Forensic science is full of exciting opportunities and great career options. Most people probably have a bit of familiarity with the forensic sciences already, especially if they watch night time television. In shows such as “Bones,” “CSI,” and “Dexter,” we see forensic technicians working all manner of criminal cases, and even though they are highly fictionalized examples, they do provide a sense of what it might be like to work in the field.
Most who pursue training through forensic science technician programs have a keen interest in science, great attention to detail, and an investigative nature. Success typically requires a detective’s instincts and a desire to see justice. Forensic science technician education builds on these foundational traits to provide instruction in forensic science theory and lab-based training, and often includes courses in specialties like ballistics and blood spatter analysis. Many successful forensic technicians have an undergraduate background in a science field, such as biology or chemistry, and go on to study the specifics of forensic analysis at a graduate level. As such, most programs that focus on the skills a forensic technician would need exist at the graduate level, as you will see.
Unlike some careers, there is no single path that every forensic technician must take in order to find employment. Because forensic technicians are most often employed by law enforcement agencies, each of which has their own specific requirements for their forensic labs, experience, background, and education requirements can vary widely. However, with a foundation of knowledge of forensic terminology and techniques, which can be learned in an online or on-campus program, aspiring forensic technicians can give themselves the best chance of finding gainful employment.
Earning an online certificate in forensic science, criminal justice, or crime scene investigation can be a good boost to a fledgling career as a forensic technician. Many online certificate programs are set up with an ideal student in mind: someone who is already working in the periphery of forensic investigation, and who has already earned a bachelor’s degree. These certificates allow working professionals to continue to work full or part-time while expanding their education in order to specialize in forensics. Someone who, for example, was working in law enforcement and wanted to make a move to become a forensic technician would be an ideal candidate for an online certificate.
Who should enroll in an online certificate program for forensic technicians? An online certificate program can be useful for a variety of people. For instance, someone who wants to pursue a career as a forensic technician and who has already earned a Bachelor of Science degree in another field, such as Biology or Chemistry, may not need the full undergraduate curriculum that a forensic science degree program would offer. The online format of the following programs means flexibility for working professionals.
Based in Washington, D.C., National University offers an online program that culminates in a Graduate Certificate in Forensic and Crime Scene Investigations. Applicants must already have an undergraduate degree in order to apply and credits earned can be applied to a Master of Forensic Science degree at National University for those who choose to further their studies. Courses required for the certificate include Forensic Pathology, Advanced Criminalistics, and Fingerprint Analysis.
The University of Florida School of Pharmacy offers four separate certificates in forensic science fields that could ultimately be quite helpful for aspiring forensic technicians. These certificates focus on:
Unlike some other forensic certificates, these are highly specialized and applicable to different areas where a forensic technician might find work. The certificate programs take just a year to complete and credits are applicable to a UF Master’s program for those that meet all other admissions requirements.
Like online certificate programs, an online degree can be a flexible way to earn either a Bachelor of Science or a graduate level degree in forensic science in order to pursue a career as a forensic technician.
Who should enroll in an online degree program for forensic technicians? Applicants to online degree programs for forensic technicians should be advised that many jobs like to see hands on experience prior to hiring, so finding an online program that also has a practicum or internship component is a good idea when possible.
The University of Central Florida (UCF) offers an online Master of Science degree in Forensic Science. The program is created to offer a full, specialized educational experience for both working professionals and full-time students. Students in the program can choose from three concentrations: Forensic Analysis, Forensic Biochemistry, and Forensic Professional. The first two options require a thesis while the third instead relies on an independent study culminating project.
Online learning is not for everyone. Some learners simple fare better in an on-campus environment. Further, forensic science programs that are based on a campus allow for much more hands on laboratory experience, which can make the transition from school to a professional environment a bit easier.
Florida International University (FIU) located in Miami, offers a Certificate in Forensic Science program. The certificate is available to students who already hold or are in the process of earning a Bachelor’s degree. Many students who enroll in the certificate program have a BS in Chemistry, Biology, or another science but wish to expand their knowledge of the field of forensic science. The 19-20 credit program is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
California State University Long Beach (CSULB) offers a non-credit continuing education certificate in Basic Applied Forensic Science & Crime Analysis. The program is designed for working professionals who want to expand their knowledge of the basics of forensic science, including paralegals, private investigators, and law enforcement officers. The program consists of four core courses and four electives in areas such as Trace Evidence Analysis, Latent Print Techniques and Death Investigation.
Located in Glenside, Pennsylvania, Arcadia University offers an on-campus Master of Science program in Forensic Science. The comprehensive forensic science program includes classroom training in fields including forensic chemistry, forensic biology, forensic toxicology, and trace analysis. A distinct feature of the program is that it includes both a guaranteed internship experience and extensive hands-on lab facilities such as a crime scene house and a professional laboratory. The 72-credit program includes a minimum of 38 credits of required graduate coursework, 6 to 12 semester hours of research, 6 to 12 semester hours of practicum/internship, and mandatory participation in a symposium/seminar series.
Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science. Students can choose from three concentrations, all of which could be highly applicable in a career as a forensic technician. Those concentrations are: Forensic Biology, Forensic Chemistry, and Physical Evidence. The program and each concentration within the degree program is accredited by FEPAC.
When a forensic science program has accreditation from the proper agencies, it certifies that it is providing a high standard of education, and one that is geared to help prepare students to be able to achieve in the field of forensic sciences. Accreditation may be obtained for a specific program, such as a forensic science degree, or for the institution as a whole. Some of the agencies that are able to offer accreditation to forensic technician programs include the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, FEPAC, and the National Accrediting Agency for Clinical Laboratory Sciences (NAACLS). School accreditation may come from an organization such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools.
Because the title “Forensic Technician” can include different types of jobs, there is no standard certification for forensic technicians. Rather, some technicians may earn certifications that are specific to their area of focus, or specific to the state or jurisdiction where they work. For instance, the Texas Department of Public Safety allows forensic technicians to apply for voluntary certification. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has compiled a list of a number of certifications in areas such as Criminalistics, Forensic Toxicology, and Bloodstain Pattern Analysis. A full list of certifications is available on the FSAB website.
Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.