For aspiring forensic scientists in the Garden State, there is a startling array of crimes to solve. By illustration, Business Insider found that Newark is the most dangerous city in New Jersey (NJ) as of 2016, according to FBI data. Newark witnessed 39 murders in 2017 as well as 1,205 instances of violent crime and 3,020 instances of property crime (FBI.gov 2017). As a result, there are ample opportunities for forensics professionals.
And in NJ, homicide and violent crimes occupy only one realm in the field of forensics. In fact, the New Jersey Association of Forensic Scientists (NJAFS) defines forensic science more broadly as the examination, analysis, and identification of evidence connected to criminal activity. They liaise with police officers, lawyers, and various specialty scientists in their efforts to reconstruct plausible explanations for physical, chemical, and biological traces of activity of interest. The NJAFS adds that in New Jersey, forensic scientists typically have a master’s degree in a relevant scientific field (e.g., biology, biochemistry, chemistry, forensic science, etc.) and one year of laboratory experience. Alternatively, they may be able to substitute a bachelor’s degree if they have at least two years of experience. Notably, the NJAFS points out that scientifically oriented programs are preferred to criminal justice degrees.
So what can a forensic scientist (or technician) in New Jersey expect to do? The prestigious American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) reports that responsibilities for forensic scientists include inspecting a variety of evidence types (e.g., bodily fluids, documents, fibers, soils, ballistics, fingerprints, plastics, etc.); performing various advanced scientific tests on evidence (e.g., mass spectrometry, DNA analysis, etc.); maintaining detailed case notes on findings; reviewing technical reports; conferring with various specialists to identify evidence; collaborating on various research endeavors; and testifying as expert witnesses in court. Since there is a wealth of subfields within forensic science, the AAFS offers a free, detailed career brochure entitled So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist with details on specialties such as anthropology, psychiatry & behavioral science, and toxicology.
Dr. PCH Brouardel—a 19th century French medicolegal expert—put the crux of forensic science poignantly: “If the law has made you a witness, remain a [wo]man of science. You have no victim to avenge, no guilty or innocent person to convict or save — you must bear testimony within the limits of science.
To learn more about the career outlook for forensic science and accredited forensic science schools in NJ, read on.
There is excellent news for aspiring forensic scientists and technicians in NJ. As proof of point, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017) projects that openings for forensic science technicians nationwide—only one career possibility for people trained in this field—will swell 17 percent between 2016 and 2026, much faster than the average growth expected of all occupations during that time frame (7 percent). The anticipated addition of 2,600 forensic science technicians across the US will continue to shape job prospects in this field in years to come.
Interestingly, forensic science technicians in New Jersey make slightly less than average salary figures for this field nationwide. To illustrate, the BLS (2017) found that the 15,400 forensic science technicians across the country had an annual average salary of $61,220. Among the 70 forensic science technicians working in NJ, this figure dropped to $54,860. In more detailed terms, the BLS (2017) found the following salary percentiles in this career area nationwide:
These figures varied slightly according to a different source of data. Payscale (2018) —a respected aggregator of self-reported salary figures—found different figures among its 295 responding forensic scientists across the US:
In NJ, these salary percentiles were more or less aligned with national averages, although the top percentiles are quite a bit lower (BLS 2017):
Not surprisingly, salaries also tended to vary by region within NJ as well. In particular, forensic science technicians who work in the New York City metropolitan area can expect higher salaries than those in other parts of the state with technicians in the New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division earning an average of $68,660 per year (BLS 2017).
It’s possible that the forensic science wages appeared to be statistically less than national averages due to the fact that the high-paying regions on the border with New York tended to fall under the Big Apple’s BLS profiles. That said, here are the salary percentiles and numbers of forensic science technicians employed among three metropolitan areas with territory in NJ (BLS 2017):
Philadelphia-Camden-Wilmington, PA-NJ-DE-MD (250 forensic science technicians employed): $50,790 annual average salary
New York-Jersey City-White Plains, NY-NJ Metropolitan Division (470 employed): $68,660 avg.
New York-Newark-Jersey City, NY-NJ-PA (510 employed): $68,110 annual average salary
These salaries also tended to vary by industry of employment. Notably, three of the top five highest paying industries and two of the top employers were were related to government. Here are the top-paying industries for forensic science technicians nationwide (BLS 2017):
Interestingly, local and state governments were the top employers in this field. Echoing this finding, O*NET (2016)—an affiliate of the US Department of Labor—reports that 88 percent of people in this field were employed by the government in 2016. Here are the sectors with the highest number of forensic science technicians employed nationwide (BLS 2017):
It’s important to note that while some forensic science positions in NJ may boast strong wages, the cost of living is also higher than the average across the country. By illustration, the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center (MERIC 2017) found that the Garden State is the tenth most expensive state in which to live and has particularly steep housing costs.
So where can forensic science professionals in NJ seek work? The New Jersey State Police (NJSP) has a state-of-the-art Office of Forensic Sciences, which comprises four regional crime labs and a DNA processing facility. These have been accredited by the ANSI-ASQ National Accreditation Board (ANAB) and offer services such as drug testing, toxicology, trace evidence analysis, forensic serology, and three DNA testing units: nuclear DNA, mitochondrial DNA, and Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). Additionally, the New Jersey Regional Computer Forensics Laboratory (NJRCFL) employs forensics professionals and provides digital forensic services to law enforcement upon request.
The NJRCFL also boasts a wealth of training courses in subjects such as the seizing and handling of digital evidence; the forensic tool kit for investigators; image scan training; cell phone KIOSK (CPIK) training; and DVR best practices. More opportunities in forensic science may be found at traditional job posting sites such as Monster, SimplyHired, LinkedIn, and CareerBuilder, as well as facilities such as Burlington County Forensics Lab or employers listed through the New Jersey Civil Service Commission.
Since working in forensic science can often be stressful, it may be advisable to seek out professional networking. One standout organization is the New Jersey Association of Forensic Scientists (NJAFS), which offers seminars in topics such as Terrorism & Weapons of Mass Destruction. Additional societies and associations of interest for NJ forensic scientists include:
Finally, there is an abundance of specializations within the realm of forensic science. In fact, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences designates several specialties within forensic science, including anthropology, criminalistics, digital & multimedia sciences, engineering sciences, jurisprudence, odontology, pathology & biology, psychiatry & behavioral science, questioned documents and toxicology.
In the toxicology specialty, as an example, forensic scientists are uniquely trained in identifying controlled substances using scientific processes such as chromatography, spectrophotometry, infrared (FTIR), mass spectrometry, nuclear magnetic resonance imaging (NMR), and x-ray spectroscopy. Another specialty to consider is wildlife forensic science, ideal for environmentalists or animal welfare advocates seeking to protect vulnerable species in diminishing natural areas. Perhaps one of the fastest growing specialties is digital & multimedia sciences, boasting growth in part given the recent explosion of cybercrime, digital fraud, and other sensitive data leaks.
The AAFS also lists some common places of employment for forensic science professionals such as laboratories, police departments, crime labs, medicolegal death examiner offices, universities, hospitals, district attorney offices, regional or state agencies, and federal agencies (e.g., Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), FBI, etc.).
For more information about various subfields of forensics, please visit the main forensic scientist career page.
In New Jersey, there is a wealth of forensic science programs to train these aspiring crime-solvers. Prospective forensic science students in NJ are encouraged to seek out programs which are accredited. Various accrediting agencies exist, but the gold standard in forensics program accreditation is the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). As of April 2018, there were no FEPAC-accredited programs in NJ, but there are some in nearby states which are discussed below. Even though NJ does not have FEPAC-approved program, students are urged to seek out programs with institutional accreditation from the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), the predominant accrediting agency in this region recognized by the US Department of Education. For more information about programmatic and institutional accreditation, please visit the relevant section below.
For bachelor’s programs in forensics in NJ, typical admissions committees generally ask for the following: an official high school transcript with a competitive GPA, proof of having completed specific coursework (e.g., biology, chemistry, algebra), a personal statement, test scores (SAT or ACT tests, and TOEFL for non-native English speakers), and an application fee. Some programs may also request candidate interviews or letters of recommendation.
The College of New Jersey (TCNJ) provides a bachelor of science (BS) in chemistry with a forensic chemistry specialization. This program includes coursework in criminology, justice, forensic applications of mass spectrometry, and forensic methods & applications for biomolecule analysis. Students are also required to complete an internship and research in an area relevant to forensics.
For those interested more in criminal justice rather than the hard sciences, Stockton University of Galloway offers several criminal justice concentrations in its bachelor’s degree program such as forensic psychology, forensic investigation, and homeland security. Courses in the forensic investigation concentration include functional human anatomy; the criminal brain; abnormal psychology; and forensic anthropology. Please note that Stockton also provides a certificate program in forensic science.
As stated above, although there are no FEPAC-accredited programs in NJ, there are some nearby. Alfred State of New York offers a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) degree in forensic science technology. With classes such as topics in forensic science, microscopy & criminalistics, and forensic chemistry, students are engaged with local research mentors and must complete an internship at a preceptor site as well.
Buffalo State University provides a FEPAC-accredited bachelor of science (BS) in forensic chemistry with classes such as organic chemistry, instrumental analysis, biochemical techniques, chemistry & criminalistics, recombinant DNA technology, optical microscopy, and genetics. Buffalo State also has a master of science (MS) program in forensic chemistry.
As mentioned in the introduction, depending on one’s years of laboratory experience, aspiring forensic scientists may be wise to pursue a master’s degree (New Jersey Association of Forensic Scientists 2016). For NJ master’s programs in forensic science, typical admissions requirements include sending official undergraduate transcripts from a relevant major (e.g., biology, chemistry, forensic science); writing a personal statement, submitting official test scores (e.g., GRE or MCAT, and TOEFL for non-native English speakers); and paying an application fee. Some programs ask for specific work experience, letters of recommendation, and candidate interviews as well.
Fairleigh Dickinson University of Teaneck offers an 18-month master of arts (MA) in forensic psychology with classes such as psychopathology, forensic interviewing techniques, and clinical practice in forensic contexts. As part of the program, students complete a 300 hour externship at facilities such as Ancora Psychiatric Hospital; Bergen Regional Medical Center; Center for Emotional Health (CEH); Green Haven Correctional Facility; New Jersey State Police; and Rockland Psychiatric Center, to name a few. Additionally, this school has an accelerated bachelor’s and master’s of arts (BA/MA) combined program for those with a different academic point of entry.
The prestigious John Jay College of Criminal Justice in nearby New York provides a FEPAC-accredited master of science (MS) degree in forensic science featuring rigorous courses such as advanced criminalistics, principles of forensic toxicology, and forensic DNA technology. John Jay boasts three distinct tracks for this degree: criminalistics, molecular biology, and forensic toxicology.
Finally, there are also forensic science certificate programs available in NJ whose admissions requirements typically include completion of an undergraduate program; showing proof of licensure or certification; sending a current CV; submitting letters of recommendation; and paying an application fee.
For example, Montclair State University provides a graduate certificate in forensic psychology with classes such as expert testimony, principles of mediation, and forensic psychology in criminal proceedings.
For more information on forensics degrees and specializations, please visit the forensic programs page.
For some students in NJ, it may be difficult to attend a traditional campus-based program in forensic science. Luckily, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences has identified various online programs in this field as well. Please note that due to the nature of distance-based education, many of the prestigious options available to NJ students are at the graduate level and targeted at those who have secured a local professional opportunity, mentor, or preceptorship.
The University of Massachusetts offers an online graduate certificate in forensic criminology which may be ideal for professionals working in nursing, public health, psychology, paralegal studies, criminal justice, or social work. The program gives students advanced training in populations served by the state and federal court systems, mental health facilities, juvenile detention centers, and other correctional institutions.
The University of Florida (UF) provides an online master’s degree in forensic science in four distinct tracks: forensic science, forensic DNA & serology, forensic toxicology, and forensic drug chemistry. UF gives fall, spring, and summer admission to students in each of the specializations.
To learn more about the distance-based programs in forensic science, please check out the main online forensic science degrees page.
For prospective forensic science professionals in New Jersey, there are 10 specialty certifications recognized by the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board (FSAB). In order to qualify, candidates typically need to have at least a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, at least 3-5 years of experience, letter(s) of recommendation, and a passing test score on a specialty exam. These FSAB-recognized certifications are generally valid for 3-5 years and can be renewed following the completion of continuing education (CE) credits and a renewal application.
These 10 FSAB-approved certification agencies include:
Finally, for aspiring forensic science students in NJ, there are two main types of accreditation to seek: programmatic or institutional. For programmatic accreditation, the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) is the main agency which recognizes programs in this field. It weighs factors such as student support services, admissions processes, mission statements, records of student complaints, method of educational delivery, and professional involvement of the staff. For more information on the specific criteria, please visit FEPAC’s Standards of Accreditation page.
For institutional accreditation in NJ, the main agency is the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE), one of six regional organizations recognized by the US Department of Education. It evaluates similar factors such as school mission & goals, design & delivery of the learning experience, availability of student support, educational effectiveness, avenues of institutional improvement, and administrative procedures. For more information on the MSCHE evaluation process, please visit the MSCHE Standards of Accreditation page.
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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.