Essential Information for Forensic Scientists
Forensic scientists work with law enforcement personnel to study evidence generated by criminal investigations. These professionals can specialize in several different areas within forensic science. They typically work in laboratory environments, although crime scene investigators may also work in the field. The profession requires at least a bachelor's degree, and some areas require graduate degrees.
|Required Education||Bachelor's degree|
|Degree Fields||Forensic science, chemistry, biology|
|Other Requirements||On-the-job training, math and science skills, problem-solving abilities|
|Job Outlook (2016-2026)||17% (forensic science technicians); 6% (chemists, including forensic chemists)*|
|Median Salary (2018)||$58,230 (forensic science technicians)*; $54,513 (forensic scientists, 2019)**|
Sources: *U. S. Bureau of Labor Statistics; **PayScale.com
How to Become a Forensic Scientist
Individuals interested in pursuing a career in forensic science should begin by obtaining a bachelor's degree in a field related to natural sciences. Additionally, they should expect to complete on-the-job training, and they may wish to pursue a graduate degree to advance their career.
Forensic Science Education Requirements
Prospective forensic scientists have options for their bachelor's degree. A forensic science degree focuses specifically on the skills needed to gather and interpret evidence in a criminal investigation. Forensic science education programs usually include coursework in criminal justice along with core classes in natural and behavioral science, communication, and math. Alternatively, students can pursue a degree in a natural science like chemistry or biology. Finally, some specialties within the field like forensic anthropology or forensic engineering may require education in that particular field.
Additional Forensic Scientist Requirements
After obtaining their degree, forensic scientists should expect to complete training in the workplace before they begin independent case investigations. In some organizations, they begin their careers working under the guidance of an experienced forensic scientist, and they may have to pass an assessment before being approved for independent work. Forensic investigators will also need to participate in professional development to stay abreast of changing techniques and technologies affecting criminal investigations.
Forensic scientists play vital roles in criminal investigations by detecting, collecting, analyzing, and reporting physical evidence. Specific duties may include documenting crime scenes, collecting and categorizing evidence, and conducting scientific analyses like DNA tests on evidence. Forensic scientists can specialize in particular area of investigation. For instance, they may focus on crime scene investigation, digital forensics, forensic chemistry, or forensic dentistry. They may also periodically serve as expert witnesses in court cases related to their investigations.
Career opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 17% from 2016 until 2026, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Notably, though, since the field is small, the number of jobs will still be limited. In 2018, just under 16,000 people were employed as technicians in the field. Most future employment opportunities are expected to be with governments at the local and state levels. During that same time, the BLS predicted just 6% growth for chemists in general, including forensic chemists. Prospective forensic scientists with graduate degrees will likely be the strongest candidates.
The BLS reports that the median annual wage for forensic science technicians was $58,230 in May 2018. The highest paying positions were in the federal executive branch and in scientific research and development. Forensic science technicians employed in Illinois and California had the highest salaries. In 2019, PayScale.com listed $54,513 as the median salary for forensic scientists.