So how can you increase your skills to try to land one of these great jobs?
Be Technically Literate.
One good skill to emphasize in your search for a drug lab job would be your familiarity with current technology. Lab work is definitely high tech, and if you know how to set up the mass spectrometer or how to follow proper procedures in sample keeping or how to rapidly run a few simulations, you are much better off than the poor schlub who can’t type very well.
It’s also important to be able to keep up to date on the new drugs and what things are looked for. Knowing lots of chemistry is vital; if you don’t know what that potassium chloride might do, it’s not a good thing.
Interpersonal skills are also integral to lab jobs. Labs can be stressful, with lots of tests done rapidly and with the same people over and over. If you can’t handle the guy across the table from you, it will greatly impact your job satisfaction and his. Learn how to get along in a fast-paced environment that requires lots of technical competence.
Also learn how to stay aware. Blissfully working away instead of noticing that mistake your coworker, who is quite stressed, is making could be quite bad.
Polish Up Your Chemist Credentials.
In fact, knowing chemical reactions can be pretty important. What happens if you are busy testing for one substance, and something else turns up? If you don’t recognize it, and therefore it passes you by, the testing agency will not be happy.
If you have the time and have been out of school for a while, why not take some short classes offered by a professional society or evening classes at the local university? These can go on the resume pretty fast. Someone who has recent lab work experience is valuable.
Studying on your own is also important. The pharmaceutical field is racing forward, with new discoveries every day. Forensics is also changing dramatically, and drug testing is in a constant struggle with people’s attempts to conceal their drug usage. It’s not just illegal drugs, either — look at alleged human growth hormones being consumed by athletes. Those substances are not illegal, yet the battle to test for them has been ever increasing. As a drug lab worker, you could be involved in testing for those. If you already know how to test for them when you apply for a job, you stand a much better chance of landing that job.
Lab work is painstaking. It’s easy to cut corners, but that always leads to disaster at some point. Mistakes in the lab, especially with drugs, can be fatal. Imagine tripping while holding that test tube full of something unknown or deadly. And imagine that blowing up into your face — whether it be illegal drugs (do you want to inhale a faceful of heroin?) or some untested new concoction.
It’s also important to document what you have done! In criminal testing environments the chain of custody is quite important, especially if it becomes part of the controversy at trial. You don’t want to have your procedures accused of being tainted in some fashion. It’s simple evidence handling, and if you blow a case, well…not so good on the resume.
For company drug labs it’s also important to have good, thorough records. Being able to retrace what you did is vital, just in case you produce either something particularly toxic and noxious or the first drug to cure cancer.
For drug testing labs mixing up samples is never a good idea, yet it’s easy to do if you are not thorough. Plus, following the procedures inaccurately undermines your results.
Use a Targeted Resume.
Since there are lots of drug lab jobs, use a targeted resume when you’re applying for one. If you think about it, the resume of someone looking to become a forensic lab worker will look very different from that of someone applying to research the effects of Viagra on rats.
Don’t forget to network! Maybe your good buddy Phil who helped you with that great liquid nitrogen trick you two pulled off in school knows of a job opening.
Best of luck in your job search, and may you end up with the test tubes a-bubbling!