Those interested in pursuing a career in criminal investigation can enroll in a forensic science degree program. Typically, at least a four-year degree is required to begin working in this field, though master's and doctoral degrees are also offered and could be used by professionals seeking to advance in their careers. A doctorate would be necessary for those intending to teach at the collegiate level. Some online programs and courses are available.
The curricula of these programs commonly combine classroom instruction with hands-on lab exercises. Students can expect to take courses in the physical sciences, most notably in chemistry, physics and biology, as well as classes in mathematics and anthropology. Prospective students must have a high school diploma or its equivalent to enroll in a bachelor's degree program.
Bachelor's Degree in Forensic Science
Those interested in beginning a career in crime investigation must complete a bachelor's degree program in forensic science. The program is very hands-on and may let students participate in criminal and anthropological cases. The curriculum teaches students to collect and analyze DNA and perform forensic methodology to determine the identity of human remains. Students learn the proper storage methods for different types of evidence and how to document and report the information and findings.
While the coursework in a forensic science program emphasizes DNA and evidence analysis, students also learn to do research, develop communication skills, work with computers and organize scientific results. Courses are available in:
- Organic chemistry
- Forensic science
- Criminal law and procedures
- Human science
- Computers and technology
- Criminal evidence
Master's Degree in Forensic Science
A master's degree program in forensic science offers students a practical and theoretical approach to the investigative and scientific aspects of forensic science. Students can specialize in DNA analysis or firearm examinations and learn how to give expert testimony in legal proceedings. Students learn to perform tests on various substances, such as bodily fluids, hair, tissues, fibers and glass.
Prospective students must have a bachelor's degree in forensic science, natural science, physical science or in a related field. Most programs require that students have a minimum grade point average, adequate scores on the Graduate Record Exam and three letters of recommendation.
The curriculum employs the principles of social science theory, chemistry, biology, mathematics and law to serve justice and solve crimes. The program offers classes in:
- Forensic and Physical anthropology
- Human osteology
- Molecular biology
- Law and forensic science
- DNA profiling
- Microscopic evidence
Ph.D. in Biochemistry with a Forensic Science Emphasis
A Ph.D. in biochemistry with a forensic science emphasis places an emphasis on advanced research and may involve collaboration with forensic science agencies. Students focus on a wide range of projects and create innovative ways to analyze a crime scene. Students use advanced equipment, such as laser induced fluorescence, electrospray and atomic mass spectrometry to further the technology in the forensic science field.
To enroll in this program, students must have a master's degree in forensic science or in a related field. Most program require that prospective students have a grade point average of 3.0 or higher and strong scores on the Graduate Record Exam.
A doctoral degree in this program focuses on the relationship between forensic science and biochemistry. The curriculum includes classes in:
- Forensic biology
- Forensic toxicology
- Forensic DNA chemistry
- Population genetics
- Chemical analysis of drugs
- Chemical analysis of explosives
Popular Career Options
Those that complete a forensic degree program develop keen observational skills and an ability to work independently, cope with unpleasant situations and communicate effectively. Graduates with a master's degree in forensic science are responsible for applying the methods of science to legal matters. Most graduates with a Ph.D. in biochemistry with a forensic science emphasis work in research laboratories or academia. Careers in this field are available as:
- Crime scene technician or photographer
- Forensic science specialist
- Medical examiner or Toxicologist
- Professor, consultant or researcher
- Fire investigator
- Fingerprint classification specialist
Employment Outlook and Salary Information
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), www.bls.gov, reports that employment for criminal investigators and private detectives will increase by 5% from 2014 to 2024, while forensic science technicians jobs are expected to grow 27% during that same time. As of May 2015, detectives and criminal investigators earned a median annual salary of $77,210, according to the BLS.
Students wanting a career in crime investigation need at least a bachelor's degree in forensic science, or a master's degree to advance their career. Students wanting to teach at the post secondary level in crime investigation need a Ph.D. in Biochemistry with a forensic science emphasis.