Imagine being the only one who can finally put a criminal behind bars. The best evidence in a decades old murder case could come from the work that you are doing in the lab, and you could finally bring a violent criminal to justice while giving a family closure. If that sounds like something that would be motivating to you, then becoming a DNA analyst could be a good career move.
As a DNA specialist, you are responsible for the analysis of DNA evidence removed from a crime scene. Much of your day might be spent inside of a laboratory developing DNA profiles, and evidence from those profiles could be used to exonerate or implicate someone in a crime. Once you’ve analyzed evidence, you will create intricate and accurate reports, and you will often be required to spend time in the courtroom testifying about the evidence.
The employment outlook for those in the field of forensic science and DNA analysis is quite good actually. According to the 2010 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the field of forensic science should grow at a rate of about 19 percent between 2010 and 2020. Currently, there are about 13,000 jobs in the field, and that is predicted to increase by about 2,400 jobs over that decade.
Things should be good for those who are going to be pursuing a career in DNA analysis as well. Demand for DNA specialists is likely to keep growing since forensic DNA evidence can be quite precise and definitive, and has been pivotal in establishing the guilt of a number of criminals.
DNA analysts work directly with police departments at the local, state, and federal level, and also for private companies that offer services to those law enforcement agencies.
DNA analyst salaries can vary quite a bit based on a number of different factors. The 2012 BLS report shows that the median 2012 salary for forensic science techs, including the DNA analyst salary, was $52,480. One must remember that the median salary is the wage where half of the others in the field are making less and half are making more. The lowest 10 percent of forensic science technicians in the U.S. earned as little as $32,300, while those in the highest 10 percent earned as much as $85,210.
Factors that could affect the amount of money earned include location, the type of work that one is doing, and the department for which one works. Number of years on the job and also types of degrees and advanced certificates held could be other factors.
Some of the traits that those who are in the DNA analysis field need to have include:
Even though DNA analysts work in a lab setting, they still need to make sure that they can work well in a team environment. Most of the time, those who are working in the lab will have a regular workday schedule, but the role may also require late hours or overtime in order to travel to a crime scene, or complete an analysis to make a deadline. In some cases, the DNA analyst job position may require a presentation of findings in a courtroom setting.
In order to become an actual DNA analyst and work in a crime lab, one must have a bachelor’s of arts or a bachelor’s of science degree in chemistry, biology, or forensic science. Most of the time, to be able to obtain work as an analyst, one must have some lab experience – generally between six months and two years of experience. Aspiring DNA analysts with less than a four-year degree may be able to find work as technicians, but most of those working in this field have at least a bachelor’s degree.
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Barry is Managing Editor of ForensicsColleges.com, operated by educational web publisher Sechel Ventures Partners LLC, which he co-founded. Barry was previously VP for a financial software company, and currently sits on the board of a K-8 school and lives with his wife and daughters in the San Francisco Bay Area.