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DNA Analyst Job Description, Education Requirements & Salary

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.

Career Outlook for Forensic DNA Analysts

The employment outlook for those in the field of forensic science and DNA analysis is quite good. According to the 2017 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics report, the field of forensic science should grow at a rate of about 17 percent between 2016 and 2026. Currently, there are about 15,400 jobs in the field, and that is predicted to increase by about 2,600 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.

Salary Range for Forensic DNA Specialist

DNA analyst salaries can vary quite a bit based on a number of different factors. The 2017 BLS report shows that the median salary for forensic science techs, including the DNA analyst salary, was $57,850. 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 $33,880, while those in the highest 10 percent earned as much as $95,600.

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.

How to Become a DNA Analyst

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:

  • Step 1: Earn a high school diploma (4 years) – A high school diploma is a requirement for any DNA analyst. Students should focus particularly on natural science courses such as biology and chemistry so as to obtain a position in a highly regarded undergraduate program.
  • Step 2: Pursue a relevant bachelor’s degree (4 years) – Because DNA analysis is so dependent on meticulous lab work, DNA analysts must have a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, with natural science degrees preferred. Prospective DNA analysts should consider a degree in biology, chemistry, or a Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accredited forensic science program.
  • Step 3: Seek entry-level employment (timeline varies) – After earning a bachelor’s degree, graduates may be able to find entry-level employment in a lab, which is a good chance to get more hands-on experience and build on classroom training.
  • Step 4: Consider advanced education (2 to 4 years) – Some DNA analysts may choose to pursue an advanced degree, such as a master’s degree in forensic DNA and serology or even a PhD, depending on the type of long-term careers an individual has.
  • Step 5: Obtain professional certification – Professional certification, such as earning diplomate or fellow status from the American Board of Criminalistics is another way that experienced DNA analysts can grow their career opportunities.

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.

DNA Analyst Job Requirements, Tasks, and Responsibilities

Some of the traits that those who are in the DNA analysis field need to have include:

  • attention to detail
  • ability to solve problems
  • analytical thinking
  • good speaking and writing skills

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:

  • works with DNA collected from a crime scene to identify unique DNA profiles
  • compares collected DNA to existing samples
  • testifies to findings in court
  • writes reports on findings
  • maintains chain of custody for DNA evidence
  • communicates with law enforcement as to findings

Professional Certification and Licensure

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 FNA 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.

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