During his career, Dr. Michael Baden has had the opportunity to review cases and evidence related to more than 3,000 homicides, drug deaths and suicides. This includes the passing of people such as John F. Kennedy, David Carradine and even Dr. Martin Luther King. Of course, not everyone develops such a high-profile forensic science career, but Baden’s experiences are illustrative of the kinds of opportunities that could develop from an interest and education in the field.
A bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science are often needed to enter the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of course, nothing is ever set in stone and you may be able to find an entry-level position with just a bachelor’s degree in forensic science. Once employed, you could then work on a master’s degree if desired—and maybe even find an employer to cover or partially cover the costs of this continued education. Whatever you choose, it’s important to know that forensic science training is essential to assessing evidence in the lab and that is why so many forensic science degrees focus heavily on science learning, particularly in biology and chemistry.
A career as a crime scene investigator (CSI) could be another forensic science option. Most people in this field complete a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, but may be able to train for the job by completing a law enforcement academy. In an academy, they can learn about how to become a police officer or sheriff’s deputy and gain CSI skills as part of their training or learn later through career and agency opportunities on the job. While lab work and crime scene work are two different forensic science paths, at times the individuals in these fields may have the opportunity to collaborate on cases together.
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Forensic science can be a high-paying career. Data from the BLS shows that the mean annual wages across the country, as of May 2014, were $58,610 for all forensic science technicians. In short, this is higher than the $47,230 for all occupations combined, according to the BLS. In Kansas, forensic science technicians had a mean annual wage of $49,130, as of May 2014. While this is not as high as the nationwide average for forensic science technicians, it still beats the nationwide average for all occupations combined. It is also important to keep in mind that Kansas has a lower cost of living than other states. In fact, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Economic Center, Kansas had the 12th lowest cost of living in the country, as of the first quarter 2015. In other words, Kansas may be a good place in which to stretch your dollar.
What does the job forecast look like for forensic science technicians in upcoming years? Across the nation, jobs are expected to grow by about 6 percent from 2012-2022, leading to the potential creation of 700 new positions. In Kansas, job growth is expected to be even stronger, increasing by 15 percent from 2012-2022, shows CareerInfoNet.com. However, in general, job opportunities nationwide are expected to be the best for those who have a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science. As well, those who specialize in digital computer forensics or a DNA specialty could find their skills in high demand.
Usually, a bachelor’s degree is required to compete for entry-level employment in the forensic science field, but a master’s can be advantageous. In a bachelor’s degree program, students are introduced to many of the sciences and can heavily study both biology and chemistry. They can expand this knowledge in a master’s program or pursue more nuanced studies. Below are several ways in which you could pursue forensic science education:
The final step to developing a career may be to work on certification. This can be a complex process involving experience on the job, testing and providing documentation of proof of an education. Not all forensic science disciplines offer certification, but forensic anthropology is one that does, and, as an example, makes board certification available through the American Board of Forensic Anthropology.
CSI is a different field of forensic science that may require less training than is needed to be able to work in a science lab. That’s because much of the work is done in the field, although CSIs may certainly consult with professionals working in the lab. There are a wide variety of degrees available in CSI, and you may want to complete a more advanced education once you have obtained entry-level work. Some options include:
As with forensic science training for the lab, certification can be also be useful in the CSI field, particularly for showing potential employers that you have developed quality-level skills. Organizations to consider seeking CSI certification through include the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA), both that offer a variety of certifications.
The largest cities in Kansas include Wichita, Overland Park and Kansas City. Although the overall population of Kansas is just 2.9 million, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, crime can occur anywhere and everywhere and is not dependent on population. In fact, the serial killer known as BKT and the Benders, a family of serial killers, committed their crimes in Kansas. The Kansas City Bureau of Investigation (KBI) could be just one place to look for a job after completing your training. It includes a biology section, chemistry section, latent print section, and evidence control center, all with the mission of providing investigative and lab services within the state. Other organizations that may have employment opportunities include the:
Keep in mind that many forensic science technicians and CSIs find employment with governmental agencies. In fact, nine out of 10 forensic science technicians are employed for local or state government. They often work for coroner offices, crime laboratories, morgues, and police departments, reports the BLS. The AAFS additionally reports that forensic scientists may be employed for international organizations, private labs, hospitals and universities, as well as do consulting.
There a few different forensic science programs offered in Kansas, but none that are specifically accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the accrediting branch of the AAFS. Some employers may prefer this accreditation, but the truth is not a vast majority of schools have FEPAC-accreditation nationwide. That said, listed below are several different campus-based programs available in the Sunshine State:
Just remember that bachelor’s degrees in forensic science are not the only point of entry into the field. Completing an undergraduate degree in biology of chemistry can be another option, and you could then follow up with a master’s degree in forensic science, like at Emporia State University, or through online options.
Hybrid and Internet-based learning can be another choice when it comes to obtaining a forensic science education. Often, many of the specific forensic science programs available online are at the master’s level just because so much hands-on laboratory work is needed for an undergraduate degree. Still, the options available online are diverse and some of these include:
Students interested in more online offerings can look to the AAFS website to find additional undergraduate, graduate degrees and certificate programs. Not all are forensic science specific, and some focus in criminal justice in general.
While graduating from a FEPAC-accredited program may prove valuable when it comes to employment, it may not always be necessary. Accreditation from a regional institution in Kansas also is an indicator that your school of choice has been accredited from a third-party organization. In Kansas and nearby states, regional accreditation is given through the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). However, accreditation through FEPAC may bring more value to your degree since FEPAC has a mission based upon: “enhanc[ing] 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,” according to its accreditation standards document.
As well, students may wish to seek certification through a number of organizations ranging from the IAI to the ABFA. Certification is not available in all niche fields, but some of the most diverse options can be found in CSI. For example, the IAI offers four CSI certifications as well as others in bloodstain pattern analysis, latent prints and forensic videography. Membership in an organization can be another way to increase job opportunities, especially through resources like continuing education, seminars, journal articles, job boards and networking. Organizations worth consideration can include the:
Additional organizations to think about joining include the AAFS, which has numerous details about membership posted on its website, as well as the Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists or the Kansas IAI.
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