Florida, famous for its citrus and theme parks, and sunshine, is the second-largest employer of forensic science technicians. Moreover, the Sunshine State has no lack of fodder for forensic imagination. For example, the popular television series Dexter features a fictional anti-hero protagonist based in Miami: forensic blood spatter analyst by day and murderer of serial killers by night.
In the real world, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) shows that Florida boasts the second-highest number of forensic science technicians among all states in the country, with 1,730 currently employed (BLS 2021). As well, the BLS estimates that between 2020 and 2030, openings for forensic science technicians in Florida will swell 16 percent, much higher than the 8 percent growth already anticipated in this field nationally during roughly the same period (BLS 2021).
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 swamp-filled crime-fighting landscape can be in Florida, check out how to become a forensic scientist in this state, as well as relevant job outlook statistics, salaries, program details, and professional certification information.
There are several paths to become a forensic scientist for those intrigued by the prospect of the strange and amusing world of forensics in Florida. Some of these professionals may start at a police academy or in law enforcement. Others jump straight into a college program to train. There also are many ways to prepare as a forensic scientist specializing in evidence collection, analysis, and event reconstruction.
According to CareerOneStop (2021), 30 percent of forensic science technicians in Florida hold a bachelor’s degree. 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 various contexts such as police crime labs, psychiatric hospitals, and government at all levels, to name a few.
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There’s excellent news for aspiring forensic scientists and technicians in Florida. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that there are 1,730 currently working, the second most of any state in the nation (BLS 2020). 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 Florida (BLS May 2020):
The BLS also provides a breakdown of the salary data within Florida and its municipalities (BLS 2020). These forensic professionals make an average of $52,490 annually in FL. Here are the statewide annual salary ranges:
Not all forensic science opportunities are created equal, however. The BLS lists the top-paying regions in the state, which unsurprisingly are among the most heavily urbanized (BLS 2020). The highest paying areas are listed here with the median annual salaries:
It’s clear to see why the Showtime hit series “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 regions 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 several 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 that evaluates forensic programs.
Florida International University in Miami boasts a distinct FEPAC-accredited certificate in forensic science, coupled with either a bachelor of science (B.S.) in chemistry or biology. This 16-credit interdisciplinary program 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. FIU also offers online master’s degrees – see Hybrid and Online Forensics Programs below.
The University of Tampa offers a bachelor of science (B.S.) in forensic science that FEPAC has fully accredited. 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. This 86-credit program includes general chemistry and biology courses, analytical chemistry, forensic toxicology, crime scene investigation, and forensic research.
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.), a digital forensics master of science (M.S.), and a PhD program, all interdisciplinary work with solid foundations in chemistry or biomedical science. The B.S. in forensic science is FEPAC-accredited and offers two distinct tracks: chemistry or biochemistry. The chemistry track features the application of modern chromatographic, spectroscopic and microanalytical techniques. The biochemistry track has a heavy DNA focus on crime scene reconstruction and criminal justice. Both tracks feature in-depth laboratory work that prepares graduates for forensic science positions in local, state, and federal law enforcement.
In addition to the FEPAC-accredited Florida forensic science programs above, there are high-quality forensics programs available. Here are some other reputable options:
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 intern with the FBI’s Behavioral Science Unit and the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) to prepare them for future careers with real-world practice. Students also participate in faculty research teams that tackle forensic psychology’s most challenging current issues, which prepare graduates for master’s degree programs and career advancement. Featuring low student-to-faculty ratios and faculty from diverse backgrounds, this program also emphasizes problems related to child advocacy for those who plan to work in pediatric forensic psychology.
The CSI Academy of Florida in Alachua, just outside of Gainesville, may be a desirable 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 professionals, the CSI Academy offers classes such as advanced bloodstain pattern analysis, courtroom testimony, and human remains recovery. Students can choose from 40-hour, three-day, two-day, or one-day courses depending on their time constraints and career interests. Classes are taught by IAI (International Association for Identification)-certified instructors and can be tailored to specific group needs. Topics include alternate light sources, latent print techniques, 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:
Miami Dade College offers a two-year online associate’s degree in crime scene technology. This 60-credit program prepares students to become forensic identification specialists. Graduates are prepared for entry-level work in forensic science law enforcement with local, state, and federal agencies or can continue their studies and receive a BAS in public safety management. Courses include human behavior in criminal justice, forensic science, crime scene technology, and general chemistry & qualitative analysis lab.
Florida International University offers an online FEPAC-accredited master of science (M.S.) in forensic science graduate program. This coursework can be completed on-campus, online, or in a hybrid format and is designed to meet the requirements of the DNA Advisory Board. Other master’s programs include a combined M.S. in forensic science and PhD in biology, a professional science master’s in forensic science, and a PhD in chemistry with a forensic track. Designed for working students, these degree programs prepare graduates for leadership careers in fields such as DNA/biology, forensic toxicology, and wildlife forensics.
Florida State University (FSU) in Tallahassee has programs in criminology at all levels, including online bachelor’s and master’s degrees. The fully online bachelor’s program requires no on-campus visits. In contrast, the hybrid master’s program offers a mix of coursework formats in 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. In addition, graduates from the bachelor’s program are prepared for forensic science roles. At the same time, master’s degree holders can work in various positions in criminal justice or teach community college courses.
The University of Florida (UF) offers reputable degree programs in forensic science. The American Distance Education Consortium (ADEC) gave the online forensic science program 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 four master’s degrees and four 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 University (FAU) in Boca Raton has an online executive 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. The GMAT is not required for admission, and optional live lectures allow students to attend classes on-campus on weekends or live stream them online. The prestigious Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) accredits the FAU School of Accounting Executive Programs (SOAEP).
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, completing a FEPAC-accredited program to practice forensic science in Florida is not necessary.
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 (SACSCOC), the leading regional accrediting body for colleges in Florida.
Finally, some forensic science professionals choose to get certified. For example, 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: @racheldrummondyoga).