Animal Technologist

The Job and What's Involved

Animal technologists are responsible for the care and welfare of laboratory animals that are used for scientific research. Research involving animals is a small but essential part of developing medicines, cures and therapies. Most of the animals used are rodents, such as mice and rats, but they can also include fish, frogs, ferrets, guinea pigs, rabbits, dogs, cats, monkeys and farm animals.

Approximately three-and-a-half million animals are used in research each year in the UK. The industry is tightly regulated by the Animals (Scientific Procedures) Act 1986. Under this Act, research establishments have to be certified and all scientific projects using animals must be licensed by the Home Office. Technologists must also prove they are suitably qualified, trained and experienced. The Act acknowledges the necessity of using animals in research, but demands a high level of protection for them to minimise any potential suffering.

The daily responsibilities of an animal technologist may include:

  • Carrying out regular health checks on the animals in their care.
  • Ensuring rooms are at the optimum temperature and humidity.
  • Changing bedding and cleaning out cages.
  • Providing fresh water and food and, if necessary, organising special diets.
  • Making sure that the animals have been eating and drinking, and that their bodily functions are normal.
  • Handling the animals correctly and monitoring them to ensure that they are comfortable, in good condition and behaving as expected.
  • Maintaining and ensuring high standards of cleanliness and hygiene, throughout the animal facility.
  • Operating computerised scientific and electronic equipment.
  • Obtaining samples and measurements from the animals.
  • Recording and monitoring the animals' weight and growth on charts and graphs.

Animal technologists are expected to keep accurate records and input data on to computer systems. Some animal technologists are also involved in complex breeding programmes and the setting up of scientific studies.

Animal technology is a career that involves caring for animals within the evolving and sophisticated environment of a biomedical research centre.

Animals need looking after seven days a week, 52 weeks a year; therefore a typical working pattern may include early starts, late nights, weekend or bank holiday working, although many facilities operate core hours during the normal working week.

There may be opportunities to work on a part-time basis.

Research work is carried out in laboratories. The environment is carefully controlled, which includes temperature, humidity, noise and lighting cycles.

Technologists are provided with protective clothing and overalls to help to maintain a hygienic environment. Depending on the work, disposable masks, gloves and shoe covers may also be worn.

The starting salary for a trainee animal technologist is about £12,000 to £15,000 a year. Once fully qualified, animal technologists may earn between £15,000 and £30,000 a year.

Senior technologists with managerial experience often earn in excess of £40,000 a year.

Getting Started with this Career Choice

Animal technologists work for a variety of organisations within the academic and commercial sectors. These include pharmaceutical companies, universities, veterinary colleges, specialist research organisations and animal breeding companies.

There are estimated to be between 4,000 and 5,000 animal technologists employed in the UK and employment prospects are good. Opportunities may be found throughout the UK in towns, cities and rural areas. There is a high concentration of pharmaceutical research in the south-east, London and the east of England.

Vacancies are advertised in Animal Technology & Welfare and Bulletin, available from the members section of the Institute of Animal Technology's (IAT's) website: www.iat.org.uk Other publications advertising vacancies are Lab Animal Europe, Nature and New Scientist. Positions may also be found through recruitment agencies and in local and national newspapers.

Education and Training

There are no formal entry requirements, but generally it is usual for entrants to have at least three GCSE's (A*-C) in maths, English and one or more science subjects. Some employers may require A levels or equivalent qualifications. Graduates from biomedical science courses also tend to apply for these positions.

Experience of caring for animals, either paid or voluntary, is useful in demonstrating a commitment to working in this area. This may include experience at farms or kennels or in veterinary practices. Employers are also looking for a genuine interest in animal care and welfare.

A Few More Exams You Might Need

Training is considered vital to ensuring a continually high standard of care for animals involved in research, and is closely monitored and regulated. In-house training is likely to cover subjects such as animal husbandry, health checks, handling animals, and animal behaviour and welfare.

The IAT, as the awarding body for animal technicians, accredits the following qualifications:

First Certificate in Animal Husbandry
First Diploma in Animal Technology
National Certificate in Animal Technology
Higher Certificates in Animal Technology

The IAT is currently developing a graduate programme leading to degree-level qualifications and Fellowship (FIAT) of the IAT.

IAT courses are offered at locations throughout the country. The courses may be delivered through regular day-release programmes, as well as visits to organisations and distance learning. Details of centres providing courses can be found in the Education section of the IAT website: www.iat.org.uk

Level 2 and 3 Awards, Certificates and Diplomas in work-based animal care are also available.

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Skills and Personal Qualities Needed

An animal technologist should:

  • Be committed to the welfare of animals.
  • Be aware of the social and ethical issues surrounding animal research.
  • Have a patient and caring nature.
  • Be able to develop a good understanding of the needs of animals.
  • Be able to work well independently and as part of a team.
  • Be motivated and able to use his or her own initiative.
  • Have high levels of concentration and excellent attention to detail.
  • Have good communication skills.
  • To be able to keep precise and accurate records.
  • Be able to understand and follow health and safety requirements.
  • Have good ICT skills.

Your Long Term Prospects

There are many opportunities within this career for specialisation, promotion and career development.

There may be supervisory or management positions available. These are dependent on ability, relevant experience and the appropriate qualifications.

Being an animal technologist requires a commitment to continuing professional development (CPD) in order to ensure that knowledge and skills are continually updated. The IAT organises and holds a variety of courses and meetings designed to support this.

Get Further Information

Institute of Animal Technology (IAT), 5 South Parade, Summertown, Oxford OX2 7JL
Tel: 0800 085 4380
Website: www.iat.org.uk

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI),
12 Whitehall, London SW1A 2DY
Tel: 0870 890 4333
Website: www.abpi.org.uk

Lantra, Lantra House, Stoneleigh Park,
near Coventry, Warwickshire CV8 2LG
Tel: 0845 707 8007
Websites: www.afuturein.com www.lantra.co.uk and www.lantracoursefinder.co.uk

Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra),
Eastbury House, 30-34 Albert Embankment, London SE1 7TL
Tel: 0845 933 5577
Website: www.defra.gov.uk

Home Office, Direct Communications Unit,
2 Marsham Street, London SW1P 4DF
Tel: 020 7035 4848
Website: www.homeoffice.gov.uk

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