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Research Associate vs. Lab Technician: What Are the Differences?

Learn about the two careers and review some of the similarities and differences between them.

If you’re interested in a career in science, you may be wondering what the difference is between a research associate and a lab technician. Both positions require a high level of education and skills in scientific research, but there are some key differences between the two. In this article, we discuss the similarities and differences between a research associate and a lab technician, and we provide helpful tips for choosing the right career path for you.

What is a Research Associate?

Research Associates are responsible for conducting research projects and experiments in laboratories. They work with a variety of chemicals and materials to complete their tasks and must follow strict safety protocols. Research Associates must be able to keep accurate records of their work and findings. They may present their findings to their supervisor or to a group of peers. Research Associates typically work in academic or industrial settings. They may work on a team or independently.

What is a Lab Technician?

Lab Technicians work in scientific and medical laboratories where they prepare samples, run tests and document results. They use a variety of equipment and instruments to complete their tasks, such as centrifuges, microscopes and spectrophotometers. Most Lab Technicians work in hospitals or clinics, but some may work in research laboratories or pharmaceutical companies. They typically work under the supervision of a scientist or medical doctor. Lab Technicians typically have an Associate’s degree in a scientific field, such as biology or chemistry.

Research Associate vs. Lab Technician

Here are the main differences between a research associate and a lab technician.

Job Duties

One of the clearest differences between research associates and lab technicians is the type of job duties they have. Lab technicians typically have more routine tasks that are part of running a laboratory, such as preparing and analyzing samples or operating equipment. They also may be responsible for cleaning and maintaining lab equipment.

Research associates usually have more advanced responsibilities related to the research project they’re working on. This could include devising and conducting experiments, analyzing data and writing up reports about the findings. In some cases, research associates may even serve as mentors or supervisors for lab technicians.

Job Requirements

Research associates and lab technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a scientific field, such as biology, chemistry or physics. Some research associate positions may require a master’s degree or higher. Many research associate and lab technician positions are entry-level jobs that provide on-the-job training. However, some employers may prefer candidates who have previous experience working in a laboratory setting.

Work Environment

Research associates and lab technicians work in different environments. Research associates typically work in an office setting, where they can use computers to analyze data and perform research. They may also travel to meet with clients or attend conferences. Lab technicians usually work in a laboratory environment, where they conduct experiments and test samples. This means that lab technicians often wear protective clothing like gloves and goggles while working.


Both research associates and lab technicians need to have strong analytical skills. They use these skills to design experiments, collect data and interpret results. Research associates also need to be able to communicate their findings to other scientists, which requires excellent writing skills. Lab technicians typically do not need to write scientific reports, but they may be responsible for documenting their work in laboratory notebooks.

Both of these positions require a high level of attention to detail. This is necessary to ensure that experiments are conducted correctly and that data is collected and recorded accurately. Research associates and lab technicians also need to be able to follow instructions carefully. In many cases, they will be working with dangerous chemicals and materials, so it is important that they adhere to safety protocols at all times.


Research associates can earn an average salary of $65,171 per year, while lab technicians can earn an average salary of $46,986 per year. Both of these average salaries may vary depending on the size of the company at which you work, location of your job and the level of experience you have prior to pursuing either position.


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