Many people have heard of forensic scientists, such as Michael Baden and Henry Lee, who have testified in famous cases or provided professional input and insight. While forensic scientists often work for governmental agencies, some may go on to gain such expertise that they work as consultants or even as experts who provide independent counsel and review. The truth is that to enter the forensic science field education is typically required and that’s because students need to become well versed in multiple fields of science, particularly biology and chemistry, as well as criminal justice and the law.
A bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science is typically needed to enter the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While a master’s degree may give students the advanced science skills that they need, they also may be able to find a number of bachelor’s degree programs specifically geared toward forensic science. Forensic science training typically prepares students to gain the knowledge and skills that are needed for working in a crime lab. There, they may need to be able to analyze a variety of evidence, ranging from blood samples to small clothing particles, as well as know how to preserve and protect those samples.
Another path in forensic science is to pursue crime scene investigation (CSI). This option often entails work at and around crime scenes, collecting and delivering evidence, and documenting and recording details found at a scene. A bachelor’s degree is often needed to enter the field, but, more often, people might obtain training by gaining experience on the job, particularly if they are already in law enforcement.
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Since education is an important component in starting a forensic science career, it may be worthwhile to consider the potential financial gains of going to school. As a matter of fact, forensic science can be a high paying field, according to the BLS. The mean nationwide average for workers in the field, was $58,610, as of May 2014 BLS data. Of note, this is much higher than the $47,230 average for all occupations combined across the country, suggesting that forensic science technicians can make higher than average incomes.
What’s even more affirming is that forensic scientists technicians working in Iowa earned mean annual wages of $63,270, according to May 2014 BLS data. In Iowa alone, the mean average wage for all occupations combined was $41,120, showing again that forensic science technicians have the opportunity for higher-than-average pay. Job opportunities across the U.S. for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by six percent from 2012-2022 and in Iowa specifically by 4 percent during this time. Since this is not significant job growth, students may want to work on a bachelor’s degree followed by a master’s degree, as suggested by the BLS, to be the most competitive.
Individuals who want to enter the forensic science field should plan on attending college. Understanding how to work in a lab is essential as is knowing how to handle fluids and other pieces of evidence to prevent them from becoming contaminated or damaged. Some ways to enter the forensic science field include:
A final step in your career path can include seeking board certification. Obviously, this isn’t available in every niche field, but it is some including forensic anthropology. An organization that provides more details about specific forensic science disciplines and the education and certification available in each is the American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS), which also does accreditation of forensic science program through its Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) arm.
Properly overseeing a crime scene is of utmost importance when it comes presenting evidence that stands up in a court of law. Securing a crime scene might be one of the most important steps that a CSI does followed by procuring necessary search warrants to ensure that evidence is admissible in court. Some paths for entering crime scene investigation include:
Upon graduation from an academic program or even learning on the job, individuals may want to seek CSI certification through organizations, such as the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (ACFEI). In fact, the IAI offers four specific certifications in CSI as well as others including forensic photography, forensic video, and tenprint fingerprint certification while the ACFEI provides a certified criminal investigation (CCI) option as well as other forensic certification choices for certified forensic physician and certified forensic consultant.
Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport are some of the largest cities in Iowa, with a population of more than 400,000 in total. These cities could be good places to look for jobs simply because there may be more law enforcement and criminal justice agencies there, but there also could be more crime demanding more CSI services. The identification department of the City of Des Moines Police Department is open 24 hours a day and provides discovery, documentation, preservation, and analysis services while employing a wide range of people, including several law enforcement officials, a multitude of civilian technicians and a senior clerk. This could be one place to look for a job. Others could include:
Interestingly, each of these is a governmental agency. This is not far off the mark in terms of the kinds of agencies offering employment, as the BLS reports that every nine out of 10 forensic science technicians is employed for a state or local agency. These positions can vary, but include employment in crime labs, morgues, medical examiner’s offices and police departments. The AAFS job board is another place to look for opportunities. Searches can be performed by state and also by title. The Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification may also be a good networking source.
A number of forensic science programs are available in Iowa from the undergraduate to graduate level. The state has more campus-based options compared to some other states, so may be a good place to seek on-ground learning.
You might find additional forensic science options by completing a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as biology or chemistry, and then following up with a master’s degree in forensic science. There are also various options available online, which can provide you with more choices when it comes to forensic science degrees and programs.
Many of the forensic science programs available online are offered at the graduate level while those at the undergraduate level more often focus on criminal justice with a forensic science or CSI focus. Below is a small listing of hybrid or online programming available in the field.
Students can also find online programs listed by undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs on the AAFS website. Many of these have a criminal justice focus, but can still be relevant to desired learning.
Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited program can prove advantageous when it comes time to seeking a job. However, there is not a wide selection of programs accredited through FEPAC, as the accreditation process can be quite rigorous. In fact, the mission of FEPAC is “to maintain and enhance the quality of forensic science education through a formal evaluation and accreditation system for college-level academic programs that lead to a baccalaureate or graduate degree,” reports the FEPAC website.
Overall, as of 2013, there were less than 40 undergraduate and graduate FEPAC-accredited programs available nationwide, making it difficult to graduate from a program with accreditation in some states. Since there are no FEPAC-accredited programs available in Iowa, students may want to make sure their school is accredited though a regional institutional instead. In Iowa, this is offered by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and this regional accreditation is another way of ensuring that the school has been assessed by an outside organization and been found to offer a quality education.
As mentioned earlier, students also might want to seek board certification of their skills. Becoming a member of a organization is another option. Either of these should prove valuable in providing access to meaningful resources, including seminars, annual conferences, continuing education, and networking. Some organizations that could be worthwhile considering include the:
Finally, an organization like the Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification could be helpful as could membership through the AAFS. The AAFS provides access to a variety of sources, including the Journal of Forensic Sciences, meetings and seminars, a website and an annual scientific conference.
School data provided by IPEDS (2013), and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Arson Investigation, Computer Forensics, Forensic Accounting, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Psychology, Forensic Science and Technology, and Law Enforcement Investigation