Nevada (NV) has many wide open spaces, but also large cities, like Reno and Las Vegas, in which there are crimes. Forensic science technicians and crime scene investigators are often needed to look into these criminal acts, whether they are violent, involve assault, robbery, or even in some cases, homicide. Just consider the murder of 19-year-old Brianna Dennison in 2007, which went unsolved for 11 months until her convicted killer, James Biela, was later arrested. Evidence around the scene was important in helping to solve her murder and connect her to her killer later on.
Individuals interested in entering the forensic science field need to gain significant knowledge in biology and chemistry, as these are important in analyzing and assessing clues, ranging from DNA at a scene to bits of fabric or fluids left behind. A bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science is common for entering the forensic science field, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), and should enable graduates to pursue employment opportunities within a crime scene lab.
Another option is to pursue an education related to CSI. A bachelor’s degree is most often needed to enter this field, the BLS reports, but not an advanced degree. In addition to basic science skills, students learn about taking pictures of crime scenes, collecting evidence, and preserving clues for analysis in a lab.
The BLS reports that a law enforcement career is another way to enter the CSI field. Whichever path an individual chooses, it is important to fully understand all the requirements before undertaking education or training.
Read below to discover more about becoming a forensic science specialist in Nevada, including occupational demand, featured programs, and accreditation information.
Across the country, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 11 percent from 2021 to 2031, which is much faster than the expected growth for all jobs, standing at just 5 percent. According to the BLS (2022), this level of growth could result in 2,000 new positions becoming available during this time.
The outlook is even brighter for residents of Nevada. Projections Central (2023) found that demand for forensic science technicians in Nevada specifically is expected to grow 22 percent between 2020 and 2030. Despite good growth, jobs can still be competitive, so students can focus their education on completing a master’s degree or gaining expertise in DNA or digital computer forensics to have a competitive edge.
The BLS (2022) found that 89 percent of forensic science technicians work for the state or local government. There is a wealth of other places of employment in forensic science, depending on one’s specialty.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) has distinguished various subfields of forensics, including criminalistics, anthropology, engineering sciences, digital & multimedia sciences, toxicology, general jurisprudence, questioned documents, psychiatry & behavioral science, odontology, and pathology & biology. Therefore, forensic science techs with specialized training or certification may be called upon to work in research institutes, pharmaceutical companies, insurance companies, law offices, accountants’ offices, and other industries.
Finally, the ForensicsColleges blog offers several in-depth career articles for graduates in forensic science in its How to Become series, with step-by-step instructions to becoming a crime scene technician, profiler, forensic accountant, forensic psychologist, detective, and more.
An important question to answer about the forensic science occupation is whether careers can be high-paying. For forensic science technicians, they can be. The BLS reports that the mean annual nationwide wage for forensic science technicians, as of May 2022, was $66,850 (BLS May 2022). This is more than $4,950 higher than the mean annual wages of $61,900 for all nationwide occupations (BLS May 2022). In Nevada, the annual mean wage for forensic science technicians is even higher than the nationwide average at $72,380.
In more detailed terms, here is a breakdown of the salary percentiles among all forensic science technicians in the country compared with those in Nevada (BLS May 2022):
|Number of Forensic Science Technicians Employed
|Annual Mean Wage
The national figures were slightly different according to another source of data, PayScale (July 2023), which relies on self-reported salaries. Among the forensic science techs reporting their annual salaries, PayScale found these percentiles for the US:
It is important to note that while the wages in Nevada are higher than national wages, so too is the cost of living. For illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2023) reported that MD is the 20th most expensive state in the country. A high cost of living means that even higher than average salaries will not go as far as they would in other states, so prospective forensic science technicians should keep that in mind while evaluating the state’s salary data.
The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science is typically needed to become a forensic science technician, but there are other paths available. Following are some of the most common steps followed to enter this burgeoning career:
This degree typically takes four years to complete and, when offered in forensic science, can include chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, biology, and calculus classes. Numerous labs should be part of this degree, and students may even be able to choose a bachelor’s level track, often either in biology or chemistry.
Students with an undergraduate degree in a specific natural science, such as biology or chemistry, may find a master’s level forensic science degree particularly useful. At this level, students may be able to focus on more niche skills, such as DNA analysis, digital forensics, forensic chemistry, or even crime science investigation. A thesis also may be required as part of this advanced degree, but not always. Full-time study often takes two years to complete, but students enrolled part-time or working on a thesis may need to take longer. A graduate-level certificate can be another option available to students not ready to commit to a full master’s degree.
An advanced degree is needed in several fields where in-depth knowledge and study are necessary. This includes disciplines such as forensic anthropology, forensic psychology, and pathology, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). An advanced degree may enable students to teach at the university level or even to take up a head role in a crime lab or law enforcement agency. PhD degrees often take a long time to complete, sometimes years, because of the research and study involved. A dissertation may be needed in many forensic science programs.
In addition to obtaining an education, several qualities are essential to becoming a forensic science technician in Nevada and elsewhere. According to the AAFS, forensic scientists must remain unbiased and have intellectual curiosity and strong personal integrity. They should possess speaking, note-taking, and observation skills.
Crime scene investigation (CSI) is another field of forensic science that could interest those wanting to collect and photograph evidence at crime scenes. Crime scene investigators need to know how to stay safe at a crime scene and keep evidence from contamination. Some of the common options for entering the CSI career include:
A certificate typically takes one year to complete, while an associate degree can take two years. Both options provide many of the essentials to becoming a CSI, such as knowing what evidence to look for and collect at a crime scene, but also are transitional to a bachelor’s degree.
This four-year degree provides students with training about evidence collection and preservation, but also how criminal justice is an important part of the occupation. This four-year degree is typically necessary for becoming a CSI, particularly for students who are not obtaining their knowledge and skills through a law enforcement academy and career.
Many crime scene investigators gain their knowledge on the job as a member of a law enforcement team, but entry into law enforcement usually takes anywhere from four months to a year in an academy. Graduates may then learn skills on the job by working with seasoned professionals or by having advanced opportunities for CSI learning with special courses and training.
The International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) reports that many CSIs are members of law enforcement and the advantage is better pay and the ability to arrest individuals. However, police agencies also do hire civilians.
The largest cities in Nevada are Las Vegas and Henderson, with a population approaching more than 900,000. Of course, many additional people live in those cities’ suburban outskirts, meaning there could be many opportunities for crime to be committed and many opportunities to find jobs to help solve these crimes.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Forensic Laboratory could be one place to look for employment. It supports Las Vegas and other Nevada law enforcement agencies and helps to examine and analyze evidentiary material and provide expert testimony on analyses done. However, many other agencies could have opportunities available in Nevada, including the:
It is more than likely that graduates will find a job through a governmental agency. The BLS shows that the state or local government employs 89 percent of forensic science technicians. Given the right time on the job, experience, and necessary education, others might seek work at a university, in research, or even as a private and expert consultant.
From undergraduate to graduate level training, students will want to seek postsecondary education to work toward a forensic science career. The truth is there is little available in terms of strict forensic science training in the state, so students will need to pursue criminal justice or science-based degrees and supplement with available courses in forensic science. That said, some of the college opportunities available in Nevada include:
University of Nevada Las Vegas has undergraduate degree programs in biochemistry and chemistry, any of which could be foundational for pursuing a forensic science career or a forensic science degree at the master’s level. The school also offers a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice providing students with an in-depth understanding of the causes and nature of delinquency and crime, the meaning and origins of law and social control, the criminal justice system, the processing of cases, and proposals for reducing delinquency and crime.
This 120-credit criminal justice degree has 27 credits in the major, 21 credits in justice electives, and 18 credits in related areas. A 300-level forensic science course is available as part of this degree. The curriculum includes courses such as hate crimes; theories of crime; white collar crime; victims of sex crimes; history of criminal justice; crime prevention; and survey of criminal law.
At the advanced education level, a master’s degree and PhD in criminology or criminal justice are available from UNLV.
The University of Nevada, Reno, in addition to biology, cell and molecular biology, and chemistry degrees, offers a bachelor’s and master’s degree in criminal justice. Preparing students for graduate study, law school, and justice-related careers, the bachelor of arts degree is recommended for those who wish to understand the law, justice, and the criminal justice system.
Focusing on the ethical, legal, theoretical, behavioral, and administrative aspects of the justice system, this bachelor’s degree offers two specialization options: the justice studies specialization and the interdisciplinary law and justice specialization. Made up of 120 credits, the curriculum includes courses such as introduction to the administration of justice; police in America; criminal law and procedure; juvenile justice; sex, crime, and the media; the struggle for justice; and introduction to corrections.
Students can complete the 33-credit master’s degree in criminal justice with a thesis or non-thesis track option. The curriculum includes courses such as crime and criminal justice; planned change in criminal justice; criminal justice policy analysis; and ethics, law, and justice policy.
The College of Southern Nevada, with multiple campuses throughout Southern Nevada, offers an associate degree in criminal justice comprising 22 credits in general education and 38 credits in criminal justice. Addressing the professional and legal aspects of the criminal justice system, this AAS degree program provides students with the abilities, knowledge, and skills needed for entry-level employment within the criminal justice field.
This 60-credit program includes courses such as introduction to ethics in criminal justice; community relations; survey of criminal law; criminal evidence; introduction to criminology; and introduction to the administration of justice.
Great Basin College, based in Elko on the eastern side of the state, is a community college offering an associate of applied science degree in criminal justice where students will learn about the American criminal justice system and gain an understanding of the basics of criminology, juvenile justice, and criminal law.
The program comprises 60 credits and includes courses such as introduction to justice; juvenile justice; introduction to investigations; police in America; criminal law; introduction to evidence; police patrol; probation and parole; criminal procedure; and criminology.
Nevada State College offers a bachelor of arts program in criminal justice, providing students with a strong foundational knowledge of the criminal justice system. The program enables students to become independent thinkers who can apply their skills and knowledge to understand the nature of crime causation and criminal activity reactions. The knowledge and skills acquired in this program will assist graduates in seeking employment in the criminal justice field and also provide a strong foundation of knowledge for those who wish to attend graduate programs.
Consisting of 120 credits, the program includes courses such as introduction to the administration of justice; social justice; criminal law & procedures; criminology; research methods in criminal justice; quantitative applications in criminal justice; and comparative criminal justice systems.
Students may seek entry-level work just by taking related forensic science classes since full degrees are unavailable in the state. The lab director of Washoe County, in northern Nevada, reports that students with an undergraduate degree in criminal justice interested in forensic science should take classes that are geared toward lab experiences. Students interested in CSI might want to pursue courses in drawing and photography, while those interested in a criminalistic career might want to obtain a degree in molecular biology or chemistry, according to the county’s web page.
There is a multitude of criminal justice programs available online, for students who are unable to make an on-campus program work. However, those programs specifically offered in forensic science are a bit more difficult to find. Some degrees may be offered entirely online, but others may use a hybrid format in which some classes are available online and others require on-campus learning. Below are three available forensic science programs that use distance-based learning.
Ashworth College offers an online career diploma that allows students to learn at their own pace and receive academic support online, by e-mail, or by phone. Students in this program will learn about the techniques integral to forensic science’s role in solving crimes, including analyzing DNA, blood patterns, and fingerprints, as well as strategies for investigating crime scenes.
The program’s curriculum includes classes in the foundations of forensic science; microscopy, impressions, and forensic chemistry; and forensic biology, fire investigation, document examination, and the future of forensic science.
Graduates will be able to reconstruct and investigate various types of crime scenes and evaluate and analyze evidence, including documents, fire patterns, and impressions.
Grand Canyon University offers a fully online master of science program in forensic science ideal for professionals looking to advance their forensic science careers and beginners interested in forensic science, law enforcement, crime scene processing, and criminal professions. Applicants to the program must have a bachelor’s degree and a background in forensic science or natural science.
Made up of 36 credits, the program includes courses such as advanced body fluid and DNA analysis; crime scene processing and medicolegal death investigation; applied statistics for forensic science; microscopy and instrumental analysis methods in forensic science; general principles of drug chemistry and forensic toxicology; courtroom presentation of scientific evidence; and advanced topics in forensic science.
Arizona State University offers a hybrid bachelor of science program in forensic science, teaching students about interpreting evidence and solving crimes using the latest technology. Gaining hands-on experience and learning professional techniques, students in this program will take various lab science courses. This bachelor’s degree ends with a two-week, in-person culminating experience that allows students to learn lab skills from experts and participate in simulated crime scenes. During this experience, students will investigate mock crime scenes and analyze DNA evidence.
Comprising 120 credits, the program includes courses such as sacred crimes: religion and violence; fundamentals of forensic analysis; testimony and ethics in the forensic sciences; analytical chemistry for life sciences; principles of forensic science; modern concepts in biochemistry; and fundamentals of genetics.
Other national online schools also provide online forensics and CSI programs that may interest students seeking similar programs in Nevada.
Graduating from an accredited school is important because it shows that the school and/or programs within it have been reviewed by an outside agency and found to meet specific standards in education related to content, instruction, and faculty.
The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) accredits forensic science programs across the nation, and as of 2023, there are no FEPAC-accredited programs in NV. FEPAC accreditation can be important to obtaining a job, but may not be necessary for seeking employment, particularly when no FEPAC-accredited institutions are nearby. Further, FEPAC only accredits those forensic science programs that focus heavily on natural sciences, making criminal justice and CSI programs entirely ineligible for accreditation.
Instead of FEPAC’s programmatic accreditation, prospective students can look for a school’s regional institutional accreditation. Institutional accreditation is based on evaluating the school as an entire institution. In Nevada and several other states, regional accreditation is granted through the Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU).
Students also may be able to seek certification in several specific forensic science disciplines. The AAFS provides more details on the types of forensic science disciplines in which board certification may be available. That said, certification is also offered in various CSI-related fields, such as crime scene investigation and crime scene analysis, and through organizations like the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA).
An organization’s membership can also be beneficial in other ways, including networking, advocacy, and job leads. Any of the organizations listed below may prove advantageous in joining.
Also, students and graduates alike should stay open to joining organizations at the regional or state level. These may provide even more opportunities to new graduates or professionals interested in advancing their careers, particularly when it relates to training specific to area law enforcement organizations or agencies.
|College of Southern Nevada
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.
Farheen Gani writes about forensics schools across the United States, and has covered topics such as forensic chemistry and forensic science and biochemistry since 2018. She writes about healthcare, technology, education, and marketing. Her work has appeared on websites such as Tech in Asia and Foundr, as well as top SaaS blogs such as Zapier and InVision. You can connect with her on LinkedIn and Twitter (@FarheenGani).