Should I Become a Forensic Chemist?
Forensic chemists analyze evidence collected from crime scenes, such as blood, hair, or drug samples, to help determine the elements of a crime. They may also be required to create a report and testify about their findings. These professionals often work for government agencies or labs but can sometimes work for private corporations. Working on call is sometimes needed for time-sensitive situations. Although the evidence has been separated from the scenes, some individuals may find dealing with evidence from violent crimes stressful.
|Degree Level||Bachelor's degree required, some employers may prefer or require graduate degrees|
|Degree Field||Chemistry or forensic science|
|Certification||Optional professional certification available|
|Experience||None required for entry-level positions|
|Key Skills||Strong communication and analytical skills|
|Median Salary (2016)*||$52,402 per year|
Sources: Job postings on professional organization websites (October 2012), *Payscale.com, American Chemical Society
Steps to Become a Forensic Chemist
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
Professional organizations such as the American Chemical Society and American Academy of Forensic Sciences recommend that aspiring forensic chemists possess at least a bachelor's degree in a subject that includes math and science principles. Forensic chemistry degree programs combine instruction in forensic techniques with the principles of chemistry. These programs include courses in mathematics, physics, biology, chemistry, evidence analysis, and investigation technology. Degree programs in chemistry, physics, and biology may also include instruction in these techniques, thereby preparing students to work in the field after graduation.
Forensic chemists may also be required to testify about their findings in court. Students can take courses in public speaking or join an extracurricular public speaking group to hone their public speaking and communication skills, which makes performing this job task easier in the future.
Some programs allow students to complete internships during their studies. These internships may introduce students to using state-of-the-art forensic technology equipment or software programs. This knowledge may impress potential employers when seeking a position.
Step 2: Work in the Field
Individuals with degrees in science or forensic science are typically eligible for entry-level forensic chemist positions. Employers may require that applicants have experience using equipment commonly used to conduct forensic toxicology tests, such as HPLC and GC/MS and Hitachi 717.
Step 3: Become Certified
Although certification is not required to work as a forensic chemist, some professional organizations offer chemists the ability to voluntarily earn certification. Eligibility for certification usually requires having at least a bachelor's degree and two years of full-time work experience and passing an exam. Being certified may enable chemists to advance to higher-level positions in their careers.
In 2016, the median salary for forensic chemists was $52,402, and entry-level positions are available to those who have completed a bachelor's degree in forensic chemistry, chemistry, biology, or a related field.