Forensic Science Career, Job, Degrees and Training Information

Forensic scientists collect and analyze physical evidence found at crime scenes. They collect fingerprints, saliva, blood, semen, drugs, and firearms. They also collect bones and reconstruct skeletons as well as prepare reports, preserve evidence, discuss collected evidence with law enforcement and attorneys, and testify in court. Since the scientific evaluation of evidence can determine a defendant’s guilt or innocence, forensic scientists serve an important role in the criminal justice system.

Forensic Science Careers

There are variety of areas of practice in forensic science. These include:

  • Medical Examiner

    While medical examiners usually have the highest pay of all forensic scientists they also have to cut up dead bodies, require over 7 years of college education and have very uncertain work hours. As medical examiners must determine cause of death they are confronted with a variety of problem-solving challenges. A medical examiner requires a medical degree. An undergraduate degree in chemistry or biology is a recommended major for aspiring medical examiners. It is also recommended to take crime detection & investigation courses as your electives at the undergraduate level if available.

  • Forensic Odontologist

    Forensic odontologist are dentists who practice as consultants rather than as full-time forensic scientists. The educational requirements for a forensic odontologist are similar to those for a medical examiner.

  • Crime Laboratory Analyst
  • Crime Scene Examiner/Investigator
  • Forensic Engineer

    Forensic engineers deal with fire investigations, traffic accidents, as well as a variety of wrongful injury and death cases. Their work is very similar to that of a crime scene examiner but have better pay, fewer dead bodies to deal with and much better working hours. Forensic engineers require an engineering degree in electrical engineering, civil engineering, mechanical engineering, materials engineering and traffic engineering.

  • Academic Analysts

    Including psychology (including psychological profilers) / social science / statistics.

  • Technical Analysts

    Including computer analyst, polygraph, composite drawing. Technical analysts are typically part of a crime scene investigative unit and usually work in a lab-like environment but respond in a similar fashion to other crime scene personnel.

Education Requirements

To get a forensic science entry level job, candidates need to earn a bachelor’s degree in biology, chemistry, microbiology, genetics, or medical technology, and it is recommended candidates take law and communication classes. While earning a degree it is also highly recommended that you participate in a low or non-paid internship in a crime laboratory to get experience in the forensic application of science. Laboratory experience may be required by some crime labs to get a job.

The following articles contain additional information about educational requirements for careers in forensic science.

  • Higgins, LM, Selavka, CM. Do forensic science graduate programs fulfill the needs of the forensic science community? J Forensic Sci, 1988;33:1015-21.
  • Furton, K., Hsu, Y-H., Cole, MD. What educational background do crime laboratory director require from applicants? J Forensic Sci, 1999;44(1):128-132.
  • Gaensslen, RE, Lee HC. REgional cooperation and regional centers among forensic science programs in the United States. J Forensic Sci, 1988;33:1069-70.
  • Siegal, JA. The appropriate educational background for entry level forensic scientists: a survey of practitioners. J Forensic Sci, 1988;33:1065-8.
  • Lee, HC, Gaensslen, RE. Forensic science laboratory/forensic science program cooperation and relationships: the view from the forensic science laboratory. J Forensic Sci, 1988;33:1071-3.
  • Smith, FP, Lui RH, Lindquist CA. Research experience and future criminalists. J Forensic Sci, 1988;33:1074-80.

Special Skills

Since forensic scientists work with many people in stressful situations, it is important to be able to work well with others. It is also important for forensic scientists to have good speaking and writing skills since they prepare reports and testy in court. Forensic scientists must also possess excellent hand-eye coordination since they handle small pieces of evidence to examine under a microscope.

The majority of forensic scientists work for state or federal crime laboratories. As a result, forensic scientists receive medical and retirement benefits. Forensic scientists working for a state usually earn $1,900 a month while those with previous lab experience earn about $3,000 a month. Experienced forensic scientists can earn between $35,000-50,000 annually.

Working Conditions

Forensic scientists working for the government usually work 40 hours a week but sometimes work extra to meet deadlines and work on large caseloads. Forensic scientists spend most of their time in labs but often travel to crime scenes to examine and analyze evidence, as well as testify in court.

Job Outlook for Forensic Scientists

Experienced and skilled forensic scientists are always in demand, but because of constant threats to cut budgets, there are few entry-level positions and competition for these jobs is intense. The job outlook for a forensic scientist is average.

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