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Careers in Forensics: Job Options and Training Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed for a job in forensics. Get a quick view of the details about degree programs, job duties, certification and licensing to find out if a career in forensics is for you.

There are many career options for those interested in forensics. Forensic computer analysts recover and analyze data from computers, while forensic accountants analyze financial transactions to determine if theft or fraud has occurred. Forensic pathologists focus on determine cause of death while forensic science technicians identify, catalogue and retrieve evidence from crime scenes.

Essential Information

A career in forensics necessitates a combination of specialized technical training and an understanding of the law. Forensic specialists work in a variety of areas, recovering and analyzing evidence for law enforcement agencies or private corporations. Forensics professionals could present evidence in court proceedings or prepare reports outlining the results of forensic analysis. For most forensic occupations, you'll need a bachelor's degree. Other forensic fields such as medical and accounting require higher degrees, certification and licenses.

Careers Forensic Computer Analyst Forensic Pathologist/Medical Examiner Forensic Science Technicians Forensic Accountant
Required Education bachelor's degree in computer science or criminal justice bachelor's and medical school degree bachelor's degree in chemistry or biology bachelor's degree in accounting
Other Requirements certificate program in computer forensics, master's degree for advancement internship and residency program, license on-the-job training certifications, license
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 5% for all private detectives and investigators 14% for all physicians and surgeons 27% 11% for accountants and auditors
Median Annual Salary $68,357 (2016)** $187,200 (2015)*** for all pathologists $56,320 (2015)* $64,939 (2016)**

Sources: *Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Payscale.com, ***O*net Online

Career Options

To work in forensics you must be detail-oriented, skillful with computers, excellent at analytical problem solving, and proficient in math and accounting. Jobs in the field include forensic computer analyst, forensic pathologist or medical examiner, and forensic accountant.

Forensics in Information Technology

Computer specialists interested in a career in forensics can become computer forensic investigators, working for law enforcement agencies, public corporations or security firms. They might also work as private consultants. These forensics professionals recover and analyze data, such as deleted or damaged software files, from computers in criminal investigations.

Corporations might hire computer forensic investigators to uncover evidence of fraud or embezzlement. Law enforcement agencies rely on the skills of a computer specialist to recover evidence of criminal activity, fraud, harassment, copyright infringement or identity theft. Lawyers might hire forensic computer specialists to find evidence essential to making a case.

A degree in computer science provides a solid educational foundation for a career in computer forensics. An undergraduate degree in computer science includes courses in mathematics, data analysis, data structures, computer architecture and programming languages. Several schools offer majors and concentrations in information technology forensics, cyber forensics or technology crime investigations. Education for the investigative techniques used in computer forensics can also be learned on the job or through college certificate programs available in computer forensics.

PayScale.com listed the median annual salary for forensic computer analysts at $68,357 as of January 2016. Most of these professionals earned between $41,441 and $114,677 per year at that time, according to the site. The job of a forensic computer analyst is closely related to private detectives and investigators. The BLS projects the job growth for private detectives and investigators is expected to increase 5% for the years 2014 to 2024.

Forensics in Medicine and Science

Individuals interested in forensics in a scientific or medical field can work in crime laboratories for law enforcement or research facilities in private firms. Positions include forensic pathologist, forensic anthropologist and forensic technician as well as various types of scientists.

Forensic pathologists are physicians who assist law enforcement in determining a cause of death. They typically conduct autopsies and order medical testing of the deceased. Pathologists or medical examiners collect evidence through their investigations. Forensic anthropologists study skeletal remains and assist law enforcement in the identification of a body. Anthropologists use their specialized knowledge to determine the sex, age and height of a victim, which can provide clues to a victim's identity.

The field of forensics provides career opportunities for scientists, such as biologists, chemists and toxicologists, who analyze and examine evidence from crime scenes or human bodies. For example, biologists might analyze blood and bodily fluids, and toxicologists could perform analysis to determine if drugs, alcohol or toxic chemicals were involved in the death of a victim.

Forensic science technicians analyze crime scene evidence, such as fibers, tissues and bodily fluids, to assist law enforcement in recreating a crime. Technicians can specialize in an area of forensic science, such as firearms expertise or DNA analysis.

Forensic pathologists or medical examiners must complete medical school and a residency to meet licensing requirements as a medical doctor. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technician positions usually require a minimum of a bachelor's degree. Scientists have a variety of training and educational options. Many earn doctoral degrees in their area of expertise, but the BLS states that a bachelor's degree could be required for some assisting or entry-level positions.

O*Net Online indicates that pathologists, including forensic pathologists, earned a median annual salary of $187,200 per year as of May 2015. According to BLS projections, doctors and surgeons in general are expected to see an employment growth of 14% between 2014 and 2024.

The BLS additionally reports that forensic science technicians are likely to see a 27% employment growth during the 2014-2024 decade and made a median annual wage of $56,320 in May 2015.

Forensics in Financing

White-collar crime provides opportunities for forensics professionals with an expertise in finance. Forensic finance experts analyze complex financial transactions to uncover theft, fraud or other illegal activities. Private businesses and law enforcement agencies use the skills of forensic accountants to detect and prevent such crimes.

Forensic accountants can prepare for the work through a bachelor's degree program in accounting. Some schools also offer specific majors or concentrations in forensic accounting. These programs include accounting courses as well as courses that cover legal topics, such as criminal investigation skills, criminal procedures and the role of evidence in law. By taking the proper exams, students majoring in accounting can become a certified public accountant (CPA) or certified information systems auditor (CISA). An accountant can also obtain a master's degree and must be licensed to practice.

According to PayScale.com, forensic accountants brought in a median salary of $64,939 as of January 2016, with most earning within the range of $40,214 to $117,578 yearly. The BLS states that the job outlook for accountants and auditors will increase 11% from 2014 to 2024.

The requirements for a career in forensics vary, depending on the area of specialization. A bachelor's degree in a relevant field is the minimum postsecondary training required. Additional certifications are necessary for some areas of specialization, while forensic pathologists must complete medical school and be licensed.


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