How to Become a Forensic Science Technician

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The explosive popularity of early 2000s crime TV shows like Law & Order and CSI marked the beginning of today’s cultural fascination with the field of forensics. Since then, a wave of documentary series and podcasts like Making a Murderer and Serial, in which experts dive deep into the forensics of crimes, have continued to feed our society’s endless fascination with the science of solving the darkest mysteries.

As a result, prospective students have been interested in becoming forensic science technicians. These specialists, portrayed in our favorite courtroom dramas, help detectives gain the crucial evidence needed to administer justice and bring much-needed peace to the families of crime victims.

The constant innovations in science and technology that increase forensic teams’ abilities to solve crimes—even cases that have long gone cold—make it an exciting work area. It’s no wonder why so many students are interested in a career in this fascinating and altruistic field.

While the media presents a tantalizing portrait of life as a forensic science technician, there are some aspects to consider before diving headfirst into this line of work. Discover how to pursue a career as a forensic science technician below.

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Skills & Personality Traits of a Successful Forensic Science Technician

The profession dates back long before “true crime” became popular in entertainment media. Today’s most fundamental practices within forensic science, such as fingerprinting and firearm examination (i.e., the ability to connect a specific bullet found at a crime scene to the specific gun it was fired from), actually date back to the 1800s. These methods are still widely revered and frequently used as evidence in courtrooms today.

Forensic science technicians have a regular presence at crime scenes, aiding in the process of criminal investigations under a crime scene leader or field supervisor. The role involves helping to collect, document, and analyze evidence and submitting it to the crime laboratory. Technicians are also known to assist supervisors with planning the process of organizing and properly storing evidence while adhering to government policies and laws.

Here are some of the main tasks that forensic science technicians are expected to perform in their day-to-day work lives:

  • Communicate with law enforcement regarding crime scene procedures and protocol
  • Ensure that supplies are available for crime scene investigation teams
  • Clean and maintain equipment
  • Ensure procedures are followed by members of the evidence team when identifying, collecting, and processing physical evidence
  • Collect weapons-related evidence
  • Handle human tissue, bodily fluids, and DNA
  • Package and transport physical evidence to the forensic crime laboratory

Not surprisingly, a propensity for math and science is necessary, as technicians need a strong comprehension of statistics and natural sciences to analyze evidence.

A forensic science technician should have a strong sense of curiosity and be naturally detail-oriented. Due to the nature of the job, technicians should be prepared to handle the implications of working around crime scenes. Forensic scientists can develop these skills with time. These professionals are also expected to spend hours at the crime scenes and in the lab, ensuring that all relevant evidence is carefully collected and analyzed.

In addition to strong technical skills, proficient technicians should have written and verbal communication skills. For example, they are expected to create detailed written reports conveying scientific information in layperson’s terms to police, lawyers, and juries. This is why soft skills like public speaking are arguably as essential as the hard science and math skills needed to succeed in this profession.

Salary Expectations for Forensic Science Technicians

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022), the 17,590 forensic science technicians in the U.S.make an average annual salary of $69,260, with the following percentiles:

  • 10th percentile: $39,710
  • 25th percentile: $49,320
  • 50th percentile (median): $63,740
  • 75th percentile: $82,160
  • 90th percentile: $104,330

Since crime rates are usually higher in large cities, the demand for forensic science technicians is higher in urban areas than in more rural ones.

Between 2021 to 2031, the availability of forensic science technician jobs is expected to grow faster than the 5 percent national average for all jobs; in fact, the BLS (2022) reports that opportunities nationwide are expected to swell 11 percent, generating 2,000 new positions in the U.S.

Steps to Becoming a Forensic Science Technician

The BLS also reports that while an employer can hire you with just a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences (e.g., chemistry, physics, biology, etc.), many applicants have earned a master’s degree in forensic science to differentiate themselves from other candidates and earn higher starting salaries.

Internships also can help set aspiring forensic science technicians apart from the crowd by providing experience working at real crime scenes, which is a huge asset to potential employers—especially for applicants pursuing jobs as technicians without master’s-level credentials.

Here are the steps to take to pursue a career in forensic science:

Step 1: Earn a bachelor’s degree in natural or forensic science (four years).

An undergraduate degree is required to become a forensic science tech. The major can be biology, CSI, chemistry, criminal justice, physics, or law.

Alternatively, aspiring techs can choose an undergraduate degree program specifically in forensic science. Some universities, like Texas A&M University, Pennsylvania State University, the University of California at Irvine, and Columbia College, offer bachelor’s programs specific to forensic science. Check out our guide to forensics science schools by state to search for a particular program.

The benefit of pursuing a bachelor’s degree in forensic science (as opposed to natural science) is that students can often focus their undergraduate degree on a specific area of forensics, such as DNA, trace evidence, or ballistics. Specializing can make you a more desirable candidate with higher earning potential.

Step 2: Secure an internship (one year or more, optional).

Many aspiring forensic science techs sometimes opt to secure an internship to gain real-world experience. Usually, this step is pursued during or after earning a bachelor’s degree.

Internships can be highly competitive, so consider contacting local police departments and agencies independently to see if you can negotiate your internship.

Step 3: Earn a master’s degree in forensic science (two years, optional).

Master’s degrees in forensic science allow for specialization in specific professional disciplines. Some examples of relevant master’s degrees include a master of science in forensic science, a master of science in criminalistics, a master of science in forensic biology, and a master of science in biomedical forensic science. Please see our guide to master of science degrees in forensic science, including accredited on-campus and online programs.

Step 4: Apply for certifications (timeline varies, optional).

As a final note, a wide variety of certifications are available to forensics professionals. These include the following:

  • American Board of Criminalistics (drug analysis general criminalistics, molecular biology, fire debris, hairs and fibers, paint and polymers)
  • American Board of Forensic Entomology (forensic entomology)
  • American Board of Forensic Document Examiners/Board of Forensic Document Examination (forensic document examination)
  • International Association for Identification (latent fingerprints, 10 print fingerprints, bloodstain pattern, crime scene-four levels, forensic artist, forensic photography, footwear, digital evidence/video-forensic video certification)
  • International Association for Property and Evidence (evidence handling)
  • Association of Firearm & Tool Mark Examiners (firearms, tool marks, gunshot residue)
  • Digital Forensics Certification Board (digital evidence/computer forensics certified practitioner and DFCA)
  • International Society of Forensic Computer Examiners (digital evidence/computer forensics-certified computer examiner)
  • DOD Cyber Crime Center (digital evidence/computer forensics-certified digital forensic examiner, certified digital media collector, certified computer crime investigator)
  • International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists (digital evidence/computer forensics-certified forensic computer examiner, digital evidence/computer forensics-certified advanced windows forensic examiner, digital evidence/mobile devices-certified mobile device examiner)
  • Global Information Assurance Certification (digital evidence/mobile devices-advanced smartphone forensics, digital evidence/computer forensics-certified forensics analyst, certified forensic examiner, reverse engineering malware, many others)
  • American Board of Forensic Anthropology (forensic anthropology)
  • American Board of Forensic Psychology (forensic psychology)
  • American College of Forensic Psychiatry (forensic psychiatry)
  • American Board of Psychiatry & Neurology (forensic psychiatry)
  • International Association of Forensic Nurses (forensic nursing)

Accreditation of Forensic Science Programs

There are two types of accreditation: programmatic and institutional.

Prospective forensic science students should ensure that their chosen program meets one or both of these accreditation standards.

Programmatic Accreditation

While many forensic science programs are available, not all are accredited. FEPAC, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, is the gold standard for this discipline and provides a list of accredited forensic science degree programs in the United States. To earn FEPAC accreditation, programs must meet rigorous curriculum, faculty, facilities, and research standards.

Institutional Accreditation

Institutional accreditation is awarded to an entire college or university by one of the regional accrediting organizations recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA). There are six regional accrediting bodies:

  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)

It’s worth mentioning that while FEPAC is a metric of high academic quality, programs that are not accredited by FEPAC, but hold institutional accreditation, are still valuable. Many institutionally-accredited programs are housed within well-respected institutions and offer high-quality forensic or life science education.

Ultimately, students should choose a forensic science program that best meets their needs and interests.

Nina Chamlou

Nina Chamlou

Nina Chamlou is an avid writer and multimedia content creator from Portland, OR. She writes about aviation, travel, business, technology, healthcare, and education. You can find her floating around the Pacific Northwest in diners and coffee shops, studying the locale from behind her MacBook.