DNA analysts often work in forensic crime labs where they examine samples of DNA to identify potential suspects. After conducting tests on each sample, analysts compare the identity of the sample with other known samples. If they find a match, they can provide law enforcement agents with a positive identification. Some analysts work in privately owned forensic laboratories, whereas others work in police station crime labs.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree in molecular biology genetics, forensic sciences, or related field|
|Other Requirements||Knowledge of laboratory procedures and equipment; strong verbal and written communication skills|
|Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)*||27% for all forensic science technicians|
|Average Salary (May 2015)*||$60,090 for all forensic science technicians|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) places DNA analysts under the category of forensic science technicians, who are responsible for analyzing evidence that can link suspects with specific crime scenes. DNA analysts focus on identifying samples of DNA, such as blood, hair follicles, or other bodily fluids. Most analysts work in the laboratory preparing and testing samples. With the exception of smaller cities and counties, DNA analysts do not normally go to active crime scenes; instead, they receive the gathered evidence from law enforcement agents.
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Analysts spend most of their time in the laboratory cataloging and analyzing DNA evidence. Since the findings from the analysis can be used in court to prove the innocence or guilt of suspects, analysts must follow strict protocols regarding the custody of evidence, testing procedures, and reporting guidelines. Every step of the procedure must be notated and reported, which includes when the sample was received, the quality of the sample, the tests performed, and the test results. Analysts are often called to appear in court as expert witnesses to verify the findings of a particular DNA analysis.
In the lab, analysts also perform routine maintenance and quality control checks. They maintain each piece of equipment, check for damages, and request replacement equipment as needed. To make sure that each analysis is performed correctly, analysts often conduct peer reviews on each others findings. This can include retesting samples and double-checking the findings reports.
To work in a crime lab approved by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), DNA analysts must meet the minimum requirement of a bachelor's degree related to molecular biology, genetics, or forensic sciences. Undergraduate coursework in molecular genetics programs might include microbiology, immunology, infectious diseases, gene development, and biochemistry. Most programs include mandatory laboratory hours for students to familiarize themselves with equipment and laboratory procedures.
Job Outlook and Salary
According to the BLS, jobs for forensic science technicians were expected to increase 27% from 2014-2024, which is must faster than average. In 2015, most forensic science technicians worked for local government or state government entities. The average annual wage for forensic science technicians was $60,090 as of May 2015.