In a scandal that rocked the world of forensics, Reuters reported that the state of Massachusetts (MA) was partially to blame for 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 the 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 to learn more about the bright career outlook for forensics professionals in MA and accredited programs in the field.
While there are many paths to becoming a forensic technician or scientist in MA, many pursue a 4-year degree in the natural sciences before joining this profession. Here is one possible route to becoming a forensic technician or scientist:
Only three percent of employed forensic science techs have not completed high school, which means a high school diploma is required for almost every job in a lab (Career One Stop). While in high school, students should focus on excelling in sciences and math courses such as biology and chemistry.
Career One Stop also indicates that over 24 percent of forensic science techs have some college degree, with 14 percent holding an associate’s degree and 31 percent holding a bachelor’s degree. However, this data does not indicate which specific degrees these professionals hold. It is likely that most of these technicians hold forensic science degrees while others hold degrees in related fields like biochemistry.
Forensic science professionals may choose to get licensed or certified for their skills. While this may not be a requirement for employment, it does lead to increased job responsibilities, a more competitive resume, and even higher pay. The Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB) has ten professional certification organizations in various specialties, including forensic engineering, criminalistics, handwriting analysis, and more. Each of these agencies has its own educational and experiential criteria for membership and may also require an exam.
Earning a graduate degree in forensic science is another way of differentiating oneself in a competitive job market. Career One Stop indicates that around 15 percent of forensic science technicians have either a master’s or doctoral degree.
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 11 percent between 2021 and 2031, much faster than the average growth anticipated for all occupations during that time period, which is just 5 percent (BLS 2022). And the expected addition of 2,000 positions in this field is only part of the good news for residents of Massachusetts.
The outlook is even brighter for residents of Massachusetts. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Massachusetts specifically is expected to grow 18.2 percent between 2020 and 2030.
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 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 need to process evidence efficiently.
In the Old Colony State, one prominent employer of forensics professionals is the Massachusetts State Police Crime Laboratory(MSPCL), accredited by 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 hospital 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, the traditional job-hunting site Indeed provides a continually updated list of opportunities in forensics at places such as the Department of State Police, Raytheon Technologies Corporate Headquarters, Cannabis Control Commission, Charles River Associates, FM Global, and UMass Memorial Medical Center.
In addition to a strong occupational outlook, Massachusetts boasts salaries that are higher than the national average.
The Bureau for Labor Statistics (May 2022) found that forensic science technicians around the country make an annual average salary of $69,260. This figure dwarfs the average salary of all occupations nationwide—$61,900 (BLS May 2022)—and the wage prospects are even better in MA. For illustration, forensic science technicians make an average salary of $87,500.
As proof of point, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in MA (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed
|Annual Mean Wage
As a basis of comparison, PayScale (June 2023)—a reputed aggregator of self-reported wages—found the following salary percentiles from its 258 reporting forensic scientists nationwide:
While these salary possibilities look promising—as most MA residents know—the cost of living can also be quite steep. In fact, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) found that MA is the third most expensive state in which to live, particularly in terms of housing costs.
Fortunately for aspiring forensics professionals, forensics programs are abundant in MA. Before 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 are two FEPAC-accredited programs in MA. For institutional accreditation, the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) 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 most forensics professionals have at least a bachelor’s degree, some associate degrees in forensic science or related fields are 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 criminal justice, preparing graduates for employment in several criminal justice-related areas. Students in this program can also choose to complete concentrations in either law enforcement or corrections and qualify for entry-level positions in corrections, security, or law enforcement at the state, local, federal, and regional agencies.
The curriculum includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; criminal law; introduction to corrections; criminology; criminal procedure; criminal investigation; juvenile justice; and rehabilitation of the offender.
Notably, Bunker Hill Community College also offers an associate degree in criminal justice with a transfer option which specifically allows students to transfer to four-year universities and colleges to seek a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice or a related field.
MassBay Community College’s associate of science degree in criminal justice is approved as a Police Career Incentive Program by the Massachusetts Board of Higher Education. Combining professional courses with a broad background in liberal arts, this associate degree prepares students for careers in several areas of the criminal justice system, such as law enforcement, private security, and corrections. The program’s liberal arts background is well-suited to help graduates succeed at the baccalaureate level.
Made up of 61 to 62 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; criminal law and procedures; introduction to criminology; juvenile offenders; criminal investigation; criminal evidence; victimology; drugs & society; and psychology of criminal behavior.
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.
Lasell University’s School Of Health Sciences offers a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science program in forensic science, preparing graduates for careers in crime laboratories, crime scene investigations, commercial laboratories, and trace evidence examination. Students in this program take a variety of courses in both criminal justice and the traditional sciences. Applied courses are focused on quality assurance, conducting criminal investigations, analysis of evidence, and collection and preservation of evidence.
This 121-credit program includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; forensic science; criminology; criminal investigations; criminal procedure; genetics; biochemistry; forensic DNA analysis; and trace evidence & microscopy. Coursework involves case studies, mock crime scene scenarios, and field experiences. The program also offers unique internship experiences at several sites and features a research-based Capstone course.
Bay Path University’s bachelor of science program in forensic science is built on a solid foundation of mathematics and science courses helping students develop a thorough understanding of chemistry and biology and preparing them for work in a variety of forensic science and related fields. Graduates gain discipline-specific experience and knowledge in forensic biology, criminalistics, forensic anthropology, crime scene investigation, and forensic chemistry.
During the program, students will be identifying, collecting, and documenting evidence at mock crime scenes. They will also be presenting their findings to a group of criminal justice and forensic professionals. Classroom lectures and laboratory courses will be held in small classroom settings that are fully equipped with the latest instruments and technology and students will receive the personal attention and hands-on experience with state-of-the-art equipment, analysis, and data acquisition.
Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to the American legal system; criminalistics; forensic chemistry; crime scene investigation; forensic biology; cell and molecular biology; microbiology; genetics; and career and personal growth strategies.
Western New England University offers baccalaureate degrees in criminal justice; forensic chemistry; and forensic biology.
In the criminal justice major, students will have three optional concentration options in homeland security and terrorism; criminal investigation; or victim studies. The curriculum for this major includes courses such as introduction to criminal justice; criminology; corrections; police and society; the judicial process; research methods in criminal justice; criminal procedure; human trafficking; and victimology.
In the forensic biology major, students will learn about fingerprints, the fundamentals of DNA, and other biological evidence. Graduates will be provided with the practical skills, theoretical background, and scientific techniques utilized in modern crime laboratories. Coursework includes microbiology, general biology, genetics, cell biology, general chemistry, recombinant DNA/fingerprinting, biochemistry, physics, and organic chemistry. In addition, students will also complete coursework in the areas of criminal investigation and ethics.
The major in forensic chemistry provides students with a strong background in chemistry and biology as they learn about instrumentation analysis and analytical methods. Graduates will study fascinating topics such as scientific evidence, crime scene processing, and toxicology.
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 master’s program in the state. This master of science (MS) degree in biomedical forensic science trains aspiring forensic scientists in several disciplines applicable to both evidence analysis and crime scene investigation.
This 38-credit program includes classes such as crime scene investigation; molecular biology of forensic DNA analysis; forensic biology; forensic chemistry; criminal law & ethics; trace evidence analysis; and mock court experiences.
Graduates of this program are prepared for careers in medical examiner offices, crime laboratories, scientific instrument companies, hospital or biotechnology laboratories, and law enforcement agencies. They will be ready to take up roles such as DNA analysts, forensic scientists and toxicologists, death investigators, drug chemists, serologists, trace evidence examiners, fingerprint examiners, firearms examiners, crime scene responders, and death investigators.
Boston University (BU) offers a master of science (MS) program in forensic anthropology with classes such as zooarchaeology; advanced osteology; forensic pathology; taphonomy; crime scene investigation; and expert witness testimony.
William James College of Newton offers a master of arts (MA) in clinical mental health counseling with an area of emphasis 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 at forensic units, correctional facilities, child advocacy organizations, and court clinics, William James prepares its graduates for this important line of work.
Made up of 60 credits, the program’s curriculum includes classes in the theories of counseling & psychotherapy; lifespan development; substance abuse evaluations & treatment; career counseling; trauma, theory, and treatment, and criminal behavior.
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 to replicate in the online learning environment.
University of Massachusetts Lowell offers an online master of arts program in criminal justice that helps students develop the required knowledge needed for evaluating policies and modeling best practices, along with emergency and crisis management administrative skills.
This top-ranked program comprises 33 credits and includes courses such as administration of justice; criminological theory; law and public policy; descriptive & inferential statistics; crisis and emergency management; overview of homeland security; crime analysis and mapping; issues in policing; victimology; mental health & criminal justice; sex crimes and offenders; and criminal mind and behavior.
Graduates will be ready for positions such as corrections officers, criminologists, forensic scientists, probation officers, private investigators, and parole officer supervisors.
University of Massachusetts Lowell also offers an online graduate certificate program in forensic criminology that can be applied toward UMass Lowell’s online master’s degree in criminal justice.
Boston University offers an online master of science program in criminal justice (MSCJ) ideal for those who wish to advance or enter the criminal justice field, or simply gain an in-depth understanding of this fascinating discipline. The program offers concentration options in cybercrime investigation & cybersecurity, strategic management, and crime analysis.
This 32-credit program includes courses such as criminology and crime policy; criminal justice administration and ethics; research and evaluation methods; applied analytical methods; sexual violence; cybercrime; violence and trauma; cyberterrorism and cyber defense; and applied digital forensic investigation.
Northeastern University’s online graduate certificate in forensic accounting helps students in mastering a range of techniques that are needed to identify, collect, and examine evidence of accounting fraud and abuse.
Consisting of 16 credits, the program includes courses such as forensic accounting principles; dissecting financial statements; investigative accounting and fraud examination; and litigation support.
These programs are only a few of the online forensics programs available. To learn more and 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 that 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 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 state employees or contractors who perform 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 are currently only two programs in MA that are 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, a 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 Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) is one of seven 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 NECHE website for a detailed examination of its school-approval criteria.
|Bay Path University
|Boston University (BU)
|Salem State University
|American International College
|Bunker Hill Community College
|Anna Maria College
|Middlesex Community College
|Northern Essex Community College
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.
Jocelyn Blore is the chief content officer of Sechel Ventures and the co-author of the Women Breaking Barriers series. She graduated summa cum laude from UC Berkeley and traveled the world for five years. She also worked as an addiction specialist for two years in San Francisco. She’s interested in how culture shapes individuals and systems within societies—one of the many themes she writes about in her blog, Blore’s Razor (Instagram: @bloresrazor). She has served as managing editor for several healthcare websites since 2015.