Many people have heard of forensic scientists, such as Michael Baden and Henry Lee, who have testified in famous cases or provided professional input and insight. While forensic scientists often work for governmental agencies, some may go on to gain such expertise that they work as consultants or even as experts who provide independent counsel and review. The truth is that to enter the forensic science field, education is typically required because students need to become well versed in multiple fields of science, particularly biology and chemistry, as well as criminal justice and the law.
A bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science is one common path followed to enter the field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). While a master’s degree may give students the advanced science skills that they need, there are also a number of bachelor’s degree programs specifically geared toward forensic science. Forensic science training typically prepares students with the knowledge and skills that are needed for working in a crime lab. There, they will need to be able to analyze a variety of evidence, ranging from blood samples to small clothing particles, as well as know how to preserve and protect those samples.
Another path in forensic science is to pursue crime scene investigation (CSI). This option often entails work at and around crime scenes, collecting and delivering evidence, and documenting and recording details found at a scene. A bachelor’s degree is often needed to enter the field, but, more often, people obtain training by gaining experience on the job, particularly if they are already in law enforcement.
Students in Iowa (IA) will find a number of programs, both on-campus and online, that will given them the foundational skills that they need to earn an entry-level position as a forensic science technician and begin down the path of this exciting and in-demand career.
Since education is an important and potentially costly component of starting a forensic science career, it may be worthwhile to consider the potential financial gains of going into this type of program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science can be a high paying field, relative to other occupations. The mean nationwide average for workers in the field, was $61,220, as of May 2017 (BLS). Of note, this is much higher than the $49,630 mean for all occupations combined across the country, suggesting that forensic science technicians can make higher than average incomes.
What’s even more affirming is that forensic science technicians working in Iowa earned mean annual wages of $70,410, according to May 2017 BLS data. In Iowa, the mean average wage for all occupations was $44,730, showing again that forensic science technicians have significant financial opportunities. Job opportunities across the U.S. for forensic science technicians are also good, with demand expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026 and in Iowa specifically by 23 percent (CareerOneStop.org). This is significant job growth, meaning Iowa students may have ample opportunities when they graduate from either undergraduate or graduate programs.
Individuals who want to enter the forensic science field should plan on attending college. Understanding how to work in a lab is essential, as is knowing how to handle fluids and other pieces of evidence to prevent them from becoming contaminated or damaged. One of the most common paths to enter the forensic science field includes the following steps:
A final step in your career path can include seeking board certification. Certification is not available in every niche field, but for those that do offer certification, it can be an important tool for career advancement. An organization that provides more details about specific forensic science disciplines and the education and certification available in each is the American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS), which also does accreditation of forensic science program through its Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) arm.
Properly overseeing a crime scene is of utmost importance when it comes presenting evidence that stands up in a court of law. Securing a crime scene might be one of the most important steps that a crime scene investigator does, followed by collecting physical evidence and ensuring it is properly labeled and stored. Some paths for entering the field of crime scene investigation include:
Upon graduation from an academic program or learning on the job, individuals may want to seek CSI certification through organizations, such as the International Association for Identification (IAI). The IAI offers four specific certifications in CSI as well as others including forensic photography, forensic video, and tenprint fingerprint certification .
Des Moines, Cedar Rapids, and Davenport are some of the largest cities in Iowa, with a combined population of more than 400,000. These cities could be good places to look for jobs simply because there may be more law enforcement and criminal justice agencies there, but there also could be more crime demanding more CSI or forensic science services. The identification department of the City of Des Moines Police Department is open 24 hours a day and provides discovery, documentation, preservation, and analysis services while employing a wide range of people, including several law enforcement officials, a multitude of civilian technicians and a senior clerk, making this department one place to look for a CSI job. Others could include:
Interestingly, each of these is a governmental agency. This is not far off the mark in terms of the kinds of agencies offering employment, as the BLS reports that every nine out of 10 forensic science technicians is employed for a state or local agency. These positions can vary, but include employment in crime labs, morgues, medical examiner’s offices and police departments. The AAFS job board is another place to look for opportunities. Searches can be performed by state and also by title. The Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification may also be a good networking source.
A number of forensic science programs are available in Iowa from the undergraduate to graduate level. The state has more campus-based options compared to some other states, making it a good place to seek on-campus learning. Unfortunately, as of 2018 none of the programs in Iowa have earned FEPAC accreditation. Notably, FEPAC only accredits forensic science programs, and accredits relatively few programs nationally. So there are many other high-quality forensics programs available, and the quality of those programs can be determined in several ways, perhaps most importantly by looking at their institutional accreditation, which is described at bottom.
You might find additional forensic science options by completing a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences, such as biology or chemistry, and then following up with a master’s degree in forensic science. There are also various educational options available online, which can provide you with more choices when it comes to forensic science degrees and programs.
Many of the forensic science programs available online are offered at the graduate level while those at the undergraduate level more often center on criminal justice with a forensic science or CSI focus. Below is a small listing of hybrid or online programming available in the field.
Students can find additional online programs listed by undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs on the AAFS website. Many of these have a criminal justice focus, but can still be relevant to desired learning.
Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited program can prove advantageous when it comes time to seeking a job. However, there is not a wide selection of programs accredited through FEPAC. The mission of FEPAC is “to maintain and enhance the quality of forensic science education through a formal evaluation and accreditation system for college-level academic programs that lead to a baccalaureate or graduate degree.”
As of 2018, there are fewer than 50 undergraduate and graduate FEPAC-accredited programs nationwide, making it difficult to graduate from a program with accreditation in some states. Since there are no FEPAC-accredited programs available in Iowa, students may want to make sure their school is accredited though a regional institutional accrediting agency instead. In Iowa, institutional accreditation is offered by the Higher Learning Commission (HLC), and this regional accreditation is another way of ensuring that the school has been assessed by an outside organization and been found to offer a quality education.
As mentioned earlier, students also might want to seek board certification of their skills. Becoming a member of a organization is another option. Either of these should prove valuable in providing access to meaningful resources, including seminars, annual conferences, continuing education, and networking. Some organizations that could be worthwhile considering include the:
Finally, an organization like the Iowa Division of the International Association for Identification could be helpful as could membership through the AAFS. The AAFS provides access to a variety of sources, including the Journal of Forensic Sciences, meetings and seminars, a website and an annual scientific conference.
|Eastern Iowa Community College District||Davenport||x||15|
|Saint Ambrose University||Davenport||x||11|
|Western Iowa Tech Community College||Sioux City||x||9|
|Upper Iowa University||Fayette||x||4|
|University of Dubuque||Dubuque||x||1|
|Des Moines Area Community College||Ankeny||x||x||1|
|Mount Mercy University||Cedar Rapids||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.