Dismiss Notice
Join Physics Forums Today!
The friendliest, high quality science and math community on the planet! Everyone who loves science is here!

Scientists and technicians

  1. Aug 12, 2005 #1
    How do you see the relationship between "scientists" and "technicians" ?
    Are differences among them due to knowledge or rather to social causes?
  2. jcsd
  3. Aug 13, 2005 #2
    I would suggest that a "scientist" is a seeker of new knowledge about reality. A scientist will check old accepted theories to see if someone might have missed something or actually have been wrong.

    A "technicial" is more interested in restating the old knowledge and being an authority on it. Technicians are reluctant to question existing theories for fear they might be wrong.
  4. Aug 14, 2005 #3
    I would take it a step further and ask, what is the difference between science and technology.

    Science is basically the pursuit of knowledge of how the world works. Of course, to get technical we could further limit that to only those endeavors which use the scientific methods. Other methods would be philosophical I imagine.

    Technology on the other hand is the application of the knowledge that we have discovered through scientific enquiry. How we apply that technology can depend on a lot of things. Unfortunately it quite often depends on greed. For example, much of the technology that is coming out of factories has been designed around what the business needs rather than around the consumers needs. Things are often made difficult to repair on purpose because it's in the interest of the business that people use their service departments and/or buy new stuff.

    I've heard many people say that they have a distain for technology, but I personally believe that most of what they distain is mankind greedy abuse of technology, not the technology itself. We live in a "throw-away" society where we often take technology for granted and even complain if it isn't readily available. We have no real respect for the technology that we've created. This is most certainly not the fault of science. This is the fault of business and greed.

    Getting back to your question about scientists and technicians, I think those labels are quite often used arbitrarily in our society. Almost anyone who does anything technical can be referred to as a technician. People aren't typically referred to as scientists unless they have a high degree of education (or they are working specifically toward some type of pure research).

    Where we actually draw the line in the business world is hard to say. A lot of companies refer to their senior technicians as "scientists". But it seems to me that if the work they are doing is nothing more than researching better ways to build a product then they really are "technicians" as opposed to scientists, at least in my mind. Anyone can call themselves anything. That doesn’t necessarily mean that they fit everyone's idea of what that title should mean.
  5. Aug 14, 2005 #4
    My question was more related with the scientific research. For example, a relevant paper published on Biology involves a lot of laboratory work. But often the technician's work is not recognized in any form.

    So, this situation, although in a very different social context, is reminiscent of that of the "invisible technicians" who worked in the laboratories of the 17th century. But now, the borders between scientists and technicians are more fuzzy, because of a lot of scientists work in practice as technicians during their careers.

    So, it would be possible that important scientific contributions be unrecognized when done by a scientist working as technician, and that only by a social cause.
  6. Aug 14, 2005 #5
    That's quite often the case, and has always been the case. The person who has the clout usually gets the credit. Everyone else who was involved just gets the satifaction of knowing that they really made the discovery. :wink:
  7. Aug 14, 2005 #6
    Heh. In the university atmosphere, the difference basically adds up to how many years along in the program you are. ;)
  8. Aug 14, 2005 #7


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    I am afraid that I do not understand your terminology? What do you mean by scientist? What do you mean by technician?

    I am a technician, in my vocabulary, to be a technician you do not need a university degree, military training or a AA degree from a good vocational school does the job nicely. You need to understand some electronics, some pneumatics, motion control and sensors. In my world technicians are very far from a scientist who would have a PhD in one of the sciences. So a scientist has nearly 10yrs of education in a very specific field, a technician has 1 or 2 or no years of formal education in a broad spectrum of subjects. Ranging form programing to electrical fundamentals. I really do not see enough in common to compare.

    Perhaps you mean something different by "technician"?
  9. Aug 15, 2005 #8


    User Avatar
    Staff Emeritus
    Science Advisor
    Gold Member

    If he's referring to technician in the sense of a biology laboratory, then that's someone hired, usually with either a bachelor's or master's degree, who carries out the routine work in the lab (some universities give them the title "Research Assistant"). Their role generally includes making common reagents, such as buffer solutions, assisting with certain procedures (for example, we have a technician who primarily does our electron microscopy work), ordering supplies, keeping the lab clean, etc.

    They are not usually cited as authors on papers because they do not contribute ideas to the work, nor are they responsible for the analysis, interpretation or writing of the paper. They are usually recognized in the acknowledgements for their help. Generally, their most important job skill is to follow instructions carefully and consistently.

    However, if someone is fortunate enough to have a technician who has a lot of experience and interest in the work, sometimes they do begin to contribute original ideas to the project and are given more of a primary role in conducting it and making decisions about it, in which case, they do get cited as a co-author (and soon after, submit their resignation because they've finally decided to go to grad school...someone with that level of curiousity isn't satisfied to remain a technician for long).

    The real distinction comes about as level of interest more than anything else. Most technicians I've worked with could have gone on for a PhD or could have contributed more to a project, but they just don't have that desire or level of interest in the project or the curiousity to want to really understand the scientific questions involved; they are content to show up for their 8 to 5 job and follow the instructions given to them each day.

    Other than that, they are still valued members of the lab team environment. In fact, new students often are learning from the technician initially, at least when it comes to the "how to" type questions (the "why" questions are reserved for their mentor).
  10. Aug 15, 2005 #9
    Yes. That is the sense in what I refer to technician.
Know someone interested in this topic? Share this thread via Reddit, Google+, Twitter, or Facebook

Have something to add?

Similar Discussions: Scientists and technicians
  1. To be a scientist (Replies: 3)

  2. Political Scientists (Replies: 10)

  3. Favorite Scientist? (Replies: 20)

  4. Sexy Scientists (Replies: 5)