ERIC Number: ED372188
Record Type: RIE
Publication Date: 1993
In the Backrooms of Science: The Work of Technicians in Science Labs. EQW Working Papers WP11.
Barley, Stephen R.; Bechky, Beth A.
Twelve technicians and research support specialists employed in two laboratories of a university biotechnology center were observed and interviewed for 1 year to compile data on their job duties, knowledge, and status. Although the university differentiated technician and research support specialist positions across nine pay grades that were supposedly calibrated to educational credentials and job responsibilities, there was little distinction between the work of laboratory technicians and research support specialists. Both groups viewed their work as waging a running battle with trouble and uncertainty by using various strategies to avert and resolve various mistakes, malfunctions, and enigmas. The technicians and research support specialists stood between the scientists who nominally ran the laboratories and the empirical phenomena that the labs investigated. The technicians used and elaborated a contextual understanding of materials, instruments, and techniques grounded in hands-on experience that most scientists lacked. Although the technicians' and scientists' jobs were interdependent, the technicians' contextual knowledge was not awarded the same status as the scientists' formal knowledge. The technicians and research support specialists attempted to cope with the status accorded them by the university either by embracing an almost blue-collar identity or, conversely, by seeking employment in laboratories where they would be treated as professionals. (MN)
Publication Type: Reports - Research
Education Level: N/A
Sponsor: Office of Educational Research and Improvement (ED), Washington, DC.
Authoring Institution: National Center on the Educational Quality of the Workforce, Philadelphia, PA.