What does a Forensic Scientist do?Forensic scientists are scientists looking at physical evidence in the laboratory to be used by law enforcement and the court system for civil and criminal cases. The scientists will use their knowledge of science and apply those principles to the case they are helping to investigate. The scientists will write detailed reports of their findings, which can be used in a court of law. They also testify in court as expert witnesses to their findings in civil and criminal proceedings. The different sub-specialties in typical forensic laboratories include toxicology, drug chemistry, biology, latent evidence, firearms, digital evidence, and trace evidence. Most medical examiner offices will only have a toxicology unit to help with determining cause and manner of death. State and local law enforcement offices will usually have all sub-specialty units listed for investigations in their region.
EducationMost forensic science careers require at least a Bachelor’s degree to obtain an entry level job. Most degree programs recommend courses in criminal justice. The degree is extremely important and may require specialized classes, depending on the section of the laboratory you are interested in working. For example, if you would like to be a Toxicologist or Drug Chemistry analyst in a forensic laboratory, your major should involve at least 20 hours of chemistry. Whereas, if your desire is to work in a firearms, digital evidence, or latent evidence unit, the requirement of chemistry is not necessary. One very specific unit is termed forensic biology, where the FBI requires that the analysts have specific classes in biochemistry, molecular biology, genetics, and statistics. This unit is responsible for analyzing DNA.
Regardless of the specialty, every unit requires a Bachelor’s degree, but the courses you select will vary on the sub-specialty you desire. Many universities have turned to a dual-degree program where you focus on forensic science and another specialty like digital evidence, chemistry, biology, or even criminal justice. Advanced degrees like a Doctor of Philosophy, Doctor of Medicine, or Doctor of Dental Surgery can be helpful for those pursuing forensic research, higher-education teaching, pathology, and forensic odontology careers.
Forensic Scientist Pay and DemandForensic science technicians are stated to make an annual salary of $57,850/year according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The requirement of a Bachelor’s degree is necessary for this field. The job outlook is extremely positive with a projected growth of 17% over the years of 2016-2026. Most of the knowledge gained in this field is provided as on-the-job training. The competition in this field is very high and the jobs are growing as the demand for processing all crime scene evidence grows.
To become even more competitive once you are in the field, there are forensic science certifications that can be obtained in the different sub-specialties of the field. A Master’s degree is recommended to put you at the head of the line for competitive jobs in forensic science.
Sources: Bureau of Labor Statistics, US Department of Labor, Salary.com, Occupational Outlook Handbook- https://www.onetonline.org/link/summary/19-4092.00