When human life is lost, it’s the job of law enforcement officers and forensic science specialists to determine the motivation for a crime and the cause of death. As simple as this formula seems, humans alone cannot be trusted to provide witness testimony. Enter the work of experienced forensic scientists who prove or determine probable fault using laboratory-based and carefully constructed questions when interviewing witnesses.
Leading forensic scientists and psychologists can practice their craft with a bachelor’s or master’s degree, but to delve into the nuanced areas of forensics and leadership, some senior-level positions require a doctoral degree in forensic science.
When two witnesses point fingers at each other saying the other is guilty, forensic science steps in with a multidisciplinary approach to provide essential information to bring criminals to justice. A case report involving the murder of a 55-year-old man illustrates the need for a multidisciplinary approach. The man accused of killing his neighbor admits he killed him in self-defense, but relatives of the murder victim say that there were other motivations not being admitted.
To provide more details, a forensic scientist can serve as a medical examiner, a forensic chemist can do ballistics analysis, and a forensic psychologist can conduct interviews to determine the mental health state of the accused murderer so that justice can be served with accuracy.
Forensic scientists and psychologists working in the field can pursue doctoral degree options to bolster their expertise. Read on to learn more about online doctoral programs in forensic science.
At present, there are no online doctoral programs in forensic science that can be completed 100 percent online. Because forensic science is a laboratory-based discipline, most programs require students to be on-campus at least part-time for research and clinical work.
However, there are PhD programs that fall under the umbrella of forensic science such as forensic biology, chemistry, and psychology. Applicants interested in these programs are strongly encouraged to learn about the accreditation status of these programs which is discussed in detail below.
Walden University (Related Program)
Walden University in Minneapolis, Minnesota is unique in that it offers the only online PhD program in forensic psychology. Students in this program can choose from a regular or fast-track option which enables students to waive up to six courses or 53 credits from the master’s degree in forensic psychology.
As well, students in this doctoral program can choose from seven unique specializations to focus their studies towards a specific field of forensic psychology: general, criminal justice (self-designed), crisis leadership management, crisis response, legal issues in forensic psychology, self-designed program, and victimology. This program also provides two tracks: one for students with a master’s degree in forensic psychology and one for those with a master’s degree in another discipline.
As previously mentioned, there are no fully online doctoral programs that lead to a PhD in forensic science, but there are forensic science doctoral programs in related subfields.
Here are on-campus doctoral programs in forensic chemistry, forensic mental health counseling, forensic science, and forensic psychology.
West Virginia University is unique in that it is the only doctoral program in forensic science that is accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
Graduates from this program are prepared to work in academia, government laboratories, or private industries as laboratory specialists. In this research-intensive program, students study the foundations of criminalistics using research design, qualitative methods, statistical analysis, and communication skills in scientific writing and presenting.
All students take a common core of advanced forensic science courses and other courses determined by their dissertation committees.
Florida International University offers a doctor of philosophy (PhD) in chemistry with a forensic science track. This track prepares graduates for research in environmental and biogeochemistry with an emphasis on forensic science applications.
Students in this program benefit from collaborative agreements with local, state, national, and international agencies and learn about detecting trace amounts of evidence at crime scenes, DNA typing in mass disasters, and canine screening for explosives.
Research projects are coordinated by the International Forensic Research Institute and graduates from this program go to work in government laboratories with the FBI, Department of Homeland Security, Secret Service, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.
In addition to their online PhD program in forensic psychology, Walden University offers two on-campus and hybrid PhD programs: clinical psychology – forensic psychology and counselor education and supervision – forensic mental health counseling.
The curricula for both programs includes core, research, and specialization courses, clinical practicums, an internship, an academic year in residence, completion of a doctoral dissertation, and four four-day PhD residencies. These degree programs prepare graduates for work in clinical research, family court, drug court, group homes, and agencies that specialize in dispute resolution.
Bachelor’s degree holders who want to begin graduate studies in forensic science and related fields can consider two-year master’s degree programs. This degree option offers clinical and research-based rigor to prepare students for future doctoral studies.
Here are three online master’s programs in forensic science and psychology and one hybrid (online and on-campus) forensic science program which can prepare graduates for doctoral-level coursework in forensic science or psychology.
Oklahoma State University (MS in Forensic Science)
Oklahoma State University offers a hybrid master of science in forensic science with a concentration in forensic biology/DNA. This 39-credit FEPAC-accredited program can be completed part- or full-time and features a death scene investigation track for those who have taken forensic science or biology, genetics, or molecular biology courses at the undergraduate level.
In the first year of the program, students can choose to take courses on-campus or online and the second year includes laboratory and research courses which must be taken on-campus. Students have seven years to complete the requirements and must maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout their time in the program.
University of North Dakota (MA in Forensic Psychology)
The University of North Dakota offers an online master of arts in forensic psychology that prepares graduates for work in the civil and criminal justice systems. This 30-credit program is offered fully online and part-time to meet the needs of working students.
Graduates from this program are prepared to conduct focus groups in legal settings for jury selection, select and use appropriate assessment tools, evaluate programs using research-based methods, and assist in addressing forensic issues in legal settings.
Walden University (MS in Forensic Psychology)
Walden University offers a 48-credit online master’s of science (MS) in forensic psychology. As mentioned above, students in this master’s program have the option of applying up to half of their master’s coursework towards an online PhD in forensic psychology which saves students time and money and enables them to earn MS and PhD degrees on a faster timeline.
The master’s program offers eleven specializations related to forensic psychology and other sub-fields of forensic science: criminal justice self-designed, cybercrimes, family violence, legal issues in forensic psychology, military, police psychology, self-designed learning, sex offender behavior, terrorism, victimology, and general program.
To be admitted into a forensic science PhD program, applicants must meet certain academic requirements. Here’s a list of documents commonly requested when applying for a doctoral program in forensic science:
Each forensic science or psychology doctoral program has its own unique requirements for students to meet to be considered for admission and graduate from the program. Here is a list of common degree requirements and course titles.
As previously discussed, the nature of forensic science or forensic psychology involves on-campus or in-person research in laboratory or clinical settings and there are few to no online opportunities for residencies, internships, or practicums.
By illustration, Walden University requires students in its PhD in clinical psychology program to spend an Academic Year in Residence (AYR) in addition to four four-day PhD residencies. The AYR earns students 40 credits as well as numerous opportunities to develop skills and knowledge needed for a career as a forensic psychologist.
As well, West Virginia University partners with several governmental and private organizations that offer forensic science internships in federal laboratories and the Department of Homeland Security for students to gain hands-on experience during summer-only experiential learning.
When researching educational programs, accreditation is an essential factor to consider. Accreditation is granted to programs or institutions by national, regional, or programmatic accreditation organizations tasked with ensuring that high standards of educational quality are met.
Why is it important to verify a program or institution’s accreditation? First, accreditation validates the educational quality. Future employers look for graduates from accredited programs to ensure that their professional programs and clients are receiving the highest level of professionalism. And most importantly, accreditation is a requirement for state or national licensure for some careers including forensic psychology. In some instances, candidates can only sit for licensure exams if they have completed an accredited academic program.
The gold standard in forensic science program accreditation is granted by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Forensic psychology programs are granted accreditation from the American Psychological Association (APA). To earn programmatic accreditation requires adhering to rigorously high standards in specialized areas.
If any institution does not hold programmatic accreditation, then a prospective student is advised to research a school’s institutional accreditation. The United States Department of Education’s Council for Higher Education (CHEA) recognizes six institutional accreditation organizations:
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: @racheldrummondyoga).