Nevada has many wide open spaces, but also large cities, like Reno and Las Vegas, in which there is crime. Forensic science technicians and crime scene investigators (CSIs) 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 that 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 you choose, be sure to fully understand all the requirements before undertaking education or training.
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An important question to find out about the forensic science occupation is whether careers can be high-paying. For forensic science technicians, they can be. In fact, the BLS reports that the mean annual nationwide wage for forensic science technicians, as of May 2014, was $58,610. This is more than $10,000 higher than the mean annual wages of $47,230 for all occupations nationwide combined. In Nevada, the annual mean wage for forensic science technicians is even higher than the nationwide average. It reaches to $70,300, which can be particularly advantageous in a state with a cost of living that is higher than average. In fact, that pay makes Nevada the fourth highest-paying location in the country, according to the BLS.
Across the country, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by six percent from 2012-2022. While this is slower than average, according to the BLS, it could still result in 700 new positions becoming available during this time. Job growth is Nevada is also expected to be six percent, but 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, reports the BLS.
The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science are typically needed to become a forensic science technician. However, a variety of degrees are available that can be helpful to entering the field, some of which are listed below.
In addition to obtaining an education, there are several qualities that are essential to becoming a forensic science technician in Nevada and elsewhere. According to the AAFS, forensic scientists must be able to remain unbiased, have intellectual curiosity and strong personal integrity. They should be well possessed of speaking, note-taking and observation skills.
Crime scene investigation is another field of forensic science that could be of interest to those wanting to collect and photograph evidence at crimes. CSIs need to know how to stay safe at a crime scene and also how to keep evidence from being contaminated. Some of the ways to enter CSI include working on a:
In fact, 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 ‘civilian’s’ the ICISA reports. In fact, it states that that agencies “that do hire civilian CSIs usually require a college degree and some knowledge of processing crime scenes, but not all agencies have that requirement.”
The largest cities in Nevada are Las Vegas and Reno, both together with a population approaching more than 900,000. Of course, many additional people live in those cities’ suburban outskirts, meaning that there could be many opportunities for crime to be committed as well as many opportunities to find jobs to help solve these crimes. Indeed, Las Vegas made it onto Forbes’ list of the most dangerous cities in the U.S., coming in at spot #9.
The Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department (LVMPD) Crime Lab could be one place to look for employment. It not only provides support to Las Vegas, but other Nevada law enforcement agencies and helps to examine and analyze evidentiary material and provide expert testimony on analyses done. However, there are many other agencies that could have opportunities available in Nevada, including the:
It’s more than likely that you will find a job through a governmental agency. In fact, the BLS shows that nine out of 10 forensic science technicians are employed for state or local government. Given the right time on the job and right experience, and the needed education, others might seek work at a university, in research or even as a private and expert consultant.
Featured Forensic Science Colleges in Nevada
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:
Students may be able to seek entry-level work just by taking related forensic science classes since full degrees are not available in the state. In fact, 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 criminalist career might want to obtain a degree in molecular biology or chemistry, according to the county’s web page.
There are a multitude of criminal justice programs available online, but those 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 through the Internet and others require on-campus learning. Below are three available forensic science programs that use distance-based learning.
More ideas for online education can be found on the AAFS website. Be sure to thoroughly understand the requirements for any online program before enrolling and check to make sure the program or school is accredited before making a start.
Why is graduating from an accredited school important? 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. FEPAC, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, accredits forensic science programs across the nation, but none that are located in Nevada. FEPAC accreditation can be important to obtaining a job, but may not be necessary for seeking employment particularly when there are no FEPAC-accredited institutions nearby. Many schools also have regional accreditation, which is accreditation of 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 a number of 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 analyst and through organizations like the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA).
Membership in an organization also can be beneficial in many ways, including for networking, advocacy and job leads. Any of the organizations listed below may prove advantageous in joining.
Also, 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 career, particularly when it relates to training that may be specific to area law enforcement organizations or agencies.
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