Please educate me about basic laboratory tasks.

I am applying for a job. To me it sounds like the best job in the world. Knowledge of basic laborotary tasks would be an advantage. But I don’t have the first clue.
The job is aerial survey/lab technician.

How cool is that? It’s practically my dream job, My dream job is to become a marine bioligist studying sharks off the coast of some tropical island. This job could be a step to realising that dream. I don’t doubt my chances are slim to nil though.

The application says that -

I’m sure it would be but I have no idea what any of that means. I would love it if someone who knows about this sort of thing could clue me in on what would be involved in doing the above.


If you have no idea what any of it means, you’re not going to get the job. Sorry.

Those first few assays are common biochem/molecular biology tests (assay is a fancy word for ‘test’). Plate readers are automated sample handling devices for spectrometers (scientific instruments that detect light), scintillation counters are also light detectors.

Isn’t there a section on the application where it says what degree is required? I’m thinking this would be a biochem/mol. bio. M.S. job. At the very least, a B.A./B.S. in science with experience.

You can’t just jump into something like this. :frowning:


Those first few assays are common biochem/molecular biology tests (assay is a fancy word for ‘test’). Plate readers are automated sample handling devices for spectrometers (scientific instruments that detect light), scintillation counters are also light detectors.


See this is helpful, if someone could expand on this it would help me a lot

No, it just says that some knowledge in it would be to the applicants advantage Maybe they really are looking for someone with a degree but in the interests of equal opportunities held that info back from the application. The wages aren’t too hot so perhaps someone with a degree would overlook this position.

I’m going to give it my best shot. Take photos, count the dots, master a few simple lab processes, it can’t be that difficult. I’ve got a ton of enthusiasm for this gig. Who knows what can happen?

ELISA and RIA are both the sort of the thing you’d only be able to practice on the job or in a class due to the expense incurred, but here goes.

ELISA testing uses enzymatic interactions to determine whether a certain protein is present.

Radioimmunoassay or RIA uses radioactively labeled molecules to identify proteins.

It sounds like they want someone not only to participate in the aerial surveys and take pictures, but also to run a variety of protein assays; maybe to support studies of epidemiology in the marine mammals of the area or attempts to determine the heredity patterns of the animals.

I can’t speak for the UK, but in the US, most such positions effectively require an academic background in molecular or marine biology (possibly a degree, but there are exceptions for students in the process of acquiring a degree or extensive experience). The pay, even for people with degrees, is rarely high ( :frowning: ).

Taking the ad at face value, it doesn’t say the knowledge is required, and it doesn’t say experience is necessary. So I wish you luck! :slight_smile:

If your dream is really marine biology, I would encourage you not to let it rest with just this job application. I’d suggest getting your foot in the door. You can offer volunteer assistance to someone engaged in research in the field (the need for additional labor on field or lab work is often high, and can be a great way to get experience), you could volunteer with charity organizations in the field (here in the US, volunteers maintain marine mammal rescue centers and water-quality monitoring organizations), and you can look into graduate schools. Talk to people in the field (face to face, not just on the internet, but that’s a good start) and see what they think. You’ll find out about way more opportunities that way! :slight_smile:

Sound advice wevets, thank you. Also thanks for the links percypercy I have printed that stuff of and a whole bale about other related topics. The worst that can happen is I learn something I never knew about before so there is good in that.

ELISA and RIA and colorimetric assays are simple to do. I would think that having lab experience is just not that crucial, especially if this is for a technician position. It certainly isn’t in my lab – my boss makes a point to hire motivated untrained people that we can meld to our specifications. Graduate students and experienced techs train new techs all the time without incident. ELISA and RIA are both pretty easy to do. We’re not talking about making cDNA libraries or RNase protection or complicated molecular cloning or anything.

For a typical ELISA: Affix antigen -> wash -> block -> affix primary antibody -> wash -> block -> affix secondary antibody -> wash well -> add color buffer and substrate -> develop -> read. Washes are usually with a phosphate buffer plus or minus detergent; block with serum or milk or some commercial blocking reagent. Same as for a RIA, but that requires radioactivity, and radiation safety couses are provided by the institution upon hiring (usually). If you are assaying antibodies, you are usually dumping raw serum on there for the primary antibody step. If you are assaying for antigens, you have to prepare the antigen from the isolated sample. This can be more complicated, but it is usually just another protocol.

Colorimetric reactions are even easier, like Coomasie protein assays: lyse cells by sonication -> add reagent -> prepare control blank sample -> blank spectrophotomer and then measure your sample. I can’t imagine that you would need to be an immunohistochem whiz to do this stuff – they are using kits to do the assays, and they probably have a standard purification, ELISA and RIA protocols that they use and know work.

I can train someone to do those assays by day three, maximum. Day one is spent in employee orientation and radiation safety. Day two, one can learn to use all of the tools of the trade in a day (pipettors, spectrophotometers, scintillation counters, scales, sonicators, centrifuges, etc.) and making up reagents and buffers needed. Day 3, you are ready to start assays.

Their last sentence “Basic use of spectrophotometers…would be advantageous” is a crock. You know what an ELISA and a RIA is now, everyone uses different machinery to carry these things out so a new hire in a lab is never assumed to know how to work the gadgets. Sure, it may be nice to know what each thing does, so here is a list:
spectrophotometer – basically, this has a bulb that sends out light at a selectable wavelength. The light passes though a chamber containing a dilution of the sample in a buffer in a holder called a cuvette. One has blanked the machine first (zeroed it out, usually with buffer without sample added) so the spec knows how much light should be getting through. The output is in OD (optical density), also called absorbance. This is the log I/I[sub]0[/sub] where I is the light transmitted through the sample and I[sub]0[/sub] is the light incident upon the sample. OD is linearly related to concentration, so you can back-calculate the concentration of a sample. A[sub]260[/sub] (absorbance at 260 nm) is useful for measuring DNA concentration, many colorimetric assays are done in the visible light spectrum.
scintillation counter – this is a gadget that quantitatively measures radioactivity. The radioactively-tagged sample is diluted in this scintillation fluid. When a radioactive particle is released from the sample, it is absorbed by the scintillation fluid which then emits a quantum of light, a scintillation. This is recorded by the counter. One can back calculate the concentration if one knows how radioactively tagged your sample was.
ELISA plate reader – The readout of an ELISA is a colorimetric reaction which usually leaves a colored precipitate on the bottom of a well of an 8x12 96-well plate. A plate reader is a sophisticated camera that records the amount of color per well and attempts to quantitate it.
Lab practice in general – well, that’s a bit more tricky. As I say, a good teacher can have it down for you in one day. We use a lot of different devices to accurately measure volumes and weights. Much of it is not idiot-proof. There are many other things to know – how to use sterile technique to prevent microbiologic contamination, what not to touch (what is bad for you), how to use a chemical hood, etc. It is pretty easy and comes pretty naturally to those with any kind of common sense.

Always calibrate your pipettemen! :rolleyes: