How to Get into Forensics
Getting into forensic science means learning how to collect and analyze a wide range of evidence from crime scenes. Careers in the forensic science field typically include a lot of laboratory analysis and collaboration with law enforcement professionals and lawyers.
To become a forensic scientist, you'll generally need good communication, problem-solving, and critical-thinking skills. You'll need to be detail-oriented and good at math and science. Besides developing these characteristics, there are a few practical things you'll need to do to become a forensic scientist.
Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist
Gaining preliminary knowledge and training are vital to getting a career in forensic science. There are many relevant degree programs to prepare you and teach you about the fundamental skills and tools of a forensic scientist's trade.
Step 1: Get a Forensic Science Degree
To become a forensic scientist you must earn at least a bachelor's degree to obtain the necessary science background for the field. Typically, your major needs to be in a natural science or forensic science. There are also a number of forensic science certificate programs available at the undergraduate and graduate levels for students interested in supplementing their major. Courses common to a forensics undergrad degree include:
- Chemistry, biochemistry and organic chemistry
- Evidence collection, processing and analysis
- Lab and forensic instrumentation operation
- Genetics, DNA and toxicology testing
Step 2: Complete Practical Training in Forensics
All forensic scientists must undergo a moderate amount of on-the-job-training, usually with an experienced investigator. Training is also a time where scientists may begin to specialize in a particular area of forensic analysis, such as digital forensics, forensic psychology, anthropology, or entomology. The career also requires forensic scientists to stay updated on current methodologies, techniques and technologies in the field.
Step 3: Earn Voluntary Certifications
Although they are not usually required for securing a position as a forensic scientist, there are a wide range of certifications available for different kinds of forensics. For example, the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) offers several professional certifications in areas like drug chemistry, trace evidence, and fire debris analysis. Alternatively, GIAC offers several specialized certifications if you're interested in computer or digital forensics.
Step 4: Pursue Advanced and Continuing Education
Because of rapidly changing technologies and methodologies forensic scientists use, staying updated with continued education and training in the field is important. Some professionals go on to pursue a master's degree in forensic science to gain advanced skills. You might also find online and free courses for forensic scientists. This continued education is not only critical to the work, but also required to maintain certifications.
What Can You Do with a Forensic Science Degree?
After earning a degree in forensic science, graduates can pursue entry-level forensic science jobs. These forensic scientists visit crime scenes to collect weapons, body fluids, and other pieces of evidence for preservation and analysis. They may also take photographs of the scene, reconstruct the scene, and document any other observations. Their work then takes place in the lab as they run various biological and chemical tests on the evidence to try and find any connections between suspects and the crime.
Forensic scientists can also be called forensic technicians, crime scene investigators, or criminalists.
Professionals who specialize in a particular area of forensics can pursue various careers as:
- Forensic chemists
- Forensic biologists
- Digital forensics analysts
- Forensic computer examiners
- Forensic autopsy assistants
How Much Money Does a Forensic Scientist Make?
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average annual salary for a forensic technician in 2018 was $62,490. This average increased slightly for technicians working for local governments to $63,560 the same year, with the federal government paying the highest average of $110,720. Forensic technicians working in medical and diagnostic laboratories made an average annual salary of $45,750 in 2018.
Forensic Science Job Outlook
The job outlook for forensic technicians is very good with a projected 17% increase from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS. This increase is much faster than the national average; however, there aren't many forensic science technicians overall in the U.S. The BLS predicted only 2,600 forensic technician positions to be added over the same time period, which may lead to strong job competition.