Become a Forensic Geneticist: Step-by-Step Career Guide

Research the requirements to become a forensic geneticist. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in forensic genetics. View article »

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  • 0:00 What is a Forensic Geneticist?
  • 1:04 Earn a Bachelor's Degree
  • 2:05 Complete Advanced Training
  • 3:13 Secure a Lab Position
  • 3:40 Earn Professional…

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Video Transcript

What is a Forensic Geneticist?

Degree Level Bachelor's degree
Degree Field Biology, chemistry, biochemistry or comparable discipline
Certification Voluntary certification is available through professional organizations
Key Skills Problem solving, critical thinking, communication, reasoning
Mean Salary (2015) $60,090 (for all forensic science technicians)

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

A forensic geneticist is a scientist who analyzes blood, fluids and tissue samples to extract DNA for identification or evidence. These professionals spend a lot of time in laboratories and might collaborate with teams of other scientists or law enforcement professionals. Forensic geneticists might be forced to work irregular or overtime hours. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), predicted that job opportunities for all forensic science technicians, which includes forensic geneticists, would increase 27% between 2014 and 2024, which was much faster than average. This rapid growth was attributed to increased use of DNA analysis by law enforcement and the legal system in general. However, the bureau also noted that competition for jobs in this field could be strong, since it's been glamorized by television shows and movies. As of May 2015, forensic science technicians earned a mean annual salary of $60,090, according to the BLS.

Earn a Bachelor's Degree

Employers typically prefer forensic geneticists with at least a bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology, molecular biology or biochemistry with relevant coursework in genetics. Because they analyze biological samples at the molecular level, forensic geneticists need a strong background in laboratory methods, chemical analysis and genetics.

Bachelor's degree programs in forensic science typically combine a strong natural science curriculum with coursework in forensic science and criminalistics specialties, which give students the opportunity to learn analysis, research and investigation methods associated with work in forensic science laboratories. Classes may be available in serology, toxicology, evidence and other topics directly related to a career as a forensic geneticist.

Degree programs often include internship opportunities with outside laboratories. Internships allow students to network with industry professionals and attain hands-on training that can help them after graduation.

Complete Advanced Training

Many employers require that forensic geneticists have 1-6 years of experience working with DNA serology. While some employers provide rigorous training programs, others prefer to hire experienced individuals. The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) recommends that prospective forensic scientists acquire laboratory training in general criminalist or technicians positions rather than holding out for specialized positions, since experience and skill are marketable to employers.

Often, employers in this field are willing to substitute advanced education for years of work experience, which demonstrates the desire for prospective forensic geneticists to have an extensive relevant knowledge base. Advancement to a position as a laboratory leader or supervisor typically requires a master's degree in a natural science or forensic science. Forensic science master's programs allow students to acquire specialized knowledge, with courses in serology, molecular biology, DNA analysis and technology. Students can also learn advanced laboratory methods and quality control techniques.

Secure a Lab Position

Once they've gained the requisite education and experience, forensic geneticists might work in local, state and federal crime laboratories, medical examiner or coroner's offices, research laboratories, academic institutions, hospitals or private companies. According to the BLS, entry-level positions in the forensic science field are often general technician positions under the supervision of more experienced laboratory personnel.

Earn Professional Certification

To demonstrate professional competency and potentially advance in the field, forensic geneticists can obtain voluntary certification through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) or International Association for Identification (IAI). ABC certification is available at the diplomate level to those with two years of experience and a bachelor's degree, and is awarded upon passing a 3-hour multiple-choice exam. ABC fellows have at least two years of experience and pass both an ABC exam and a proficiency test in a specialty area, such as molecular biology and DNA.

Forensic geneticists interested in IAI certification can choose from crime scene investigator, analyst or reconstructionist designations, or take the senior crime scene analyst certification exam. Certification is also available in bloodstain pattern examination.

To maintain certification, applicants typically must complete some continuing education credits and pass an exam.

In summary, prospective forensic geneticists typically must earn a bachelor's degree as well as gain experience or pursue an advanced degree before securing an entry-level position. They can later pursue professional certification to demonstrate competency and possibly advance in the field.

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