Forensic Science Degrees, Education & Salary

What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?

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 Scientist Salary Information

The average forensic scientist salary is $60,690 with a range of $35,480-$91,457, as of January 2019. Local government is the largest employer of forensic scientists, followed by state government. Forensic science jobs within the federal executive branch yields an annual average salary of $95,240 or $45.79 per hour.

Source: US Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, Payscale.com, Salary.com

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 the 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 has 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.

Where do Forensic Scientists Work?

Forensic Scientists typically work in law enforcement, crime laboratories, or federal agencies.Police departments employ forensic scientists to assist with investigations and help determine how a crime is committed. In crime laboratories, forensic scientists analyze evidence such as chemical components, ballistic striation, or fingerprints from a crime scene to help solve crime specifications. Plus, the FBI employs over 500 forensic science technicians to examine DNA or analyze and use scientific expertise to protect the nation.

Forensic Science 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.

Forensic Science Skills and Abilities

Since forensic technicians 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 technicians work for state or federal crime laboratories. As a result, forensic scientists may be able to receive medical and retirement benefits. Forensic scientists typically earn about $57,850 annually or $27.80 hourly, according to O-net.

Forensic Science 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 typically in demand, but because of threats to cut budgets, there are few entry-level positions and there is high competition for these jobs. The job outlook for a forensic scientist is currently much faster than average (15% or higher) according to O-Net.


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