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Become a CSI Lab Technician: Education and Career Roadmap

Find out how to become a CSI lab technician. Research the education and training requirements and learn about the experience you need to advance your career as a forensic lab technician. View article »

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  • 0:03 Career Info
  • 1:02 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:04 Find an Entry-Level Job
  • 3:33 Get Certified

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Video Transcript

Career Info

Crime scene investigation (CSI) lab technicians use expertise in the natural sciences to analyze evidence from crime scenes. Using the forensic science known as criminalistics, they help investigators solve crimes by figuring out what happened and who was involved. Most CSI lab technicians specialize in certain kinds of evidence, such as ballistics or DNA. They work with local police, federal investigators, prosecution and defense attorneys, as well as with other forensic scientists.

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Fields Chemistry, biology, molecular biology, forensic science
Certification Voluntary certifications in crime scene reconstruction, fire debris and drug analysis are available, among others
Experience Training is provided by employers
Key Skills Strong problem-solving, critical-thinking, and communications skills, attention to detail, composure when working on violent crime cases; and knowledge of specific databases and scientific techniques
Salary (2015) $56,230 (median annual salary for forensic science technicians and crime scene investigators)

Sources: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, American Board of Criminalistics.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

A bachelor's degree is the minimum education requirement to join most crime labs as a technician. The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) recommends majoring in forensic science, biology, molecular biology, or chemistry. ASCLD also advises taking courses on the criminal justice system, statistics, and an introduction to criminalistics or forensic science. Those who do major in forensic science should be sure the curriculum is focused on the natural sciences, including physics, organic chemistry, and chemistry.

While in school, students should also develop good speaking, writing and note-taking skills. These skills, which are important for CSI lab technicians, can be honed in public speaking or writing-intensive classes or in extracurricular activities, like serving as a club secretary or joining the debate team. Forensic science programs may also include an internship, which could be useful for finding employment after graduation.

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Find an Entry-Level Job

Aspiring CSI lab technicians can find an entry-level position and begin training on the job. Most crime labs belong to state and local governments, but there are federal and private laboratories as well.

CSI lab technicians might consider specializing in an in-demand area of the industry. According to a U.S. Department of Justice census of publicly funded crime labs in 2009, about a third of the labs' combined casework that year involved forensic biology or DNA analysis and other screening of biological samples, and nearly a half was in controlled substances analysis and toxicology.

Entry-level lab technicians should also learn lab protocols. Whatever evidence they work on (bodily fluids, fingerprints, ballistics, traces of paint, etc.), CSI lab technicians must observe lab protocols and keep careful records in order to meet scientific standards and legal requirements of evidence handling. CSI lab technicians must also be able to explain their findings clearly to police officers, lawyers, and others; prepare accurate reports; and testify as expert witnesses in court. Therefore, communication skills are necessary to be effective communicators, able to explain complex science in plain English.

Crime lab technicians who also take advantage of continuing education opportunities and read professional journals regularly can keep up with evolving technologies and evidence analysis procedures.

Get Certified

The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) and the International Association for Identification (IAI) are among the organizations that offer certifications in various forensic disciplines. The ABC grants diplomate or fellow status, depending on education, to those with two years of relevant experience who pass one of ABC's six subject exams, such as the Drug Analysis exam or the Fire Debris Analysis exam. The IAI issues certifications in four crime scene categories (investigator, analyst, reconstructionist, and senior analyst) and in other specializations, like latent prints and bloodstain patterns. Applicants must meet varying education and experience requirements and pass exams.

Lab technicians should consider applying for provisional ABC certification before meeting experience requirements. Those who do not yet have the two years of lab or teaching time required may sit for any of the ABC's specialized certification exams and, if they pass, gain affiliate status. They are then eligible to become fully certified once they have the requisite experience.

Certifications from the IAI and the ABC must be renewed every five years and recertification can require a combination of professional development activities, continuing education, and examinations. Attending professional conferences, publishing articles, and taking classes can aid a certified CSI lab tech's ability to recertify.

To recap, CSI lab technicians should earn a bachelor's degree in a field such as forensic science, complete an internship, gain an entry-level position, choose a specialization, and try for certification.

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