From dental records to the contents of maggots’ bellies and even hair that still remains attached to a victim, numerous clues can give way to bodily identification at a crime scene. These clues are then sent off to a forensic science lab where technicians start the process of close analysis to help provide an idea about what may have happened at a crime or who may have been involved in its commission.
If a forensic science career sounds exciting to you, know that there are many different disciplines that you can become an expert in, including anthropology, entomology and even toxicology. These specific fields do require very high-level degrees, however, and if that is not quite your cup of tea, realize that most forensic science technicians have an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s in forensic science, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
If laboratory work is not quite your idea of fun, you may want to consider a career in crime scene investigation (CSI) instead. Most often, a bachelor’s degree or work as a law enforcement official is needed to obtain these skills, but knowing how to secure a scene and collect and preserve evidence are of utter importance when it comes to solving crimes. There are several different educational options available in Nebraska when it comes to training for a forensic science career.
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The burning question on your mind may be whether forensic science technicians can earn a good income. According to May 2014 data from the BLS, they do. In fact, the BLS indicates that the mean annual wage for forensic science technicians working across the U.S. was $58,610, as of May 2014. Just in case you are not impressed, that’s $10,000 more on average than the mean annual income of $47,230 for all occupations in the country combined. In Nebraska, the mean annual wage for forensic science technicians was $51,870, according to May 2014 BLS data, but keep in mind that Nebraska also has the advantage of having a cost of living lower than the national average.
Nationwide, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by six percent. This growth is somewhat slow, but could still result in 700 new positions opening up from 2012 to 2022, according to the BLS. In Nebraska, job growth is expected to be somewhat similar, at five percent, from 2012 to 2022, shows the website CareerInfoNet.com. This just means that graduates should be prepared to need to hone their competitive edge. Ways to do this include obtaining a master’s degree in forensic science or knowing about digital forensics or having a DNA specialty, according to the BLS.
A master’s degree in forensic science is typically needed to work in the field, although graduates may be able to find entry-level opportunities with just a bachelor’s degree. Because forensic science requires a vast understanding of the sciences, a significant amount of education is necessary to be able to perform such job-related duties. Some of the degrees available in the field include:
There are also certain qualities that are important to entering the forensic science field, as well, according to the AAFS. These include good speaking, note-taking and observation skills as well as the ability to be able to write scientific reports, remain unbiased, be intellectually curious and have personal integrity, reports the AAFS.
CSI is another field of forensic science that can have you out of the lab and actually working at the scene of a crime. Knowing how to collect and preserve evidence is important, but so is the ability to sketch a crime scene, take photos or videos of evidence, and keep fibers and fluids from being contaminated by outside sources. Some of the training in the field is available through a:
Of interest, the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) reports that many CSIs are actually uniformed officers, but that CSIs can also be hired without training through a law enforcement agency. However, it does note there are differences related to economic and arrest powers when it comes to civilians versus trained officers. “Police officers are generally paid at a higher level then the civilian counter parts, they usually have better benefits and have an available career ladder. Civilian CSIs have little career opportunities, less benefits and work in the same dangerous environment as their sworn counterparts,” the ICSIA website reports.
Omaha and Lincoln are the two largest cities in Nebraska, together being home to more than 700,000 people. Either could be a good place to look for a job simply because there may be more governmental, academic or private entities there, but also because more crime could be committed there as well. However, many additional opportunities could be found in the state either through county or other cities that have law enforcement agencies.
The Nebraska State Patrol Crime Lab, in Grand Island could be one entity hiring graduates of forensic science programs. It conducts analysis of evidence in criminal cases for federal, military, state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies within Nebraska. Its services are performed free of charge in areas like drugs, DNA/serology, questioned documents and toxicology. Other agencies having job opportunities could include the:
You may have noticed that many job opportunities are available through governmental agencies. In fact, the BLS reports that nine out of 10 forensic science technicians work for local or state government. Other forensic scientists, however, do go on to work as experts in their own right – just think of Michael Baden or Henry Lee, so working as a consultant or privately could be another option down the road.
Students can find several on-campus forensic science training programs available in Nebraska. These begin to build at the associate degree level and can be pursued all the way up to the graduate degree. Some of these choices include:
Keep in mind that students are not just limited to forensic science programs at the undergraduate degree level in Nebraska. Students may alternatively want to complete a bachelor’s degree in biology or chemistry and learn more about the forensic science field at the graduate level.
Numerous programs in forensic science can also be found online. Online education can eliminate the time spent on commuting to a campus-based program and provide more flexibility to busy working adults. Some of these online options include:
Students can also turn to the AAFS to find a full listing of undergraduate, graduate degrees and certificate programs that are available online. Many of these provide a general education in criminal justice or a tighter focus, such as in cyber security or forensic psychology.
Graduating from a FEPAC-accredited program can be valuable in obtaining a job or looking for advancement. Not all employers may require it, however, simply because this accreditation is rigorous, and relatively rare, so not all schools have it. Another way to prove to a potential employer that you graduated from a quality-level program is to enroll in one that has regional accreditation. In Nebraska, this accreditation is available through the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA), which reports that “[r]ecognition by CHEA affirms that the standards and processes of the accrediting organization are consistent with the academic quality, improvement and accountability expectations that CHEA has established, including the eligibility standard that the majority of institutions or programs each accredits are degree-granting.”
Another way to prove that you have quality-level skills is to seek certification or to join a forensic science organization as a member. Organizations such as the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) offer numerous forensic science certifications, including in forensic art and latent print certification. Membership in an organization can also be valuable in providing networking opportunities, advocacy and even job boards and continuing education. Entities offering certification or membership include the:
Finally, graduates might also look to joining the AAFS, which offers several levels of membership, including potential promotion to Fellow. An application process is required and new members must be voted on for acceptance by the AAFS Board of Directors during its annual meeting.
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