Forensic science technicians are often interested in science and, more specifically, how science ties into crime and the law. Whether they work in the lab or are involved in crime scene investigation, the career can keep them on their toes. Forensic science technicians’ knowledge must be varied and in-depth and they should be curious, detail-oriented, and even relentless in their search for answers.
A four-year bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree is one common path toward a career in the field. Still, there are an increasing number of undergraduate degrees in forensic science that can lead to job opportunities in the lab. Forensic science degrees provide students with a foundational education in many of the sciences, including biology and chemistry, and often allow for exploring specific branches of forensic science, such as criminalistics or jurisprudence.
Students interested in working at crime scenes and with law enforcement may also consider a career as a crime scene investigator. The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that a bachelor’s degree is usually needed to enter CSI, but in some cases, individuals may be able to learn on the job or even gain foundational skills through an associate degree or certificate.
Whether an applicant wants a job poring over slides in a lab or collecting evidence at a crime scene, one of the forensic science programs available to Indiana (IN) students could be a launching pad for an exciting and fulfilling career.
Many people know about forensic science through shows such as “Dexter” and “Cold Case Files,” but unsurprisingly television shows do not offer a particularly detailed or realistic view of the career, and they certainly do not tend to include details about whether the career is financially rewarding.
Details from the BLS suggest that working as a forensic science technician can be a financially stable career. In fact, May 2022 BLS data shows that forensic science technicians working across the country earned a mean annual salary of $69,260. This beat out the mean wages reported for all occupations nationwide: $61,900 (BLS May 2022). In Indiana, the BLS shows that forensic science technicians earned mean annual wages of $58,470, but there may also be opportunities for advancement, allowing forensic science technicians to earn more.
Another question to ask is whether there will be jobs upon completion of a forensic science program. The BLS suggests that there will be and that demand for forensic scientists will grow by 11 percent across the country, potentially leading to 2,000 new positions from 2021 to 2031 (BLS 2022). In Indiana, job growth is expected to be 15.6 percent between 2020 and 2030, as shown by Projections Central, a data analysis site sponsored by the US Department of Labor. Those with specialized skills in DNA or computer forensics may have some of the best opportunities, for example, as well as those with a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science, according to the BLS.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS May 2022) reported 320 forensic science technicians in the state.
Furthermore, BLS found that the salary figures are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges. As proof of point, the United States employs 17,590 forensic science technicians with an average annual salary (mean annual wage) of $69,260. In Indiana, the average salary in this field is $58,470.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in IN (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed||17,590||310|
|Annual Mean Wage||$69,260||$58,470|
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (June 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, Payscale found these percentiles for the US:
When considering earning potential, the cost of living is a key piece of the puzzle. While the figures for Pennsylvania are somewhat lower than the national salary ranges found by both the BLS (May 2022) and Payscale (2023), this salary point is particularly interesting because Indiana is one of the cheaper states to live in across the country. The Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that IN was the 8th most affordable state, with below-average costs for everything except for Utilities.
The truth is that you can enter the forensic science field in several different ways, but education is nearly always a necessity unless you are pursuing CSI and can learn on the job. This is because science is a significant part of learning and you need to know how to apply scientific rules and understand chemical compositions and properties as well as the tissue and cellular makeup of plants and animals. Listed below are various degrees useful to the forensic science field.
An undergraduate degree in biology or chemistry can take four years to complete, but you can also find an undergraduate degree specifically offered in forensic science. You should gain lab experience and may be able to complete an externship. Of note, Career One Stop reports that 31 percent of forensic science technicians across the U.S. hold a bachelor’s degree.
Since those with a master’s degree may find some of the best job opportunities, according to the BLS, it may be worth it to pursue a graduate-level degree. Some master’s degrees may allow students to pursue special coursework, such as DNA analysis, fire and arson investigation, or stable isotope techniques. A master’s may also be required for some fields, but many programs allow full-time and part-time opportunities, meaning students can retain employment while learning. Master’s degrees can take two years or longer to finish depending on whether the program is full or part-time.
Why complete a doctoral degree? Not only can it give those already in the field opportunities for research, but it is also an option to obtain forensic science education for those who have a master’s degree in another field. Only 4 percent of forensic science technicians have a PhD or professional degree, according to Career One Stop, but it could be helpful for those looking to distinguish themselves and build a reputation through publication in journals like the Journal of Forensic Sciences or Journal of Forensic Identification.
It may be desirable to seek board certification for your skills following graduation and workplace experience, but this option is not available in all forensic science fields, nor does it necessarily require an advanced degree. The American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS) outlines numerous details required for obtaining board certification for various forensic science disciplines. Some of the organizations offering certification, or in other cases membership opportunities, are listed further in this article.
|Featured CSI & Forensic Science Programs|
|Grand Canyon University||MS - Forensic Science||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (BS)||Visit Site|
|Arizona State University||Forensic Science (PSM)||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master of Forensic Science (MFS)||Visit Site|
|Stevenson University Online||Online Master's in Crime Scene Investigation||Visit Site|
|University of West Alabama (Campus)||Chemistry Comprehensive - Forensic Chemistry (BA/BS)||Visit Site|
CSIs need to carry out many different tasks on the job. Not only do they need to be able to identify evidence, but they also need to be able to handle it properly and then store it for future analysis. These are not skills readily available to learn unless you can work with another CSI, which is why an academic program may be necessary. You can pursue CSI through several different paths listed below.
Some CSI programs take a year to complete and lead to a certification, but others that are more extensive in nature can take up to two years, resulting in an associate degree. Students in AA or AAS programs can gain skills in photography, videography, and even fingerprint analysis and learn about reconstructing a scene.
The four-year bachelor’s also can be an entry point into CSI. In this case, programs aim to help students gain many forensic examiner skills, become more engaged in the sciences and have the option to pursue specific electives. For example, courses may include lessons on sketching a scene or even allow for the attending and recording of autopsies.
Many CSI skills are gained on the job, particularly for existing members of law enforcement. By expressing an interest in CSI, law enforcement professionals may be able to work with specialists in the field or receive specific academy or advanced training.
In CSI, certification can again be a valuable way to demonstrate skills. The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers three different related certifications in Crime Scene Investigator, Crime Scene Analyst, and Senior Crime Scene Analyst.
Indianapolis is a city of 907,802 people and Fort Wayne has 266,946 people. Large cities like these can be opportune locations to look for jobs, simply because the need for professionals can be greater and because there is often more crime committed in cities.
The Indianapolis-Marion County Forensic Services Agency may be one of the places to look for employment. This full-service forensic laboratory is accredited by the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) and employs forensic scientists, crime scene specialists, and other forensic support personnel. Other places to look could include:
Potential jobs are also listed on the AAFS job board, through various forensic science organizations, or simply by networking. Many people in forensic science are employed by governmental organizations, reports the BLS, with about 89 percent working for state or local government agencies, such as crime labs, morgues or police departments, or law enforcement agencies.
There are several schools through which you can gain a forensic science education in Indiana. Available from the undergraduate to graduate level, these provide students with different opportunities to be engaged in forensic science in the state and to gain valuable skills to seek employment.
One way to distinguish forensic science programs from one another is by evaluating accreditation statuses. For forensic science programs in particular, the top accrediting organization is the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). In Indiana, two programs have earned FEPAC accreditation, both of which reside at the same school.
Students at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis can pursue a FEPAC-accredited bachelor’s degree (BS) in forensic science or a master’s degree (MS) in forensic science with a thesis or a non-thesis option. These forensic and investigative sciences programs combine the best of chemistry, biology, mathematics, and physics, along with criminal justice and law, enabling students to settle civil disputes and solve crimes. The programs in this school are the only ones in the state accredited by FEPAC.
In the bachelor’s degree, students will be required to choose a concentration in either chemistry or biology. Students in this program can also complete an internship at approved crime laboratories or other organizations supervised by FIS faculty members. The forensic biology concentration comprises 126, while students in the forensic chemistry track complete 123 credits.
The bachelor’s degree program curriculum includes courses such as concepts of forensic science; forensic microscopy; professional issues in forensic science; forensic chemistry; forensic biology; and forensic science and the law.
Both master’s options also allow students to pursue a concentration either in forensic biology or forensic chemistry. The 30-credit master’s degree curriculum includes courses such as current issues in forensic science; advanced forensic microscopy; legal issues in forensic science; forensic science laboratory management; law and forensic science; forensic biology; population genetics; and forensic chemistry.
Prospective forensic science students should note that FEPAC accreditation is not the only indicator of a high-quality program. Indiana hosts several other forensic science programs that provide ample foundational knowledge to start a career in the field, including the following.
Ivy Tech Community College offers an associate degree in criminal justice with a forensics option at 23 of its campus sites, including in Columbus, Lafayette, and Richmond. The program prepares students to assist in criminal investigations, assess crime scenes, identify evidence, and testify in court. The classes may then be used to seek a full bachelor’s degree.
Made up of 60 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice systems; cultural awareness; introduction to criminology; introduction to law enforcement; introduction to courts; introduction to corrections; juvenile justice systems; ethics in criminal justice; and criminal law.
Trine University, in Angola, provides a bachelor’s degree in forensic science that builds knowledge upon both classroom and laboratory training. The major allows for a concentration in either biology or chemistry and includes the opportunity for an internship. Students can also join Trine University Future Forensic Scientists (TUFFS), which is a student organization offering mock trials, outreach activities, and presentations by professionals.
This 120-credit program includes principles of forensic science; forensic chemistry; biochemistry; toxicology; forensic biology; microbiology; genetics; criminalistics and crime scene investigation; forensic comparative science; and expert testimony in forensic science.
Past program graduates have become arson investigators, latent print examiners, drug chemists, and DNA specialists.
Indiana Tech’s College of Arts and Sciences offers a bachelor of science program in forensic science preparing graduates for a range of advanced forensic science and laboratory-based careers. Students in this program will be immersed in CSI and forensic science content areas such as evidentiary DNA analysis, forensic serology, microbial forensics, and forensic entomology. Graduates will receive experience-based, cutting-edge learning, using the latest state-of-the-art equipment and modern forensic testing techniques.
The program’s 130-credit curriculum includes courses such as introduction to forensic science; forensic ID of body fluids; forensic DNA analysis; forensic science research; introduction to the criminal justice systems; substantive criminal law; laws of evidence; crime scene investigation; advanced microbiology; and bioinformatics.
Ball State University offers an associate’s degree in criminal justice and criminology where students will master the ability to apply criminal justice theories to the real world. Graduates will gain the experience of conducting themselves professionally as they interact with educators, community members, peers, and criminal justice professionals.
This 60-credit associate’s degree includes courses such as introduction to the American criminal justice system; introduction to criminology; decision-making and ethics in criminal justice; criminal law; and race, gender, and crime.
Ball State University also has a BA or BS program in criminal justice and criminology providing students with immersive learning opportunities, in-class education, and internships in a professional environment. This 120-credit bachelor’s degree includes coursework in criminal law; decision-making and ethics in criminal justice; research methods in criminal justice; race, gender, and justice; introduction to criminology; and introduction to criminal justice. This bachelor’s degree can also be completed online (profiled in the online section below).
Calumet College of St. Joseph’s baccalaureate degree in forensic science prepares graduates with the forensic and biotechnology skills necessary for work in state, federal, private, or local criminal investigation laboratories, as well as graduate school opportunities.
Building upon a foundation in chemistry and biology, this bachelor’s degree provides additional training in forensic biology, criminal investigation, serology, forensic DNA analysis, and human pathology. Graduates learn about collecting and analyzing biological evidence in both field and lab settings and also learn about handling biological evidence from mock crime scenes and presenting it in court.
Comprising 126 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to forensics; criminal procedure; scientific criminal investigation; criminology; forensic psychology; forensic biology; chemical forensics; forensic molecular biology; and introduction to criminal justice.
Indiana Wesleyan University’s bachelor of science program in criminal justice is a residential program designed to provide positions of leadership and opportunities to those who desire to serve their communities with truth and love. This program serves students interested in court services, law enforcement, military, corrections, the private sector, or intelligence services, as well as those seeking tracks in NGO, law, and other public service and advocacy sectors.
Designed to offer students a Christ-centered approach, this criminal justice major includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice, forensic science, corrections; criminology; crisis intervention; and a practicum in criminal justice.
Graduates can take up roles such as police officers, criminal investigators, corrections officers, intelligence analysts, criminal justice and law enforcement teachers, probation/parole officers, or judicial law clerks.
For potential applicants that are looking for something different from the programs listed above, either programmatically or geographically speaking, there are more options. Online forensic science programs can be an important component in providing other options, a few of which we explore in the next section.
Many of the forensic science programs offered online are based in criminal justice and offer a forensic science concentration, particularly at the undergraduate level. Ultimately, students will find more choices in online education regarding master’s level programs.
Indiana State University has both an online bachelor’s and an online master’s degree in criminology and criminal justice. The BS degree includes courses such as criminology; introduction to corrections; victimology; criminal law and procedure; juvenile delinquency; ethics in criminal justice; and criminal and delinquent behavior dynamics.
The 30-credit master of science program is available to those who intend to take this program as their terminal degree or for those who plan to attend law school. The curriculum of this MS program includes courses such as correctional counseling; criminal justice organization and management; advanced criminal procedure; advanced criminal investigations; and ethics in criminal justice. Indiana State University’s School of Criminology and Security Studies also offers an online 33-credit MA in criminology and criminal justice for students who intend to continue their graduate studies toward a doctorate in criminal justice, criminology, or other related fields.
Notably, Indiana State University also offers an online bachelor of science program in cyber criminology and security studies equipping students with a solid understanding of 21st-century crimes. In addition to core criminology and criminal justice coursework, this program allows students to choose a concentration in either cybercrime or physical security.
All these programs can also be completed in an on-campus format.
In addition to the on-campus bachelor’s degree in criminal justice and criminology, Ball State University also offers an online bachelor of science program in criminal justice and criminology. Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to the American criminal justice system; introduction to criminology; race, gender, and crime; research methods in criminal justice; decision-making and ethics in criminal justice; criminal law; and evaluation research in criminal justice.
Ball State University also offers an online 12-credit graduate criminal justice and criminology certificate. Courses include criminal justice administration; interpersonal relations in criminal justice; philosophical aspects of criminal justice practice; and independent study.
In addition to the on-campus bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, Indiana Wesleyan University also has a fully online BS in criminal justice. This bachelor’s degree prepares students for a range of careers. From law enforcement and corrections to victim’s advocate positions, the program provides students with the tactics, principles, and theories needed for advancing in their desired career paths. Indiana Wesleyan University’s online associate of science degree in criminal justice can act as an ideal entry point for this bachelor’s program.
Courses include Introduction to criminal justice; youth and crime; diversity in criminal justice; criminal law; court procedures; ethics in criminal justice; forensics; research methods and analysis in criminal justice; probation and parole; and victimology.
The AAFS website can be a substantial help in the search for online forensic science programs with its listing of undergraduate, graduate, and certificate programs.
Accreditation through FEPAC is valuable, but cannot always be expected since there are relatively few FEPAC-accredited programs in any given state. But, while not every student has the opportunity to graduate from a FEPAC-accredited forensic science program, accreditation can help obtain a job, and demonstrating a proven rigor of a program. When FEPAC accreditation is not available, students will want to be sure that a school has institutional accreditation instead. In Indiana, regional institutional accreditation is granted by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC). This accreditation shows that the school has been found to provide a high level of education.
Another way to show you gained high-level skills is by seeking board certification. Although this isn’t available in every field of forensic science, it is in some, such as forensic anthropology and crime scene investigation. Program graduates can seek membership in various organizations that provide opportunities for networking, finding jobs, answering questions, and accessing up-to-date research and articles. Some of the organizations offering certification or membership include:
The AAFS can also be a strong resource, and membership gives students and working professionals access to the Journal of Forensic Science, an online job board, conferences, and webcasts. There are also statewide and regional associations, such as the Midwestern Association of Forensic Scientists (MAFS), that can be valuable to its members, including those in Indiana.
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.
Farheen Gani is a freelance writer, marketer, and researcher. She writes about technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).