The world might not need another Horatio Caine, David Caruso’s soft-spoken character on CSI: Miami, who always found the best way to turn any phrase into…murder. The colorful Florida metropolis on the procedural TV show was the perfect setting for all sorts of lurid drama, horrific crimes, and meticulous scientific inquiry, all conveniently wrapped up in an hour or less. The same formula of courageous chemical analysis also worked for CSI television franchises in Las Vegas and New York. In each, viewers received an interesting look at the complex lives of modern big-city crime scene investigators, who did everything from aiding the police by searching for clues to testifying in court. The show’s creators also showed the downsides of the business as well, including the long hours, seeing people at their worst, suffering strained personal relationships, and being subjected to political pressure from all sides.
Several real CSIs have pointed out that the profession is usually less glamorous than TV portrays; in fact, analyzing data properly takes weeks or even months; plus, it takes a lot of legal legwork to convict criminals. The Guardian reported that according to one study, these shows are sometimes perceived as educational, but not necessarily in the right ways; criminals simply learned better ways to cover their tracks. On the other hand, these shows likely have motivated many students to consider CSI as a career prospect.
While typical CSIs may not deal with as many sordid crimes as their TV counterparts, these professionals help people with their rigorous attention to detail and can make a decent salary. While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, (BLS May 2016) doesn’t track salaries specifically for CSIs, it does have information on forensic science technicians; they made an average of $56,750 annually, or $27.29 per hour. Notably, the profession was expected to grow by 27 percent between 2014 and 2024, adding 3,800 jobs nationwide (BLS Dec. 2015); this is more than four times the average growth anticipated across all career fields nationwide during that same decade (6.5 percent). Of course, this is only one of many occupations open to those trained in CSI.
For example, the BLS (May 2016) reported that detectives and criminal investigators earned an average of $81,490 per year or $39.18 hourly. These professionals are in-demand at the federal, state and local levels. The Washington, DC area currently has the highest concentration of jobs (2,790 total) and is the highest paying region, boasting an hourly mean wage of $58.22 and an annual mean salary of $121,100. Glassdoor (July 2017), a popular job website, shows that salaries for CSIs range depending on experience, location, and the resources of whatever agency needs qualified CSI help. A local police department might have different needs and smaller budget for someone with these skills, but a federal agency may be willing to pay a high amount in exchange for greater responsibilities.
While investigative positions can be found with a bachelor’s degree and professional experience, those pursuing more specialized or leadership-oriented positions in CSI fields can benefit from a master’s degree. And in some cases, advanced credentials can be earned through online courses, making it convenient for people already working professionally to earn a graduate degree.
Continue reading for more information about available master’s programs in crime scene investigation around the country.
Online programs offer flexibility for people who may not be able to study full-time in a traditional campus setting, especially those with family or career obligations that would make it difficult to temporarily relocate. The following master’s degree programs allow people to attend online lectures with experienced educators bringing their professional and academic experience to students. Here is a comprehensive list of online master’s degrees in CSI and closely related fields:
This program examines the fundamentals of law, technology, and modern methods of evidence collection. Students can choose among three specialties based on their interests or career goals: crime scene investigation, biology, or chemistry. The program requires 41 credits. Notably, its Center for Forensic Excellence works in conjunction with the Baltimore County Crime Lab, the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division, and the U.S. Secret Service Lab.
This M.S. program aids students in pursuing various careers in CSI or even future teaching positions. Students must complete at least 39 credit-hours in coursework covering investigations and maintain a B average. Students also must research and publish their own thesis, although there’s a separate track for people already active in the field that doesn’t require a thesis. Students can also specialize in areas such as arson/explosion investigation, forensic nursing, and forensic science administration. Some introductory courses may require a campus visit, but most can be taken online.
This online-only university offers a range of criminal justice graduate programs, including critical incident management, legal studies, behavioral studies, and forensic science. Topics can supplement knowledge in law enforcement and present some bigger-picture analysis of current justice issues. Students learn the fundamentals of crime scene investigations, physical evidence gathering, and analysis, plus larger ethical topics and personnel law. Students must take an 18-credit core criminal justice program; 12 credits in a specialty field; and two six-credit electives.
This online program can provide an in-depth look into modern investigative theory, and can be useful to people already working in law enforcement or related fields such as firefighting. Students can chose specialties such as digital forensics/computer crime, financial crimes, or general criminal investigations. Active firefighters or police officers in Connecticut can also receive tuition discounts.
This online program has an interdisciplinary focus, where students learn a variety of law enforcement, science, and psychology topics. It’s geared toward professionals already working in these fields or those who want to learn the fundamentals. There are a variety of concentrations, including forensic analysis, forensic biochemistry and general forensic professional. Part of the program includes creating, defending, and publishing a thesis. The college is also known for its National Center for Forensic Science and an on-campus master’s program in digital forensics.
The 54-credit program offers advanced training in current forensic investigative methods and lab science, including legal theory, criminal procedure, criminal profiling, and psychology. Human anatomy is central to the curriculum, including the analysis of diseases and trauma. The program also explores larger ethical issues, including legal rights, current defense, and social well-being. Specialty programs are available in criminalistics or investigation. The institution is part of a nationwide network of schools.
Learn the fundamentals of crime scenes, such as how to gather and process evidence that will stand up to legal scrutiny. This is considered a hybrid course, where half the knowledge and theories can be learned online, but the student needs to come to campus for the other half for hands-on lab work that’s integral to professional CSI work. The 36-credit program includes 27 credits of required courses and nine electives.
This 40-credit, distance-based program presents students with a wide variety of research and advanced science, including chemistry and biology, focusing on topics such as trace evidence, pattern evidence, microscopy, and lab management. The program also discusses theories of crime, ethics, and statistics, and students are asked to complete a research project or thesis. There’s also a separate series of workshops and classes for professionals already working in this field.
In addition to the graduate degree programs, there is a variety of online certificate programs in various CSI topics, including:
Some candidates emerge fresh out of bachelor programs, while others began working professionally prior to applying to graduate school. This career experience can allow a student to waive some foundation courses or opt-out of research programs such as thesis. Every college’s graduate program admissions requirements vary, but online CSI programs often look for:
Students interested in CSI and related forensic topics are encouraged to make sure any school they are considering has proper accreditation, which can show that the institution follows certain established standards of excellence in its education. Sometimes this covers the entire school or certain programs or colleges within a school.
The reputable institutional accreditation organizations have been recognized by the U.S. Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education Accreditation, including:
In addition to overall institutional accreditation, some professional forensics associations offer their own accreditation methods and criteria to make sure students currently in school are learning proper the abilities and skills to compete and excel. The gold standard for accreditation specifically in forensics is FEPAC, or the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission.
Lastly, aspiring CSI students are encouraged to check out their program’s “state authorization” status. While this isn’t an issue if a distance-based student and an online institution are based in the same state, sometimes online CSI programs are unable to enroll out-of-state students from particular areas. Many online programs display this information on the websites (e.g., West Virginia University) and for those which don’t, applicants should reach out to admissions to ensure eligibility.
Dr. Tobin has been involved in the forensics community for nearly 40 years. His professional accomplishments include serving as the director of Maryland’s State Police Forensic Science Division; being part of the state’s Forensic Science Advisory Board; working as chief chemist at the Maryland State Police Crime Lab; and advising the secretary of the Maryland State Police. He currently is the program coordinator and an associate professor at Stevenson University.
Dr. Bridge is highly regarded for her meticulous research on physical evidence. She previously was a trace examiner researcher at the Defense Forensic Science Center. She has worked extensively with laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, fire debris analysis, and human research, among other topics. Her doctoral project was in analytic chemistry with a focus on forensic science. Notably, she has published a wealth of scholarly articles in various forensics specializations.
Dr. Wagner, OSU’s track lead for forensic chemistry, previously worked as a chemist for the FBI and was involved in several hazardous material investigations. He also worked in the toxicology department of the Orange County Sheriff’s Office and served as a reserve police officer in California. He earned his PhD in environmental toxicology and has been active in publishing and lecturing on forensics topics.