Have you ever called a scientific company to ask them how to use a particular product, or which product would best suit your particular needs? Has anyone ever visited your lab to repair or upgrade a piece of scientific instrumentation? The professionals who take care of these issues provide the technical support (information about how to use products) and technical service (maintenance and repair of instrumentation and equipment) that keep scientific laboratories running smoothly. These are the people to whom scientific researchers turn when they need help.
Both technical support and technical service require an in-depth knowledge of a particular class of products, and how they should, and should not be, used. These types of positions may also be called application scientists, since they deal with practical applications of the company’s products.
A bachelor’s degree, or sometimes even an associate degree, is sufficient for technical support positions for most positions. A PhD and prior experience using the equipment in a laboratory setting may be required for more sophisticated products.
Most technical support and technical service people work full-time, but part-time and variable schedules are occasionally possible. While technical support can often be provided via telephone or email, technical service usually requires travel to the customer’s site.
Technical support is a great entry-level position. Some technical support positions will require previous experience with using the company’s products, however companies provide extensive training to technical service employees. From there, many scientists move into technical sales, product management, business development, or marketing.
These careers appear to be growing about as fast as average for other professions.
If you enjoy problem solving and working with your hands and tinkering, technical service may be the career path for you. If you derive great satisfaction from working with people to assist them with technical issues regarding laboratory equipment, technical support may be your calling. Depending on the specific type of position, it may require working second or third shift (some companies provide support 24 hours/day), or significant amounts of travel (to the sites of malfunctioning equipment).
While the increasing complexity of products means specialist are required to repair and instruct on their use, consolidation of companies means there are fewer opportunities. A niche market has also appeared in third party companies that service instrumentation.
Median annual wage: $44,490 in May 2010.