Forensic entomologists determine the time of a person's death by studying insects that appear on the body. A Ph.D. or master's degree in entomology is required, and these professionals primarily work for academic institutions.
Forensic entomologists are scientists who help solve forensic investigations by studying the life cycle of insects and arthropods found on dead bodies to determine how long a person has been dead. They work primarily on cases of murder and death, estimating time and location of death by observing insect colonization on the body. By determining the time of death, forensic entomologists play an important role in helping other forensic scientists reconstruct the events leading up to a person's death, thereby helping to solve the case. Forensic entomologists are often employed by academic institutions rather than by law enforcement agencies. Forensic entomologists usually hold a Ph.D. in entomology, though a master's degree may be efficient.
|Required Education||Master's degree; Ph.D. in in Entomology may be required|
|Projected Job Growth||27% from 2014-2024 for all forensic science technicians*|
|Average Salary (2015)||$60,090 annually for forensic science technicians*|
Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics
Forensic Entomologist Duties
The main job duty of forensic entomologists is to find the post-mortem interval (PMI), which is the minimum amount of time for which someone could have been dead. To do this, they examine the species, ages and colony composition of the insects and arthropods found on the body. They may examine the body at the crime scene or conduct a post-mortem examination. They may also be given specimens or photographs taken by police to examine or visit the crime scene to search for clues.
Forensic entomologists make an accurate estimation for how long a person has been dead because different types of insects are attracted to different stages of decomposition. The life stages of eggs and young insects can also give important clues. Forensic entomologists must take certain environmental factors into account when examining bodies, such as ambient temperature, season, time of day and the body's surroundings. All of these factors affect a body's rate of decomposition, as well as insect growth.
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Forensic Entomologist Requirements
A Ph.D. in Entomology is usually required to obtain employment as a forensic entomologist. However, in some cases, a Master of Science in Entomology may be sufficient. To enroll in a graduate program in entomology, a person must first earn a bachelor's degree. Although a specific major is not usually required, undergraduate students are typically required to complete prerequisite courses, such as chemistry, biology, introductory entomology and mathematics. Graduate programs may require letters of recommendation and Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores.
A master's degree in entomology is typically required before enrolling in a Ph.D. program. Students who would like to pursue a Ph.D. should choose a research-based master's degree program in which they complete a thesis, rather than a course-based program. Some courses taken in master's degree programs may later be applied toward a Ph.D. A written and oral examination may be required for graduation. Students have the option to earn a Board Certified Entomologist (BCE) certification through the Entomological Society of America as a substitute for this exam.
Students enrolled in Ph.D. programs must attend seminars, conduct research and prepare a dissertation in addition to completing coursework. Aspiring forensic entomologists should also take graduate courses in forensics and may choose to minor in forensics. Ph.D. students also have to pass a written and oral examination or earn BCE certification in order to graduate.
Earning board certification can be advantageous in that it demonstrates to potential employers that an entomologist is highly skilled and dedicated to staying current in the field. To sit for the certification exam, a person must have a combination of education and experience. Continuing Education Units (CEUs) is necessary every three years to maintain certification.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) in May 2015, forensic science technicians in general earned an average annual income of $60,090, though wages may vary based on area of expertise. Employment growth of 27% is projected from 2014 to 2024 (www.bls.gov).
If you have earned a master's or doctoral-level degree in entomology, you could opt to work as a forensic entomologist. Training in forensics is required as well, and certification is available in this field. Job growth for forensic science technicians is expected to be much faster than average through 2024.