So You Want to Be a Lab Manager | 3D Cell Culture Lab Manager Careers | Corning

Running a lab might not be for everyone, but if you enjoy the thought of supervising people, processes, and projects, it's worth devoting the time to learn how to become a lab manager.

Many options await candidates who are interested in lab management, such as working in a government or academic lab or running commercial research projects. Each offers unique opportunities to be part of cutting-edge research while supervising such day-to-day lab operations as hiring new lab technicians and tracking equipment, supplies, and project development.

Types of Lab Manager

But which field of lab management is right for you? Your path depends on your preferences and career aspirations: Do you see yourself as an industry leader, a curious academic, or somewhere in between?

For example:

  • Academic lab managers tend immerse themselves in a single area of interest—such as 3D cell culture experiments—without the hubbub of corporate politics. But they might be at the mercy of grant funding.
  • Commercial lab managers usually draw a higher salary and have a more reasonable work schedule, but they operate within a corporate structure and might not get to specialize as much as their peers in academia.
  • Government lab managers are involved in broader work that helps advance the scientific understanding of public health, but they can also be subject to the whims of political and administrative changes.

Qualifications and Skills

No matter what type of lab manager you aspire to become, the training and qualifications to get there are largely the same. Most employers require a bachelor's degree in a health or science field such as chemistry, biochemistry, or biology, and you might need up to five years' management experience to really be competitive.

Depending on where you work, you might also need a license or certification, such as the Diplomate in Laboratory Management certification from the American Society for Clinical Pathology. The 100-question exam tests lab managers' acumen in four professional areas: financial, operations, human resources, and quality management.

Because running a lab is like running a small business, strength in those four areas can set you apart from other candidates, especially if you're also able to demonstrate the following skills:

  • People and management skills: Successful lab managers are exceptional leaders and mentors, have strong interpersonal skills, and can assess individual strengths when hiring lab workers.
  • Business and operational skills: As operational leaders, lab managers review data and make strategic decisions related to capital purchases, staff management, inventory, and short- and long-term planning.
  • Scientific skills: Yes, lab management involves managing the business and the people, but it's still about the science, too. So managers must set the technical standard and lead by example, delegate tasks when necessary, and maintain a safe working environment.

Ready to Get Started?

If you've set your sights on a coveted managerial role, know that might take time to get there. Most lab managers start their careers as lab technicians and work their way up after proving that they can think strategically and exceed expectations in entry- and middle-level roles.

And while you'll want to demonstrate your mastery of scientific concepts, interpersonal skills matter, too, so work to establish relationships with your lab partners. Offer a helping hand when you can, mentor junior scientists, and volunteer to lead projects and initiatives. Taking ownership of small projects might lead to greater responsibility and more mission-critical tasks.

This kind of hard work demonstrates that you're serious about your career. And when it gets noticed, it could help you land that coveted lab manager role.