You can begin exploring this career while working on your own school assignments. Use different types of resources, such as newspapers, magazines, library catalogs, computers, the Internet, and official records and documents. Pay close attention to procedures and methods in your laboratory classes.
Consider joining groups in your school devoted to research or fieldwork. Work as a reporter for your school newspaper, or volunteer to write feature articles for your yearbook. Both of these positions will provide you with experience in research and fact finding.
There are many books available describing the techniques of basic research skills. Ask a librarian or bookstore worker to help you locate them, or better yet, begin developing your research skills by tracking down materials yourself. The Internet is also full of helpful information on all subjects.
The Biotechnology Institute publishes Your World: Biotechnology & You, a biotechnology magazine for students in grades 7–12, twice per year. These publications will provide you with an excellent overview of biotechnology. Visit http://www.biotechinstitute.org/go.cfm?do=Page.View&pid=78 to read back issues of the magazine.
Biotechnology research assistants work to help their employers complete a job in an easier and more thorough manner in agriculture, pharmaceuticals, engineering, and many other fields. A biotechnology research assistant may work, for example, for a genetic scientist or a team of drug researchers. A research assistant at a biotech firm might be tasked with gathering information on scientific studies and clinical trials that have been made to treat a specific disease, such as muscular dystrophy (a group of hereditary diseases characterized by the wasting away of muscles). Research assistants who have clinical duties may perform molecular biological techniques such as the preparation and purifying of proteins, DNA, and RNA, and supervising DNA cloning processes. This type of assistant needs a college background in science.
Researchers may assist more than one person or team. Sometimes the team assigning the work determines the priority for assignments; other times, the assistants keep sign-up sheets and perform the research requests in the order they are listed. Often, an urgent job will make it necessary for the assistant to disregard the sheet and jump to the new task quickly. After receiving an assignment, research assistants must first determine how to locate the desired information. It may be as simple as making a single phone call and requesting a scientific study. Other times, it may involve hours, days, or even weeks of research on the Internet or in specialized libraries, archives, or laboratories, searching from source to source, or experiment to experiment until all of the necessary information has been compiled and consolidated. Biotechnology research assistants then prepare the material for presentation to the person or team who requested it. They usually write notes or a report outlining the research efforts and presenting the information they located. These reports may include graphs, charts, statistics, electronic documents, and illustrations or photographs. They include a listing of sources and the exact specifications of any interviews conducted, surveys taken, or experiments performed. Sometimes biotechnology research assistants are asked to present this information verbally as well.
University professors also hire biotechnology research assistants. For example, a research assistant in molecular genetics will help the geneticist prepare and perform experiments and record data, prepare reports, or proofread and fact-check scientific papers written by scientists. Professors often hire graduate students as their research assistants, and sometimes a research assistantship is part of a financial aid package. This ensures that the professor has help with research and gives the students an opportunity to earn money while learning more about their chosen field.
In addition to their research duties, biotechnology research assistants may also help with maintaining laboratories and equipment.