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In a scandal that rocked the world of forensics, Reuters (2014) reported that the state of Massachusetts was partially to blame in 40,000 instances of falsified lab results. The now infamous chemist Annie Dookhan—a former employee of the Hinton Crime Lab who lied about having a master’s in chemistry—was under lax management and cooked up false, lazy analyses for a decade until she was caught. Finally, Dookhan was sentenced to three to five years in jail, and more than 300 people convicted falsely of drug violations have been released from prison.
This glaring abuse of forensics in the Bay State demonstrates the importance of ethical conduct and rigorous training in this discipline. Luckily, Dookhan’s duplicity is the exception rather than the rule, and there are ample opportunities for aspiring forensic scientists in MA.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS 2016)—one of the premier professional organizations in forensics—details some of job responsibilities in this field. Forensic scientists have a wealth of important duties such as analyzing various types of evidence (e.g., bodily secretions, fibers, footprints, documents, bones, hair samples, tool marks, ballistics, plastics, soils, arson residues, etc.); documenting findings meticulously; liaising with legal, medical, and scientific professionals; engaging in continuing education (CE) to keep aware of new technological developments; and testifying in court as expert witnesses. AAFS (2014) adds that there is an abundance of subfields and even specialized certification in areas such as fingerprints, document examination, DNA analyses, death investigations, toxicology, and digital forensics, to name a few.
To join a career in forensics in MA, people typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, and in some of the more niche fields which require more advanced training (e.g., medicolegal death investigations, forensic psychiatry, forensic anthropology), a master’s or doctoral degree may be necessary.
Read on learn more about the bright career outlook for forensics professionals in MA and accredited programs in the field.
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Online Master's in Forensic Studies
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One possible career for aspiring forensic professionals in MA is to become a forensic science technician, a high-growth (and relatively high-paying) field. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS Dec. 2015) projects that job openings for forensic science techs nationwide will swell 27 percent between 2014 and 2024, much faster than the average growth anticipated for all occupations during that time period (7 percent). And the expected addition 3,800 positions in this field is only part of the good news for residents of Massachusetts.
First, the BLS (2015) found that forensic science technicians around the country make an annual average salary of $60,090. This figure dwarfs the average salary of all occupations nationwide—$48,320 (BLS 2015)—and the wage prospects are even better in MA. By illustration, forensic science technicians make an average salary of $70,800 making it the fifth highest paying state in this field. This figure is 17.8 percent higher than the national average, and this trend extends to the more granular salary data as well. As proof of point, the BLS (2015) reported the following salary percentiles for forensic science techs nationwide:
As a basis of comparison, Payscale (2016)—a reputed aggregator of self-reported wages—found similar salary percentiles from its 214 reporting forensic scientists nationwide:
In MA, however, these figures increased tremendously. Although there were only 50 forensic science technicians working in the Codfish State as of April 2016, they boast very bright salary prospects in a majority of the percentile ranges (BLS 2015):
Additionally, these salaries varied by region. The BLS (2015) includes one municipal region of MA where these forensics professionals are working:
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH (40 people employed): $71,330 annual average salary
While these salary possibilities look promising—as most MA residents know—the cost of living can also be quite steep. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2015) found that MA is the seventh most expensive state in which to live, particularly in terms of housing costs.
Notably, crime labs aren’t the only places of employment for forensics specialists in Massachusetts. They can also work in police departments, international organizations, universities, district attorney offices, morgues, hospitals, state agencies, and other types of places. Also, while some forensic scientists in MA work regular business hours, others may be called upon to work weekends, evenings, or holidays depending on the needs of processing evidence efficiently.
In the Old Colony State, one prominent employer of forensics professionals is the MA State Police Forensic Services Group, which has accreditation from the prestigious American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board (ASCLD/LAB). The Forensic Services Group has facilities in Maynard, Springfield, Lakeville, and Danvers. It has a wealth of specialized units as well, including alcohol testing, arson & explosives, case management, CODIS (i.e., Combined DNA Index System), criminalistics, firearms identification, toxicology, and trace analysis. To learn more about job openings available through the Massachusetts State Police Forensic Services Group, please visit the state’s Commonwealth Employment Opportunities (CEO) website.
Another possibility open to forensic nurses is at the Forensics For Survivors organization, which works with victims of sexual assault. The group answers common questions and concerns which arise from traumatic circumstances. For instance, it states that in MA, survivors of sexual assault can have evidence collected at a hospitals within five days of the attack using a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit (SAECK), more commonly known as a rape kit.
For those interested in forensic psychology, the New England Forensic Associates—a company based in Arlington—hires specialists for services such as counseling, psychosexual evaluations, psychometric lab assessments, risk assessments, and expert testimony for court.
In the realm of forensic accounting, Feeley & Driscoll—one of the 100 largest accounting firms in the country based in Boston—employs talented forensic professionals to “follow the money” in business interruption claims, bankruptcy, business valuations, damages assessments, fraud, lost profits analyses, healthcare billing abuses, and more. Additionally, Indeed (2016)—a traditional job-hunting site—provides a continually updated list of opportunities in forensics at places such as the National Guard, Waters Corporation, Techfusion Corporation, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Mission First, UMass Memorial Healthcare,Tufts Medical Center, and ADF Solutions, Inc.
Fortunately for aspiring forensics professionals, there is an abundance of forensics programs in MA. Prior to enrollment, students are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their program. There are two types of accreditation available: programmatic and institutional. For programmatic accreditation, the gold standard across the country is the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), and there is one FEPAC-accredited program in MA. For institutional accreditation, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is the main agency. For more on the process of accreditation, please reference the eponymous section below.
Although the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS 2016) states that a majority of forensics professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree, there are some forensics associate degrees available in MA. To get entry to one of these two-year programs, candidates typically need to submit their official high school transcripts with proof of specific coursework (e.g., biology, chemistry); pay an application fee; and for non-native speakers of English, send TOEFL test scores as well. For example, Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) offers an associate degree in digital and computer forensics featuring coursework in the principles of internet & information security, introduction to networking, windows operating systems, and criminal law. Since digital and computer forensics is an emergent field with increasing importance in today’s rapidly modernizing global economy, graduates of Bunker Hill have gone on to work in law enforcement, public safety, homeland security, and private industries. Additionally, BHCC offers a 27-credit computer forensics certificate program with classes such as introduction to computer forensics, evidence & court procedures, and information security & assurance.
For MA bachelor’s degree programs in forensics, admissions committees typically ask for official secondary school transcripts with proof of specific coursework, a personal statement, test scores (SAT or ACT, and TOEFL for non-native English speakers), and an application fee. Please note that some programs also ask for candidate interviews, letters of recommendation, or experience volunteering (or working) in a relevant field. Becker College of Worcester provides a bachelor of science (BS) in criminal justice with a forensic science & crime scene processing concentration. This hands-on program has courses such as state & local government, criminal investigation, forensic psychology, victimology, criminology, American constitutional law, techniques of Raster imaging, and collection & preservation of evidence. Another option is at Mount Ida College of Newton, which provides a bachelor of science (BS) in applied forensic science. Aimed to help students develop skills such as critical thinking, writing and research abilities, and laboratory testing faculties, Mount Ida’s program includes rigorous coursework in criminal profiling strategies, genetics, and investigative methods & procedures.
For master’s degree programs in forensics, typical admissions requirements include sending official undergraduate transcripts with a competitive GPA in a relevant major (e.g., forensic science, biochemistry, biology); writing a personal statement; submitting proof of work experience or letters of recommendation; submitting official test scores (GRE or MCAT—depending on specialty—and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); and paying an application fee. For example, the Boston University School of Medicine (BUMC) provides the only FEPAC-accredited program in the state. This master of science (MS) degree in biomedical forensic science includes classes such as crime scene investigation, molecular biology of forensic DNA analysis, forensic biology, forensic chemistry, criminal law & ethics, and mock court experiences. Notably, 47 percent of 2014 graduates went on to work in a forensics lab or law enforcement, 39 percent were employed in a biomedical facility, and 15 percent went on to pursue more advanced degrees. Boston University (BU) offers a 42-credit master of arts (MA) in forensic anthropology with classes such as zooarchaeology, advanced osteology, forensic pathology, taphonomy, homicide investigation, and expert witness testimony. BU also has a forensic entomology specialty option with classes including research & directed studies in entomology. William James College of Newton provides offers a master of arts (MA) in forensic and correctional counseling. This mental health counseling program is uniquely designed for psychological assessments and substance abuse counseling for people in the criminal justice system. With internships a forensic units, correctional facilities, child advocacy organizations, and court clinics, William James prepares its graduates for this important line of work. Classes include theories of counseling & psychotherapy, lifespan development, substance abuse evaluations & treatment, career counseling, eating disorders, and principles of cognitive behavioral therapy.
For more information on forensics degrees and specializations, please visit the forensic programs page.
For aspiring forensics students in MA with familial, work-related, or distance-based restrictions on their time, attending one of the many accredited online forensics programs may be an option. These may be an especially attractive option for working professionals since hands-on training must typically be completed under the guidance of a mentor or in an approved preceptorship. Please note that most of these programs are available at the graduate level since most students are self-motivated after having received their initial training in a brick-and-mortar undergraduate institution.
That said, one exception is the online bachelor’s program in forensic psychology available at the NEASC-accredited Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Boasting efficiency and flexibility, classes are organized into six 9-week terms with specialized instruction in forensic psychology, criminal psychology, counseling process & techniques, sociology of deviant behavior and biopsychology. The University of Maryland University College (UMUC) provides an online master of science (MS) in digital forensics and cyber investigation. This 36-credit program includes training in cyberspace & cybersecurity, human aspects of cybersecurity, digital forensics investigation, and cyber incident analysis & response. Designed for aspiring computer forensic examiners or specialists, UMUC also offers dual-degree option for those interested in getting their MBA. National University provides a graduate certificate in forensic crime scene investigation featuring seven courses: forensic pathology I/II, crime scene investigation, advanced criminalistics, law & criminal procedure, fingerprint analysis, and digital evidence.
These programs are only a few of the online forensics programs available. To learn more and to explore additional specializations, please check out the online forensic science degrees page.
For trained forensics workers in Massachusetts, there is a wealth of specialized certifications available. In fact, there are currently 17 specialty certifications which have been recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB). Although prerequisites for each vary, these credentialing agencies typically ask for 3-5 years of experience; completion of a qualifying degree program; letters of recommendation, and passing a specialized exam. In order to maintain active credentials, these forensics specialists must generally complete several hours of continuing education (CE) every 3-5 years.
Here are some of the FSAB-accredited credentialing institutions:
Finally, MA also has a Designated Forensic Professional (DFB) certification which was developed by the state government and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. To qualify, candidates must be a state employee or contractor who performs forensic evaluations; complete a training regimen in under two years; and pass a written examination on the MA mental health statutes.
Students are strongly encouraged to seek out forensics programs which are accredited. This process helps to ensure that a school can properly prepare a student for his or her intended career field. As mentioned in the introduction to the MA forensics programs, there are two types of program accreditation available: programmatic and institutional.
For programmatic accreditation, the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the predominant agency. Although there is currently only one graduate program in MA which is FEPAC-accredited, there are several approved bachelor’s and master’s options in nearby states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. FEPAC’s standards of accreditation include institutional support, faculty effectiveness, admissions processes, availability of student support, record of student complaints, and professional involvement.
For institutional accreditation, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is one of six regional agencies recognized by the US Department of Education. It evaluates schools as a whole in a three part process involving a self-study, a peer review, and a follow-up. Please visit the NEASC website for a detailed examination of its school-approval criteria.
|School Name||City||Website||Degrees Awarded||Certificates Awarded||Total Forensics Grads|
|Bay Path University||Longmeadow||www.baypath.edu||21||0||21|
|William James College (Formerly Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology)||Newton||www.williamjames.edu||12||0||12|
|Mount Ida College||Newton||www.mountida.edu||11||0||11|
|American International College||Springfield||www.aic.edu||11||0||11|
|Salem State University||Salem||www.salemstate.edu||10||0||10|
|Northern Essex Community College||Haverhill||www.necc.mass.edu||0||8||8|
|Middlesex Community College||Bedford||https://www.middlesex.mass.edu||5||1||6|
|Bunker Hill Community College||Boston||www.bhcc.mass.edu||0||3||3|
|Holyoke Community College||Holyoke||www.hcc.edu||0||1||1|
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