Forensic engineers are the specialists who are tasked to investigate when a building or structure fails. A forensic engineer can be the one that determines what materials or missteps caused a bridge to collapse or a building to crumble. With this information, legal action may be taken against the owner or construction company behind the building, meaning like other forensic occupations, forensic engineers have a job that intersects with the legal system.
Forensic engineers may also simply need to aid an attorney in an engineering matter or incident that is need of legal resolution. These engineers often make use of trace evidence from the scene of an incident and then use their analysis, investigative skills and engineering expertise to determine what actually happened and where the fault lies. This aspect of engineering can lead to the type of interesting career that some engineering students may be looking for.
People who may succeed the most in forensic engineering will be those who generally are thrilled by the science and investigative aspect of the career. While the legal aspects are important, many who are in the field have a burning need to know why a produced item failed to do what is was supposed to do. The National Academy of Forensic Engineers is able to offer credentials, and more information about the field. Typically, forensic engineers will need a minimum of a master of science degree with a concentration in forensic engineering, for which a few programs are available.
There are no available associate degree programs that focus on forensic engineering. However, students who are interested in pursuing the career and unable to commit to a bachelor’s degree right away may consider an associate degree in a related field such as general engineering or civil engineering.
As with associate degree programs, bachelor’s degree programs do not specialize in forensic engineering, although a bachelor’s degree is an important stepping stone to the career. Students should look for programs in civil engineering, structural engineering, or other degrees that build a strong educational foundation for the intricacies of buildings, bridges, and other structures.
At the master’s degree level, students can find specialized forensic engineering programs. However, those that earn a master’s degree in a more general engineering field such as structural or civil engineering may still be eligible for future training in forensic engineering.
Those who complete a master’s degree in forensic engineering or a broader engineering topic may choose to go on to pursue a PhD, which will allow them to work in academia and could help to further other professional opportunities.
Students interested in the forensic engineering field need to have an engineering degree first. These engineering degree fields could include (but are not limited, to) civil, chemical, electrical, mechanical, and petroleum. As students start a bachelor’s degree, they will take more general education courses and then continue on to more engineering-focused coursework such as introduction to engineering systems, advanced math, and coursework designed specifically for the many engineering fields that are available. Following are a few programs available to prospective forensic engineers. Although not all have a specific focus on forensic engineering, each will provide a valuable foundation on which to build the career.
In some cases, students will find that it is more advantageous to take some of their courses online. While they may be available in the future, as of 2020 there are no forensic engineering programs that are available entirely online. However, some engineering colleges are able to offer online and hybrid options for individual courses and this includes Stanford University, which offers both master’s degrees in electrical engineering and mechanical engineering online as well as other degrees and many graduate certificates.
North Carolina State University is another option that offers online engineering schooling options for students. Online courses may vary from semester to semester, but some graduate-level classes that have been offered online include green chemical engineering, structural dynamics, and geomechanics of stress deformation.
After earning an education, many forensic engineers choose to pursue professional certification. Forensic engineers may apply for certification from two different bodies:
Accreditation is always important whether choosing online or campus-based engineering schools. Specific forensic engineering programs will be hard to find, and students will most likely be able to enter the field simply through experience gained on the job and additional specialized coursework. Accreditation means that a school has met or exceeded certain standards to guarantee that students will receive quality instruction and needed skills.
Programmatic accreditation is specific to an engineering program. Stanford, for example, has accreditation from the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET). Some of the other accreditation agencies for engineering schools include the Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE); the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE); and the Society of Manufacturing Engineers (SME).
In addition to programmatic accreditation, schools should have institutional accreditation from a recognized accrediting body, such as the Higher Learning Commission, the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, or the Western Association of Schools and Colleges. Those who are taking engineering courses should make it a point to look at a school’s accreditation beforehand to make sure that their program has been accredited as one of quality.
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).