Forensic science technicians often have an interest 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 be one that keeps them on their toes. A forensic science technician’s 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 towards a career in the field, but 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 the exploration of specific branches of forensic science, such as criminalistics or jurisprudence.
Students interested in working at crime scenes and with law enforcement may also want to 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 (BLS 2017). 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 students in Indiana (IN) could be a launching pad for an exciting and fulfilling career.
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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 awarding. Details from the BLS suggest that working as a forensic science technician can be a financially stable career. In fact, May 2017 BLS data shows that forensic science technicians working across the country earned mean annual wages of $61,220. This beat out the mean wages reported for all occupations nationwide: $50,620 (BLS 2017). In Indiana, the BLS shows that forensic science technicians earned mean annual wages of $58,040, as of May 2017, 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 17 percent across the country, potentially leading to 2,600 new positions from 2016 to 2026 (BLS 2017). In Indiana, job growth is expected to be 23 percent, as shown by Career One Stop, a data analysis site sponsored by the US Department of Labor. It is important to note that this explosive growth is the equivalent of 60 total new jobs by 2024, which means this could still be a relatively competitive field in the state. 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 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 the learning and you need to know how to apply scientific rules, understand chemical compositions and properties as well as the tissue and cellular make-up of plants and animals. Listed below are various degrees useful to the forensic science field.
CSIs need to carry out many different tasks on the job. Not only do they need to be able to identify evidence, 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 have the opportunity to work with another CSI, which is why an academic program may be necessary. You can pursue CSI through several different paths, listed below.
In CSI, certification can again be a valuable way to demonstrate skills. The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers four different related certifications, including Crime Scene Reconstructionist and Crime Scene Analyst.
Indianapolis is a city of more than 850,000 people and Fort Wayne has more than 250,000 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 86 percent working for state or local government agencies, such as crime labs, in morgues or for 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 sciene programs in particular, the top accrediting organization is the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). In Indiana, there are two programs that 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 master’s degree (MS) in forensic science with a thesis or a non-thesis option. The bachelor’s degree includes laboratory courses in forensic biology and forensic chemistry, ethics, law and an opportunity to do an internship. Both master’s options give the student the opportunity to pursue a concentration either in forensic biology or forensic chemistry. The programs in this school are the only ones in the state accredited by FEPAC
Prospective forensic science students should note that FEPAC accreditation is not the only indicator of a high-quality program. Indiana hosts a number of other forensic science programs that provide ample foundational knowledge to start a career in the field, including the following.
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. IUltimately, students will find more choices in online education when it comes to master’s level programs.
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 be helpful in obtaining a job, 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) and this accreditation shows that the school as a whole has been found to provide a high level of education.
Another way to show that 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 located in Indiana.
School data provided by IPEDS (2013), and includes all certificates and degrees awarded for the following programs: Arson Investigation, Computer Forensics, Forensic Accounting, Forensic Chemistry, Forensic Psychology, Forensic Science and Technology, and Law Enforcement Investigation