In a scandal that rocked the world of forensics, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts (MA) was partially to blame in 40,000 instances of falsified lab results. The now infamous chemist Annie Dookhan, a former employee of the Hinton Crime Lab who lied about having a master’s in chemistry, was under lax management and cooked up false, lazy analyses for a decade until she was caught. Finally, Dookhan was sentenced to three to five years in jail, and more than 300 people convicted falsely of drug violations were released from prison.
This glaring abuse of forensics in the Bay State demonstrates the importance of ethical conduct and rigorous training in this discipline. Luckily, Dookhan’s duplicity is the exception rather than the rule, and there are ample opportunities for aspiring forensic scientists in MA.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) is one of the premier professional organizations in forensics and uses its platform to detail some of job responsibilities in this field. Forensic scientists have a wealth of important duties such as analyzing various types of evidence (e.g., bodily secretions, fibers, footprints, documents, bones, hair samples, tool marks, ballistics, plastics, soils, arson residues, etc.); documenting findings meticulously; liaising with legal, medical, and scientific professionals; engaging in continuing education (CE) to keep aware of new technological developments; and testifying in court as expert witnesses. Further, there is an abundance of subfields and even specialized certification in areas such as fingerprints, document examination, DNA analyses, death investigations, toxicology, and digital forensics, to name a few.
To join a career in forensics in MA, people typically need at least a bachelor’s degree, and in some of the more niche fields which require more advanced training (e.g., medicolegal death investigations, forensic psychiatry, forensic anthropology), a master’s or doctoral degree may be necessary.
Read on learn more about the bright career outlook for forensics professionals in MA and accredited programs in the field.
One possible career for aspiring forensic professionals in MA is to become a forensic science technician, a high-growth (and relatively high-paying) field. In fact, the Bureau of Labor Statistics projects that job openings for forensic science techs nationwide will swell 17 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average growth anticipated for all occupations during that time period, which is just 7 percent (BLS 2017). And the expected addition 2,600 positions in this field is only part of the good news for residents of Massachusetts.
First, the BLS found that forensic science technicians around the country make an annual average salary of $61,220. This figure dwarfs the average salary of all occupations nationwide, which is $50,620, and the wage prospects are even better in MA (BLS 2017). By illustration, forensic science technicians in MA make an average salary of $75,570, making it the fourth highest paying state in this field. This figure is nearly 19 percent higher than the national average, and this trend extends to the more granular salary data as well. As proof of point, in 2017 the BLS reported the following salary percentiles for forensic science techs nationwide:
As a basis of comparison, Payscale (2018)—a reputed aggregator of self-reported wages—found similar salary percentiles from its 295 reporting forensic scientists nationwide:
In MA, however, these figures increased tremendously. Although there were only 50 forensic science technicians working in the Codfish State as of May 2017, they boast very bright salary prospects in a majority of the percentile ranges (BLS 2017):
Additionally, these salaries varied by region. The BLS includes one municipal region of MA where these forensics professionals are working:
Boston-Cambridge-Nashua, MA-NH (40 people employed): $83,530 annual average salary
While these salary possibilities look promising, the cost of living can also be quite steep. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center found that MA is the fourth most expensive state in which to live, particularly in terms of housing costs.
Notably, crime labs aren’t the only places of employment for forensics specialists in Massachusetts. They can also work in police departments, international organizations, universities, district attorney offices, morgues, hospitals, state agencies, and other types of places. Also, while some forensic scientists in MA work regular business hours, others may be called upon to work weekends, evenings, or holidays depending on the needs of processing evidence efficiently.
In the Old Colony State, one prominent employer of forensics professionals is the MA Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory (MSPCL), which has accreditation from the prestigious ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB). The lab provides “professional forensic services to the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system” and has eight locations throughout the state. To learn more about job openings available through the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory, potential applicants can visit the state’s Commonwealth Employment Opportunities website.
Another possibility for nurses who have completed specialized training in forensics is at the Forensics For Survivors organization, which works with victims of sexual assault. The group answers common questions and concerns which arise from traumatic circumstances. For instance, it states that in MA, survivors of sexual assault can have evidence collected at a hospitals within five days of the attack using a Sexual Assault Evidence Collection Kit (SAECK), more commonly known as a rape kit.
For those interested in forensic psychology, the New England Forensic Associates, a company based in Arlington, hires specialists for services such as counseling, psychosexual evaluations, psychometric lab assessments, risk assessments, and expert testimony for court.
Additionally, traditional job-hunting site Indeed provides a continually updated list of opportunities in forensics at places such as the National Guard, Waters Corporation, Techfusion Corporation, MIT Lincoln Laboratory, Mission First, UMass Memorial Healthcare,Tufts Medical Center, and ADF Solutions, Inc.
Fortunately for aspiring forensics professionals, there is an abundance of forensics programs in MA. Prior to enrollment, students are encouraged to verify the accreditation status of their program. There are two types of accreditation available: programmatic and institutional. For programmatic accreditation, the gold standard across the country is the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), and there is one FEPAC-accredited program in MA. For institutional accreditation, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is the main agency. For more on the process of accreditation, please reference the eponymous section below.
Although the American Academy of Forensic Sciences states that a majority of forensics professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree, there are some forensics associate degrees available in MA. To gain entry to one of these two-year programs, candidates typically need to submit their official high school transcripts with proof of specific coursework (e.g., biology, chemistry); pay an application fee; and for non-native speakers of English, send TOEFL test scores as well.
Bunker Hill Community College (BHCC) offers an associate degree in digital and computer forensics featuring coursework in the principles of internet & information security, introduction to networking, windows operating systems, and criminal law. Since digital and computer forensics is an emergent field with increasing importance in today’s rapidly modernizing global economy, graduates of Bunker Hill have gone on to work in law enforcement, public safety, homeland security, and private industries. Additionally, BHCC offers a 27-credit computer forensics certificate program with classes such as introduction to computer forensics, evidence & court procedures, and information security & assurance.
For Massachusetts bachelor’s degree programs in forensics, admissions committees typically ask for official secondary school transcripts with proof of specific coursework, a personal statement, test scores (SAT or ACT, and TOEFL for non-native English speakers), and an application fee. Some programs also ask for candidate interviews, letters of recommendation, or experience volunteering (or working) in a relevant field.
Another option is at Mount Ida College of Newton, which provides a bachelor of science (BS) in applied forensic science. Aimed to help students develop skills such as critical thinking, writing and research abilities, and laboratory testing faculties, Mount Ida’s program includes rigorous coursework in criminal profiling strategies, genetics, and investigative methods & procedures.
For master’s degree programs in forensics, typical admissions requirements include sending official undergraduate transcripts with a competitive GPA in a relevant major (e.g., forensic science, biochemistry, biology); writing a personal statement; submitting proof of work experience or letters of recommendation; submitting official test scores (GRE or MCAT—depending on specialty—and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); and paying an application fee.
The Boston University School of Medicine (BUMC) offers the only FEPAC-accredited program in the state. This master of science (MS) degree in biomedical forensic science includes classes such as crime scene investigation, molecular biology of forensic DNA analysis, forensic biology, forensic chemistry, criminal law & ethics, and mock court experiences. Notably, 76 percent of 2017 graduates went on to work in a forensics lab or law enforcement, 19 percent were employed in a biomedical facility, and 5 percent went on to pursue more advanced degrees.
Boston University (BU) offers a 42-credit master of arts (MA) in forensic anthropology with classes such as zooarchaeology, advanced osteology, forensic pathology, taphonomy, homicide investigation, and expert witness testimony. BU also has a forensic entomology specialty option with classes including research & directed studies in entomology.
William James College of Newton provides offers a master of arts (MA) in forensic and correctional counseling. This mental health counseling program is uniquely designed for psychological assessments and substance abuse counseling for people in the criminal justice system. With internships a forensic units, correctional facilities, child advocacy organizations, and court clinics, William James prepares its graduates for this important line of work. Classes include theories of counseling & psychotherapy, lifespan development, substance abuse evaluations & treatment, career counseling, eating disorders, and principles of cognitive behavioral therapy.
For more information on forensics degrees and specializations, please visit the forensic programs page.
For aspiring forensics students in MA with familial, work-related, or distance-based restrictions on their time, attending one of the many accredited online forensics programs may be an option. These may be an especially attractive option for working professionals since hands-on training must typically be completed under the guidance of a mentor or in an approved preceptorship. Most of these programs are available only at the graduate level since the critical hands-on lab training that takes place in an undergraduate program is difficult ot replicate in the online learning environment.
That said, one exception is the online bachelor’s program in forensic psychology available at the NEASC-accredited Southern New Hampshire University (SNHU). Boasting efficiency and flexibility, classes are organized into six 8-week terms with specialized instruction in forensic psychology, criminal psychology, counseling process & techniques, sociology of deviant behavior and biopsychology.
The University of Maryland Global Campus (UMGC) provides an online master of science (MS) in digital forensics and cyber investigation. This 36-credit program includes training in cyberspace & cybersecurity, human aspects of cybersecurity, digital forensics investigation, and cyber incident analysis & response. Designed for aspiring computer forensic examiners or specialists, UMGC also offers dual-degree option for those interested in getting their MBA.
National University provides a graduate certificate in forensic crime scene investigation featuring seven courses: forensic pathology I/II, crime scene investigation, advanced criminalistics, law & criminal procedure, fingerprint analysis, and digital evidence.
These programs are only a few of the online forensics programs available. To learn more and to explore additional specializations, please check out the online forensic science degrees page.
For trained forensics workers in Massachusetts, there is a wealth of specialized certifications available. In fact, there are currently 10 specialty certifications which have been recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB). Although prerequisites for each vary, these credentialing agencies typically ask for 3-5 years of experience; completion of a qualifying degree program; letters of recommendation, and passing a specialized exam. In order to maintain active credentials, these forensics specialists must generally complete several hours of continuing education (CE) every 3-5 years.
Here are some of the FSAB-accredited credentialing institutions:
Finally, MA also has a Designated Forensic Professional (DFB) certification which was developed by the state government and the University of Massachusetts Medical School. To qualify, candidates must be a state employee or contractor who performs forensic evaluations; complete a training regimen in under two years; and pass a written examination on the MA mental health statutes.
Students are strongly encouraged to seek out forensics programs that are accredited. This process helps to ensure that a school can properly prepare a student for his or her intended career field. As mentioned in the introduction to the MA forensics programs, there are two types of program accreditation available: programmatic and institutional.
For programmatic accreditation, the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the predominant agency. Although there is currently only one graduate program in MA which is FEPAC-accredited, there are several approved bachelor’s and master’s options in nearby states such as Pennsylvania, New York, and Connecticut. FEPAC’s standards of accreditation include institutional support, faculty effectiveness, admissions processes, availability of student support, record of student complaints, and professional involvement. It is important to note that FEPAC has accredited very few programs overall and a lack of FEPAC accreditation does not mean that a forensic science program is not reputable, merely that other measures, such as institutional accreditation, should be used to evaluate them.
For institutional accreditation, the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC) is one of six regional agencies recognized by the US Department of Education. It evaluates schools as a whole in a three part process involving a self-study, a peer review, and a follow-up. Please visit the NEASC website for a detailed examination of its school-approval criteria.
|Bay Path University||Longmeadow||x||x||48|
|Boston University (BU)||Boston||x||38|
|Salem State University||Salem||x||32|
|American International College||Springfield||x||13|
|Bunker Hill Community College||Boston||x||6|
|Anna Maria College||Paxton||x||5|
|Middlesex Community College||Bedford||x||5|
|Northern Essex Community College||Haverhill||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.