In science we have the hypothesis to begin our work. A hypothesis is a testable statement based on accepted grounds. Contrast hypothesis with conjecture. Conjecture is an unproven proposition, often times mistaken as fact (or hypothesis) by an unscientific (Cargo Cult) mind. The first thing to note here today, on this concept of white and blue collar scientists, is the role hypothesis and conjecture play in the two disparate occupations.
The white collar worker swims in a sea of conjecture. The New Coca Cola recipe, for example, was developed because white collar workers decided that people wanted a better Coke. The sales proved them wrong. In science, we start on solid ground with the hypothesis and push the idea forward as directed by what we find. Penicillin, for example, was found in the laboratory by accident. From Wikipedia:
Fleming recounted that the date of his discovery of penicillin was on the morning of Friday, September 28, 1928. It was a fortuitous accident: in his laboratory in the basement of St. Mary's Hospital in London (now part of Imperial College), Fleming noticed a Petri dish containing Staphylococcus plate culture he mistakenly left open, was contaminated by blue-green mould, which formed a visible growth. There was a halo of inhibited bacterial growth around the mould. Fleming concluded the mould released a substance that repressed the growth and lysing the bacteria. He grew a pure culture and discovered it was a Penicillium mould, now known to be Penicillium notatum.Here we have a biotechnology project that is the antithesis of New Coke. There was a good reason to start the project. The anti-bacterial effect of the Penicillium mould was already known, dating back to the 1870s. Back before big business science projects were funded to the tune of billions of dollars per year, scientists had to make observations on their own. This observation is in the realm of blue collar work. It took years and years of blue and white collar work to make penicillin what it is today, but it all began with an observation.
Not many white collar workers of the caliber of Alexander Flemming. How many biotech/pharma executives would walk into the laboratory and make observations? The Nobel Prize winning scientist I worked for had his picture taken in a white lab coat sitting by a hood with a bunson burner lit up in the back ground. We hung the picture in the lab with the caption, "This isn't like my piano at home." We put it in the lab so he wouldn't see it and get angry.
The identification of Alexander Flemming caliber talent would be difficult to do considering laboratory observations are not part of the white collar scientists job description. The discovery scientists we wish for are neither blue nor white collar. They are pure scientists who require a large support network of both blue and white collared workers. Flemming didn't single handedly send penicillin out to the world from that lab where he first saw the mould fighting off the germs.
We can see that there was a long path taken to place penicillin in the world of modern medicine. With this in mind, let's examine the modern world of blue collar science. Undoubtedly there were many hospital laboratory technicians as well as biotechnology laboratory workers who contributed to the penicillin effort.
If you are looking for a transition from the biotech lab, you might want to look at the field of Medical Laboratory Science (MLS). In order to take on this work you must have a Bachelors degree with specific math and science coursework. If you graduated more than 7 years prior you must go back and take a senior level chemistry and microbiology class plus lab. You'll need three formal references, the forms to be filled out are provided by the school. You fork over $50 and apply. The school selects candidates in for interviews. Once selected you will embark on a one year $20K education involving senior level courses in clinical lab skills, intro to clinical lab practice, chemistry, clinical chemistry, micro I and II, clinical microbiology, parasitology, mycology, hematology, serology, immunology and molecular diagnostics. After the year of education you must take and pass the MLS exam to become certified. Now you can begin applying for a lab job down at the hospital.
Let's compare the requirements for a typical laboratory job in biotechnology:
Research Associate/Senior Research Associate - Target Validation - Seattle Genetics