Students in forensic science degree programs train for work system as forensic science technicians, crime laboratory analysts, crime scene investigators or forensic engineers through cross-disciplinary coursework in social and physical sciences, criminal justice, communication and other related fields.
The degrees in forensic studies include the Bachelor of Science, Master of Science and Doctor of Philosophy in Forensic Science. Students pursuing doctoral level training in forensic studies need a bachelor's or master's degree in forensic science or a related field.
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
A Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science program provides a solid foundation for advanced education in forensic studies and a career as a forensic scientist. Forensic science degrees at this level are similar to a bachelor's in biology and the physical sciences and include courses in human genetics, toxicology and molecular pathology. A forensic science bachelor's degree typically takes four years to complete. Forensic science graduates are encouraged to join the American Academy of Forensics Sciences (AAFS), a professional society, which provides opportunities to network.
Many forensic science bachelor's degree programs require students to complete coursework in physical, natural or mathematical sciences prior to full admission
Students in the forensic science bachelor's degree programs learn research methods, theory, analysis and the practice of forensic studies. The curriculum may include courses similar to the following:
- Physical chemistry
- Forensic photography
- Introduction to criminalistics
- Forensic anthropology
- Trace evidence
Master of Science in Forensic Science
The Master of Science in Forensic Science qualifies a graduate to work as a forensic scientist in various areas, such as toxicology or DNA analysis. A forensic science master's degree program contains concentration coursework in specialty areas of forensic studies, including digital forensics, forensic chemistry or criminalistics. Whether a student is focused on digital or traditional forensic science, forensic studies at the master's level provide students with scientific and laboratory training at an advanced level. Graduating from a master's program in forensic science typically takes two years and includes a research or thesis project.
Coursework in a forensic science graduate program may include law, DNA technologies and forensic serology. Other courses may include:
- Human osteology
- Forensic drug analysis
- Survey in forensic science
- Forensic biology
Doctoral Degree in Forensic Studies Programs
Forensic studies at the doctoral level (Ph.D. in Forensic Science) provide forensic scientists with the opportunity to work as lab directors or teach forensics at the college level. Continuing forensic studies at the doctoral level is also necessary for forensic scientists who wish to work in forensic engineering, which consists of analyzing and evaluating construction and geotechnical failures. Enrolling in a Ph.D. Forensic Science program allows forensic scientists to focus on an area within their specialization, such as DNA typing in mass disasters or ultratrace detection of crime scene materials.
Forensic studies doctoral degree programs typically take three years to complete and require a dissertation and research project. Curricula for Ph.D. programs in forensic studies include courses similar to the following:
- Advanced quantum mechanics
- Analytical methods
- Physical biochemistry
- Forensic science special topics
Popular Career Options
Numerous career opportunities await graduates of a bachelor's degree program in forensic studies. Entry-level career options include:
- Crime scene examiner
- Drug and food technical inspector
- Evidence technician
- Crime laboratory analyst
Salary and Employment Information
The Bachelor of Science (B.S.) in Forensic Science is typically the minimum requirement in order to work as a forensic science technician. However, students who have completed forensic studies at the master's and doctoral degree levels are prepared for advanced careers in forensics. Advanced job opportunities for master's and doctoral degree holders include senior management positions in toxicology, criminal investigation and crime lab photography.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that job growth for forensic science technicians is expected to be 27% between 2014 and 2024. The BLS (www.bls.gov) also notes that the hourly median wages for forensic science technicians were $27.08 as recently as May 2015. The highest paid industry for forensic science is the Federal Executive Branch, where the average annual salary was $100,400 in May 2015.
Students who want to be forensic scientists can earn undergraduate and graduate level degrees. Potential careers that these degrees can lead to includes crime scene examiner, drug and food technical inspector, evidence technician and crime laboratory analyst.