According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, Florida (FL) boasts the second highest number of forensic science technicians among all states in the country with 1,680 currently employed (BLS May 2019). Also, Career One Stop, an organization sponsored by the U.S. Department of Labor, estimates that between 2016 and 2026, openings for forensic science technicians in Florida will swell 22 percent, much higher than the 14 percent growth already anticipated in this field nationally during roughly the same period (2018-2028). Additionally, this state has no lack of fodder for the forensic imagination. Florida is notorious for having some of the country’s most gruesome, bizarre, or perversely creative criminal cases in the world. By illustration, the Huffington Post has a section dedicated to “Weird Florida.”
But before heading out to see just how exciting the criminal landscape can be in Florida, check out how to become a forensic scientist in the state, as well as relevant job outlook statistics, program details, and professional certification information.
For those intrigued by the prospect of the strange and amusing world of forensics in Florida, there are a number of ways to become a forensic scientist. Some of these professionals may start at a police academy or in law enforcement. Others jump straight into a college program to get a training in evidence collection, analysis, and event reconstruction. According to CareerOneStop (2019), 33 percent of forensic science technicians have bachelor’s degrees. Given the discipline’s emphasis on the scientific method and fields such as biology (e.g., DNA analysis) and chemistry (e.g., toxicology), it’s no surprise that many of these crime-solvers hold at least bachelor’s degrees.
Here is one common path to becoming a forensic scientist in Florida:
Following the steps above, aspiring forensic scientists in Florida may seek jobs in a variety of contexts such as police crime labs, psychiatric hospitals, and government at all levels, to name a few.
There’s excellent news for aspiring forensic scientists and technicians in Florida. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 1,680 currently working, the second most of any state in the nation (BLS 2019). So what are the top-employing regions for forensic science technicians in Florida? It’s no surprise that job opportunities are concentrated in urban areas.
Here is a breakdown of the top-employing regions in FL (BLS May 2019):
The BLS also provides a breakdown of the salary data within Florida and its municipalities (BLS 2019). These forensic professionals make an average of $54,490 annually in FL. Here are the statewide annual salary ranges:
Not all forensic science opportunities are created equal, however. The BLS gives a list of the top-paying regions in the state, which unsurprisingly, are among the most heavily urbanized (BLS 2019). The highest paying regions are listed here with the average annual salaries:
It’s now clear why the Showtime hit “Dexter” about the life and times of a blood-spatter analyst who moonlights as a serial killer takes place in Miami, one of the top-employing and top-paying region for forensic scientists in the state.
The American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS) provides a wealth of resources for these professionals, including a list of networking organizations, journal articles, continuing education opportunities, and support for the Young Forensic Scientists’ Forum (YFSF), a group committed to the betterment of the next generation of crime-solvers.
There are a number of quality forensics colleges in Florida, including two universities with programs accredited by the Forensic Science Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Using standards such as facility quality, curriculum comprehensiveness, and student outcomes, FEPAC is the premier organization which evaluates forensic programs.
Florida International University in Miami boasts two distinct FEPAC-accredited programs. The first is a certificate in forensic science, coupled with either a bachelor of science (B.S.) in chemistry or biology. This interdisciplinary degree pays thought to both the didactic and empirical (i.e., hands-on) underpinnings of an understanding of forensic science. With classes such as principles of forensic biology and a supervised internship in facilities nearby, graduates are prepared for an entry-level career in a forensic laboratory. Florida International also hosts a FEPAC-accredited master of science (M.S.) in forensic science graduate program. This coursework is designed to meet the requirements of the DNA Advisory Board and includes both short and web-based course options.
The University of Tampa offers a bachelor of science (B.S.) in forensic science that has been fully accredited by FEPAC. Students take classes such as biological unity, forensic chemistry, and criminal investigation. In addition to rigorous coursework, students of this program get opportunities to receive hands-on forensic training in internships, with sites ranging from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Crime Laboratory in Tampa, the Hillsborough County Medical Examiner, and Field Forensics, Inc.
In addition to the FEPAC-approved Florida forensic science programs above, there are several additional quality forensics programs offered by colleges in the state. Here are some other quality options:
The University of Central Florida’s National Center for Forensic Science in Orlando hosts an abundance of programs in the field, including a bachelor of science (B.S.), a master of science (M.S.), and a PhD program, all interdisciplinary work with strong foundations in chemistry or biomedical science. One particularly notable option is the B.S. in forensic science with two distinct tracks: analysis or biochemistry. The former has a heavy focus in crime scene reconstruction and criminal justice, with the latter specializing in more in-depth laboratory work.
The Florida Institute of Technology in Melbourne, a scenic city on the east-central coast of the state, has a unique bachelor of arts (B.A.) in forensic psychology program. Students have the opportunity to use the Cognitive Applied Research lab (CARL), the first lab in the world to eye-track dogs in 2009. Also, students have a number of extracurricular support groups such as the Forensic Psychology Association and Psi Chi (the honor society for psychology students).
The CSI Academy of Florida in Alachua, just outside of Gainesville, may be an especially attractive option to law enforcement personnel, aspiring private investigators, and newcomers to the field. Rather than a traditional degree program, these a la carte classes let students pick and choose their specific training regimen. Focusing 70 percent of each course on hands-on instruction with experienced forensics professions, the CSI Academy offers classes such as advanced bloodstain pattern analysis, courtroom testimony, and human remains recovery.
In addition to online forensic programs all over the country, there are a few predominantly web-based options within the state of Florida:
Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee has degree programs in criminology at all levels, including online bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The bachelor’s program requires no on-campus visits, while the master’s offers a mix of coursework formats in areas such as computer applications in criminal justice, applied statistics of criminology, and research methods. The student testimonials show that graduates of FSU’s program have gone on to become police chiefs, college program directors, and legal advocates for non-profits, to name a few of the opportunities available.
The University of Florida’s (UF) Gainesville-based online forensic science program was given the Award for Excellence from the American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC). As the largest forensics college in the world, UF’s faculty has extensive experience training its students in toxicology, DNA and serology, and drug chemistry, to name a few of the class modules. Boasting five master’s degrees and six certificate programs, this school awards credentials in a wide range of specialties such as environmental forensics, forensic death investigation, and broad-based forensic science.
Florida Atlantic College out of Boca Raton has an online master’s program in accounting with a concentration in forensics. Exploring white-collar crimes such as money laundering and fraud, this two-year program boasts a diverse student body from 35 states and several international students as well.
As mentioned above, the primary accrediting body for forensics colleges in Florida is the Forensic Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). While graduating from one of these programs can be an indicator of merit to future employers or graduate program admissions committees, it is not necessary to complete a FEPAC-accredited program to practice forensic science in Florida.
That said, before enrolling in a program, it’s wise to ensure that a school has some recognition from a regional accreditation organization such as the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACS COC), the main regional accrediting body for college in Florida.
Finally, some forensic science professionals choose to get certified in their field. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAC) offers a range of individual certifications, a process that not only brings aspiring forensic scientists recognition for their competence but can also serve as a valuable networking resource. Some of these certifying agencies include:
|Keiser University-Ft Lauderdale||Fort Lauderdale||x||x||121|
|St Petersburg College||Clearwater||x||x||99|
|Palm Beach State College||Lake Worth||x||91|
|Florida Gulf Coast University||Fort Myers||x||55|
|Miami Dade College||Miami||x||x||49|
|University of Central Florida (UCF)||Orlando||x||x||31|
|Nova Southeastern University||Fort Lauderdale||x||x||29|
|Florida International University (FIU)||Miami||x||26|
|Florida State University (FSU)||Tallahassee||x||23|
|Florida Institute of Technology (FIT)||Melbourne||x||16|
|Broward College||Fort Lauderdale||x||14|
|Pensacola State College||Pensacola||x||x||13|
|Eastern Florida State College||Cocoa||x||x||12|
|Florida SouthWestern State College||Fort Myers||x||10|
|Hillsborough Community College||Tampa||x||9|
|Saint Leo University||Saint Leo||x||8|
|Lynn University||Boca Raton||x||6|
|Palm Beach Atlantic University||West Palm Beach||x||5|
|The University of Tampa||Tampa||x||5|
|Florida State College at Jacksonville||Jacksonville||x||x||1|
|Gulf Coast State College||Panama City||x||1|
School "total forensics grads" data provided by IPEDS (2018) for the 2016-2017 school year, and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Criminalistics and Criminal Science, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Science and Technology, Forensic Psychology, Cyber/Computer Forensics, and Financial Forensics and Fraud Investigation.
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: @oregon_yogini).