The biggest clues can be awfully tiny. Forensic professionals with a mastery of biochemistry and other biological processes apply scientific rigor to investigative questions. Those investigations can be criminal in nature and involve tracing the origin of a blood sample or matching DNA. But they can also be intellectual in nature, seeking to determine the relatedness of two animals, or mapping the spread of disease.
Forensics is increasingly the study of the very small and highly complex, and much of it is practiced in state-sponsored laboratories across the country. Those with master’s degrees in biochemistry can go on to careers as forensic DNA analysts or forensic lab managers; they can become local or federal agents who contribute to the investigation of major crimes; and they can apply their scientific knowledge to their careers as forensic scientists, forensic chemists, or forensic researchers.
Admissions requirements for graduate programs in biochemistry will vary from school to school. But some common requirements include a bachelor’s degree; a strong undergraduate GPA (3.0 or greater); letter(s) of recommendation; a personal statement; GMAT scores and/or GRE scores; and work experience.
Some programs ask for an applicant’s bachelor’s degree to be in the life sciences, while others only ask for the completion of prerequisite coursework related to microbiology, chemistry, or biology. When in doubt about whether or not you’re eligible for admission, contact an admissions counselor at the school in question.
Online master’s degrees in biochemistry are still extremely rare. However, there are many online master’s programs in related fields like biology, chemistry, and biotechnology that will be of particular interest to new and aspiring forensics professionals.
Each degree title relates to a slightly different aspect of the biological sciences and can lead to a different career focus, but there is also some overlap between them. If you’re unsure whether or not a particular degree title matches your career aspirations, reach out to an admissions counselor at the school in question for a more contextual answer.
University of Saint Joseph (MS Biochemistry)
The University of Saint Joseph offers the only purely online master’s degree in biochemistry. It is designed for working professionals, with a set cadence of two classes per semester. The curriculum’s required classes include biochemistry, Mendelian and population genetics, chemical thermodynamics, and intermediate organic chemistry.
The pool of electives is extremely deep, with options in toxicology, pharmacology, immunology, genomics, organic spectroscopy, and beyond. All courses are focused on preparation for the American Society for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology (ASBMB) certification exam. The program consists of 30 credits.
Johns Hopkins University (MS Biotechnology)
The online MS in biotechnology program at Johns Hopkins University offers a distinctly different path than a biochemistry-oriented program, but it still advertises itself as a valuable educational option for those who aspire to work as forensic scientists. The four core courses include biochemistry, molecular biology, advanced cell biology, and cellular signal transduction.
With their six electives, students can choose one of six concentrations: biodefense; bioinformatics; biotechnology enterprise; molecular targets and drug discovery; regenerative and stem cell technologies; and regulatory affairs. The program consists of ten courses, totaling 40 credits.
Ohio University (MS Chemistry)
Ohio University offers an online MS in Chemistry program designed for working professionals. It can be completed in as little as three semesters, allowing enough flexibility for part-time study.
Courses cover topics such as basic biochemistry; advanced organic synthesis; modern inorganic chemistry; advanced analytical chemistry; and physical chemistry. While no thesis is required, students will need to write a research paper on a selected chemistry topic under the direction of their advisor. The program consists of 30 credits.
University of North Carolina, Wilmington (MS Chemistry)
The University of North Carolina, Wilmington offers an online MS in chemistry degree through its distance education program. UNCW’s Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry is routinely in the top five percent of master’s-granting institutions in the US, with experienced faculty members who contribute to one-on-one mentoring relationships with students.
Courses in the online program include mass spectrometry and NMR spectroscopy; advanced organic chemistry; advanced analytical chemistry; industrial and polymer chemistry; and advanced biochemistry. The program consists of 36 credits.
University of Maryland Global Campus (MS Biotechnology)
University of Maryland Global Campus offers an online MS in biotechnology with a unique focus on biosecurity and biodefense. Students will study the microbiology and epidemiology of biological agents that are potential threats, propose countermeasures, and develop expertise in response. Courses include techniques of biotechnology; agents of bioterrorism; advanced biosecurity and bioterrorism; and societal issues in biotechnology.
The program culminates in a capstone where students must apply their knowledge through research, analysis, oral and written communication, teamwork, and leadership. The program consists of 36 credits.
Indiana State University (MS Biology)
Indiana State University offers an online MS in biology that does not require a thesis, and students can tailor the program to match their career interests. It is designed to prepare graduates for work both in the biological sciences industries and in federal and state agencies.
In addition to core courses in biological research and life sciences, students will take four classes in subjects related to biology, ecology, organismal biology, and/or life sciences; they’ll also take two to three directed electives. This is a non-thesis degree, and students will need to complete a comprehensive exam administered by their advisor before graduation. The program consists of 32 credits in total.
University of Northern Colorado (MS Biological Sciences)
The University of Northern Colorado offers an online MS in biological sciences degree that’s flexible to a student’s career aspirations. The required core is centered around research, but the bulk of the program is dedicated to a diverse range of electives, which includes molecular genetics; pathogenic microbiology; virology; advanced systemic physiology; and conservation biology.
This is a non-thesis degree, and students will need to complete a comprehensive exam administered by their advisor before graduation. The program consists of 30 credits.
Online degree programs open up educational institutions to an extent never before seen in history. But they are not without restrictions: schools in one state may not be allowed to award degrees to students in another state, depending upon whether there is a state authorization reciprocity agreement (SARA) in place. Not all schools and states have such a restriction, but some do.
Before applying to a program, prospective students should contact their target school’s admissions office to ask if there are state authorization limits and whether this can impact their plans. More information can be found on the National Council for State Authorization Reciprocity Agreements (NC-SARA) website.
Accreditation ensures that an educational institution’s degree offerings are in line with industry standards and the highest levels of academic quality. It’s not just a nice-to-have: a lack of accreditation is a serious red flag. In biochemistry, there is no singular, discipline-specific entity that accredits master’s programs, but the regional accrediting agencies n should accredit the parent school of the biochemistry program.
The following accrediting bodies are approved by the US Department of Education:
Matt Zbrog is a writer and researcher from Southern California. Since 2018, he’s written extensively about the increasing digitization of investigations, the growing importance of forensic science, and emerging areas of investigative practice like open source intelligence (OSINT) and blockchain forensics. His writing and research are focused on learning from those who know the subject best, including leaders and subject matter specialists from the Association of Certified Fraud Examiners (ACFE) and the American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS). As part of the Big Employers in Forensics series, Matt has conducted detailed interviews with forensic experts at the ATF, DEA, FBI, and NCIS.