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 done in a lab, and a DNA analyst could finally bring a violent criminal to justice while giving a family closure. At the end of a long day doing meticulous and sometimes grueling work, these can be the rewards.
DNA analysts are responsible for the analysis of DNA evidence removed from a crime scene. Much of a day in this profession 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 evidence is analyzed, the DNA specialist will create intricate and accurate reports, and will often be required to spend time in the courtroom testifying about the evidence. While the work may not be the most glamorous, front-page position, this can be a truly rewarding career for those with the right temperament and skills.
The employment outlook for those in the field of forensic science and DNA analysis is quite good. According to the 2019 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the field of forensic science technology should grow at a rate of 14 percent between 2018 and 2028. Currently, there are about 16,700 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 Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2019) reported that the median salary for forensic science techs, including DNA analysts, was $59,150. The average annual salary was $63,170 for the 16,520 techs employed nationally. The lowest 10 percent of forensic science technicians in the U.S. earned $35,620 or less, while those in the highest 10 percent earned $97,350 or more.
Factors that could affect salaries available to DNA analysts 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.
The DNA analyst job is highly technical and therefore requires specific education and training that cannot be learned on the job. While not every DNA analyst will take the same path in purusit of the career, following are the most common steps:
Notably, a high school graduate that is dedicated to this career path may be able to find entry-level work after just four years of an undergraduate education. Indeed, many undergraduate programs offer internships with local law enforcement agencies that allow students to gain experience and make professional connections while still completing their degree.
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.
These skills will help DNA analysts to best accomplish their daily tasks and tend to their responsibilities, such as:
Unlike some professions, there is no legal certification or licensure requirement for DNA analysts. However, those that want to advance in their career may find it useful to pursue professional certification after gaining some experience.
One option for DNA analysts is to become an American Board of Criminalistics Diplomate. To become a fellow of the ABC, DNA analysts can submit to a specialty test in molecular biology that is specific to criminalistics. Applicants must have at least two years of experience to be eligible for this designation.
Rachel Drummond is a freelance writer, educator, and yogini from Oregon. She’s taught English to international university students in the United States and Japan for more than a decade and has a master’s degree in education from the University of Oregon. Rachel writes about meditation, yoga, coaching, and more on her blog (Instagram: @oregon_yogini).