversity studies. From study proposals, it is clear that the sites have to be remote and undisturbed, but they check with lead researchers about other criteria such as the sites not being on land which floods annually or in low lying areas that receive frost more frequently. They check maps, photographs and other records to confirm that geographical features such as roads or dams do not make sites unusual or unique. They do field surveys and may take samples or do other testing before making recommendations. (3)
  • Assess the health of plants, animals, birds, insects and biological systems or processes. They assess the health of populations by comparing growth, reproduction and mortality rates with normal expectations. If variances are evident, they may examine operational logs to determine any unusual circumstances contributing to the discrepancies. (3)
  • May assess the effectiveness of products by conducting staged trials. For example, when assessing the effectiveness of herbicides they initially assess the speed and thoroughness of the product to kill weeds without adversely affecting the planted crop. They count the number of weeds and judge the health of the crop based on the colour and size of the plants. At a later date, they conduct secondary assessments to study the residual effects of the product to reduce weeds and encourage healthy crop growth. (3)

Job Task Planning and Organizing

Own Job Planning and Organizing

Biological technologists and technicians identify, prioritize, organize and schedule their job tasks according to seasonal requirements. Their tasks are typically routine, seasonal in nature and may be interrupted due to inclement weather, urgent requests from customers, dying test animals or equipment breakdowns. (2)

Planning and Organizing for Others

May be responsible for co-ordinating, assigning tasks, scheduling and monitoring the activities of summer students, casual workers and volunteers. They organize work teams, establish daily, weekly and monthly schedules, monitor their progress and make adjustments as required. (2)

Significant Use of Memory

  • Remember the results of previous tests for use as a basis of comparison for current research trials.
  • Remember historical information on the effects of products and product combinations when developing new rounds of field trials.
  • Remember names, faces and details of relationships with co-workers, customers, colleagues, contractors and suppliers.

Finding information

  • Locate low-altitude topographical photographs in government department databases and archives. They also find land ownership details at land titles offices. (1)
  • Search biology text books, field guides, survey protocols and Internet sites for information about plant, animal and insect species. (2)
  • Search databases to find answers to statistical questions from the biologist in charge. For example, the technician would respond to a biologist's enquiry regarding the sex and age breakdown of harvested black bears in zone 7, by searching databases for species specific information. (2)
  • Refer to equipment manuals and web pages to identify reasons a piece of equipment has stopped running. (2)

Digital technology

  • Use communications software. For example, they exchange e-mail and attachments with co-workers, customers, government officials and managers. (2)
  • Use other computer and software applications. For example, they may also use geographical positioning systems and geographical information systems to identify location co-ordinates, navigate to remote locations or search for site-specific geographical information. (2)
  • Use the Internet. For example, they browse the Internet to search government, company and association websites to research specific product information, monitor quality assurance practices and identify trends reported by national and international societies. (2)
  • Use word processing. For example, they write and format memos, letters, project summaries, technical bulletins and inserts for quality assurance binders. They may create reports that contain tables, graphs, pictures and text boxes using standard templates. (3)
  • Use graphics software. For example, they may design slide shows that include bar and scatter graphs, tables and pictures to clearly present research results to audiences. (3)
  • Use databases. For example, they input, sort and manipulate data to create research summaries. They run tests to verify the reliability of information. (3)
  • Use spreadsheets. For example, they input data into spreadsheets to manage the survey results. They may use spreadsheets to track project changes or construct equations to manipulate the data. (3)
  • Use computer-assisted design software. For example, they may use CAD software to create maps from aerial photographs. (3)

Other Essential Skills:

Working with Others

Biological technologists and technicians work alone for extended periods, planning seasonal work programs, compiling data and preparing reports. They work independently, or occasionally with partners, when conducting field research to provide support to biologists and sales and marketing representatives. They participate in formal discussions regarding work processes and provide assistance to staff by assigning tasks, identifying training needs and resolving conflicts. (2)

Continuous Learning

Biological technologists and technicians learn continuously on the job, in short courses and seminars and during private study. At work, they learn about new technologies, new products and new equipment. To stay current in their fields, they read newsletters, industry magazines and scientific journals at work and at home. Most technologists and technicians take short courses, organized by their employer, pertaining to occupational health and safety, equipment operation or computer applications. Technologists and technicians who belong to an association may be required to participate in recognized training events such as annual meetings, regional workshops and courses to maintain their certification. (2)