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Forensics Colleges in Montana

Did you know that dental records can be helpful in identifying bodies up to 93 percent of the time? That’s not the only intriguing fact about forensic science. Maggots, yes maggots, found on decomposing bodies can provide other clues, such as out how long a body has been decomposing. If these facts don’t make you at all squeamish and you like the natural sciences, like biology and chemistry, you might just want to consider a career in forensic science.

Of course, education is an important component to the career, with the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reporting that a bachelor’s degree –in the natural sciences—and a master’s degree in forensic science as the basic steps to entering the occupation. This type of college training can introduce you to the essentials in the sciences, and not just biology or chemistry, but also where these two combine, like biochemistry. You should also gain an understanding of criminal justice procedures and processes as well. That’s because whether you are working in a lab, or in any advanced niche forensic science field, like forensic entomology, understanding how the law applies to the science you are undertaking is fundamental.

If being out in the field is important to you – like actually being at the scene of the crime, a career in crime scene investigation (CSI) could be more up your alley. For CSI, you need to know how to collect and preserve evidence at a scene, but also how to secure a scene and even to make sure that evidence is not contaminated. Whether it’s working in a lab or out in the field, it could be hard to find a job unless you’ve got the needed background and training – and that’s typically through a college education, as well, in many cases of CSI, completing a police academy.

Programs for Montana Students

Maryville University

Online MS in Cyber Security

Online BS in Cyber Security

St. Joseph's University

Online Master of Science in Criminal Justice (MSCJ)

  • Federal Law Enforcement Concentration
  • Intelligence & Crime Analysis Concentration

Forensic Science Careers in Montana

Here’s another interesting feature of a forensic science career – the job can pay more than other occupations. Consider that the mean annual pay for forensic science technicians in the U.S. was $58,610, according to May 2014 data from the BLS. Guess what? This compares considerably well to the mean wages for all occupations combined in the U.S. — that of $47,320. That calculates to a more than $10,000 annual average difference. Of course, pay is never so cut and dry and wages can vary based on educational level, time on the job and even the state in which you work. As a side note, the mean pay for forensic science technicians working in Montana was $58,170. While this is slightly less than the nationwide pay for the field ($58,610), Montana offers a lower than average cost-of-living when it comes to utilities and transportation.

Nationwide, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by six percent from 2012-2022, according to the BLS. This is not spectacular growth by any means, but could result in approximately 700 new positions becoming available during this time. In Montana, job demand is even more favorable with opportunities expected to increase by nine percent from 2012-2022, according to CareerInfoNet.com.

How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Montana

A master’s degree is usually needed to become a forensic science technician, but one can make a start by building strong skills at the undergraduate level. Science will be an important part of your education whether you are pursuing forensic science at the very beginning or starting out with an undergraduate degree in a specific science. Below are a number of ways in which you can start building your forensic science skills.

  • Obtain a bachelor’s degree. Most bachelor’s programs take four years to complete and can lead to a degree in the natural sciences, like biology or chemistry, or in the forensic sciences. Both can be important building blocks to advanced study. How important is a four-year degree? According to CareerOneStop, sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, 30.9 percent of all forensic science technicians in the U.S. have a bachelor’s degree in forensic science while another 33.8 percent have a bachelor’s in the life, physical or social sciences.
  • Work on a master’s degree. The BLS shows that individuals with a master’s degree in forensic science may have some of the best job opportunities. Master’s degrees can take two years of full-time study to complete and even longer for students enrolled on a part-time basis. A thesis may be required at the master’s level, while lab and core coursework are an essential part of any program.
  • Pursue a doctoral degree. Not all fields of forensic science require this level of education, but it is needed for some fields, like forensic anthropology, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). No one may be interested in the word dissertation either, but be aware this could be part of a PhD program. Depending on whether students are enrolled full- or part-time, a PhD typically takes between three to seven years to complete.

Board certification can be a final step in developing a career. Not every field of forensic science offers certification, but it is available for forensic anthropology and forensic toxicology, as examples. Organizations like the American Board of Forensic Anthropology and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology provide more information about these two specific board certification processes. Other organizations offering certification can be found listed on the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, Inc. website.

Becoming a CSI in the Treasure State

CSI provides a different way to enter the forensic science field. Instead of working in a lab, it gives individuals the opportunity to be out in the field actually collecting and preserving evidence and also keeping a scene secure to prevent evidence contamination. CSIs need to obtain a variety of skills related to the criminal justice system, including how to present evidence in court, which is why an education is so important. Steps to enter CSI include:

  • Complete a certificate or associate degree. Requiring one to two years to complete, a certificate or associate degree may lay the foundational skills needed for the field, but may not be adequate for advancement. The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is typically needed for CSIs who are non-uniformed – i.e., not part of law enforcement. Still, an education at this level can provide the building blocks to continue learning later on.
  • Work on a bachelor’s degree. Typically taking four years to complete, a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, or in a natural science, is usually important for non-uniformed individuals to make a start in the field. Frequently, many of these degrees are available in criminal justice with specific CSI skills offered as a specialization.
  • Be accepted into a police academy. Often, the education needed to work as a CSI can be obtained by becoming a police officer and working on the job. Law enforcement officers working as detectives or investigators might become highly skilled in CSI. In fact the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) reports that most CSIs are actually law enforcement officers, but that some, also, are employed as ‘civilians.’

There are numerous certifications available in CSI, offered through organizations such as the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the ICSIA. Usually, specific education is needed to undergo the certification process and once certification has been obtained, there are very specific steps that need to be followed to be re-certified in the future.

Job Opportunities in Montana

Even though the population of Montana is just over one million (less than the population of some cities in the U.S.), crime can still occur there. In fact, the Billings Gazette includes a list of the state’s most wanted individuals who are sought by the United States Marshals Service Montana Violent Offender Task Force. From Billings to Bozeman, job opportunities could be available within law enforcement agencies or for other types of governmental organizations. One of the more prominent places to look for employment could be with the Montana Department of Justice State Crime Lab.

This lab is set up to have many different sections including in breath alcohol, drug chemistry, latent prints and impressions and serology/DNA. Accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board since 2011, the lab is located in Missoula and is overseen by a director who has a PhD. In fact, a 2014 article for NBC Montana shows that the lab has a backlog of work — since it serves more than a hundred law enforcement agencies in the state. Other places to look for employment in Montana could include the:

Individuals can also offer their services as a consultant. However, every nine out of 10 forensic science technicians is employed by a state or local governmental agency, according to the BLS. Employment is typically found with coroner offices, crime laboratories, morgues, and police departments. The AAFS additionally reports that forensic scientists may find work with international organizations, private labs, as well as hospitals and universities.

Featured Forensic Science Colleges in Montana

There are several different undergraduate programs offered in the forensic sciences in Montana, but, unfortunately, none that are accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the accrediting branch of the AAFS. This accreditation may not be necessary to seeking employment, however, but could be preferred by some hiring agencies. Some forensic science options in Montana include:

  • Flathead Valley Community College, in Kalispell, offers an associate degree in forensic science that can later be used to transfer to the University of Montana at Missoula. The recommended 78-credit program includes organic chemistry, college physics, college chemistry, calculus, and other courses, but can be modified for specific forensic science tracks available at the University of Montana.
  • The University of Montana, at Missoula, offers a certificate in forensic studies for students who may be later interested in pursuing a bachelor’s degree. The certificate is 18 credits and includes Introduction to Forensic Science and Forensic Science Beyond the Crime Lab and also requires students to take two science courses, a communications course and an ethics course. Bachelor’s degrees in forensic anthropology and forensic chemistry are also available.
  • The University of Great Falls, in Great Falls, offers a bachelor’s degree program allowing students to choose between forensic science, forensic biology and forensic chemistry. In these degree programs, students learn about important forensic science elements, including DNA analysis, human pathology, toxicology and evidence analysis.
  • Montana State University–Northern, in Havre, provides a bachelors degree in criminal justice, introducing students to such topics as criminal law, corrections and criminalistics. Classes are offered by instructors who have real-world experience in the courtroom or law enforcement. While this is not a forensic science degree, it can help students to enter the related field of criminal justice.

Other alternatives for students in Montana include pursuing a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as biology or chemistry, and then completing a master’s degree in forensic science. Students looking for on-campus options at the graduate level may need to seek programs in nearby states or consider online graduate training.

Hybrid & Online Programs

Online education can be another way for students in Montana to seek CSI and forensic science studies. At the undergraduate level, many of the programs are available in criminal justice with a CSI focus while at the upper level, online degrees can be specifically found in forensic science. The AAFS also has a listing of undergraduate, graduate degrees and certificates programs that are available online.

  • Everest Online has an online associate degree program in criminal investigations that covers topics such as criminalistics, fingerprint identification, crime scene photography, criminal issues in criminal justice and more. The program is geared toward those interested in entry-level law enforcement positions, private investigation and crime scene technology.
  • The University of Maryland University College offers a bachelor’s degree in investigative forensics that introduces students to digital analysis, firearms and toolmark analysis, fingerprint analysis and more. Students also study statistics, investigative forensics and criminal procedure and evidence. The online program can prepare students to sit for several certifications available through the International Association for Identification (IAI)
  • The University of Florida offers several forensic science options at the master’s degree level through its College of Pharmacy. Students can start the program year-round and pursue one of four tracks or even complete a graduate-level certificate. The program was founded in 1999 and has graduated more than 1,000 students from 40 different countries.
  • Aspen University offers a master’s of science degree in criminal justice with a focus in forensic science online. Students gain skills in drug enforcement, fingerprinting, criminology and more and could then be prepared to use their skills at crime scenes, in laboratories and in the courtroom.

Students may also discover more online educational opportunities by joining a specific forensic science organization, such as the AAFS. Continuing education is often an important part of learning and sometimes these resources are available online.

Program Accreditation & Certification

While FEPAC is the accrediting agency for forensic science programs, it does not accredit any programs within Montana. However, that does not mean that other programs are without value. Indeed, sometimes the accreditation process through FEPAC can take significant time, so another way that students can be assured they are enrolling in a quality program is to see whether it is regionally accredited. In Montana and several nearby states, regional accreditation is given through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU). This accrediting organization is recognized by the U.S. Department of Education and oversees accreditation at 162 institutions.

As mentioned previously, students may want to seek certification in their field. From fingerprint identification to crime scene reconstruction and bloodstain pattern analysis, a vast number of certifications are available. In some cases, these may prove helpful in obtaining a job or advancing in a career. Other options are to join an organization that can provide you with networking and advocacy opportunities. In addition to the AAFS, this can include statewide organizations such as the Montana Violent Crime Investigators Association or the Montana Sheriffs and Peace Officers Association. Other entities to look into include the:

With some 12,900 people employed as forensic science technicians in the U.S., as of May 2012, joining one of these organizations can be helpful in many ways. Not only do they allow you to to meet new people, they can provide access to presentations and conferences, information on jobs and even updates on new advances in the field.

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