Forensic Practitioner: Job Description and Education Requirements

Learn about the education and preparation needed to become a forensic practitioner. Get a quick view of the requirements as well as details about the degree programs, job duties and certifications to find out if this is the career for you.

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To become a forensic practitioner, you will need a degree in forensic science or a natural science. Knowing details related to work duties, salary, and projected job growth can also make you more informed about this profession and what it has to offer.

Essential Information

Forensic practitioners, also referred to as crime scene investigators and forensic science technicians, examine evidence in order to provide support in criminal investigations, including giving testimonies during criminal trials. This career requires a minimum of a bachelor's degree; advanced degrees or certifications are recommended. This career would appeal to individuals with interests in criminal justice, biological sciences and the legal system.

Required Education Bachelor's degree
Other Requirements Optional certifications available
Projected Job Growth (2014-2024)* 27% (for forensic science technicians)
Median Pay (2015)* $56,320 annually (for forensic science technicians)

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Job Descriptions of Forensic Practitioners

Forensic practitioners collect, analyze and record evidence to aid in criminal investigations. They use details drawn from fingerprints, bodily fluids, footprints and ballistics samples to form a series of possible conclusions for crime scenes. They are also responsible for analyzing hair, blood splatter or DNA. Much of their analysis takes place in a laboratory setting with access to analytical software and criminal databases.

These professionals often serve as expert witnesses for criminal cases that go to trial. Proper collection and storage of evidence is essential for their findings to hold up in a court of law. Forensic practitioners must also document their conclusions adhering to approved procedures and laws. They typically possess a specialty in one area of expertise such as toxicology, DNA analysis or weapons examination. As forensic techniques and technological capabilities evolve, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projected much-faster-than-average job growth of 27% for forensic science technicians from 2014-2024. The BLS also reported that the median salary for forensic science technicians, as of 2015, was $56,320.

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Education Requirements of Forensic Practitioners

Most forensic practitioners need a bachelor's degree, preferably in forensic science or another natural science. Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science programs can be completed in about four years and must be accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (www.aafs.org). Students will explore topics in genetic sequencing, evidence collection, biochemistry, bloodstain analysis, criminal justice and anatomy. Some bachelor's degree programs require students to analyze mock crime scenes and complete forensics internships.

Master of Science in Forensic Science programs typically take two years to complete, although some institutions have fast track options where talented students can earn a bachelor's degree in natural science and their master's degree in five years. While not required for entry-level positions, such advanced degree programs are research intensive and provide further opportunities for forensic practitioners to develop a specialty and network with current professionals.

Specialized voluntary certifications are also available in the field for forensic practitioners. Certifications are available through the American Board of Forensic Toxicology and the American Board of Criminalistics. Candidates must hold at least a bachelor's degree and some experience in the field.

Forensic practitioners specialize in work duties that involve collecting information and evidence from crime scenes. Professionals interested in this type of work usually need a bachelor's degree in forensic science before they can attain a voluntary certification in the field. According to the BLS, much faster-than-average job growth is expected in this field from 2014 to 2024.

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