You might not think that a world-class institute dedicated to forensic science education and research would be located in Oklahoma (OK), but that is exactly the case with the Forensic Science Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma. And while many students choose to enroll there, there are several other universities in Oklahoma with strong forensic science programs of their own. These programs help students develop or build upon an extensive background in the sciences to prepare for a career as a forensic scientist, as a specialist such as a forensic toxicologist, or even as a university professor or researcher.
Forensic science technicians typically complete an undergraduate degree in a natural science and then a master’s degree specifically in forensic science, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Of course, there is more than one educational path to obtaining a job and building a career, but the acquisition of more and more knowledge allows graduates to pursue more nuanced forensic science fields, such as in forensic anthropology or forensic pathology. As it is, a bachelor’s or master’s degree built upon a strong science foundation may enable graduates to pursue employment in a forensic science lab.
Another alternative to consider is crime scene investigation (CSI). Many people pursue this by starting off with a career in law enforcement and then gaining CSI skills and training on the job. However, not all crime scene investigators are law enforcement officials and those that want to be employed as civilians may find it helpful to obtain a bachelor’s degree in crime scene investigation or technology.
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The BLS reports that the mean annual wage for forensic science technicians nationwide was $61,2200, as of May 2017. Although BLS data specific to Oklahoma is not available for 2017, Career One Stop, which sources its data from the US Department of Labor, indicates that the median salary in OK for forensic science technicians is $65,050.
It is also important to note that Oklahoma also has an extremely low cost of living. In fact the Missouri Economic Research and Information Center reports that Oklahoma is ranked third for the lowest cost of living in the country, with only Mississippi and Arkansas being more affordable. Also, it’s important to note that the forensic science technician occupation offers mean annual wages higher than the nationwide average — which were $450,620, as of May 2017 — for all occupations combined.
Job opportunities for forensic science technicians across the country are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026, which is much faster than average job growth for all occupations and could result in some 2,600 positions becoming available. Of course, the BLS reports that those with master’s level education in forensic science may have the best job opportunities as well as those who specialize in areas of DNA analysis or digital computer forensics. In Oklahoma, job demand for forensic science technicians is expected to be even higher at 27 percent (CareerOneStop.org).
There are several different college programs that can start students toward becoming a forensic science technician or a forensic scientist in Oklahoma, but it’s important to remember that the more specialized an interest, the more training may be needed for that specific discipline. The most common pathway to this career is outlined below.
An education is not the only thing needed to become a forensic science technician. There are many personal attributes that also are important to the career, some of which may be developed in college, but others that are often inherent or established over time. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) describes some of these traits as intellectual curiosity, the ability to remain unbiased and a strong sense of personal integrity. Good communication, note-taking and observation skills also are important.
Crime scene investigation is another occupational choice for those interested in forensic science. However, this career requires time spent out at the scene of a crime and consulting with other professionals instead of in a lab analyzing evidence. Below are several options for seeking CSI education.
Crime scene investigators who also are members of a law enforcement agency may have better opportunities in terms of career advancement and even pay. Another advantage to the law enforcement route, according to the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA), is that law enforcement officials have the ability to arrest people for crimes. That said, law enforcement agencies do hire people who have not gone through an academy, but, in this case, a degree may be highly advantageous as the ICSIA notes: “Those few police 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.”
There are a number of places to look for forensic science jobs in Oklahoma, particularly with local and state governmental agencies, which employ nine out of 10 forensic science technicians, according to the BLS. One place, of course, is the Forensic Science Institute at the University of Central Oklahoma. This Institute undertakes training and research as it relates to various aspects of forensic science, ranging from evidence collection to analysis as well as reporting and testimony. Of course, professors and professionals also may be needed to teach at this school. Some other places to look or jobs could include the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation Forensic Science Center or the Tulsa Police Department Forensic Laboratory.
However, more jobs opportunities, including in crime scene investigation, could be available in Oklahoma’s larger cities, such as Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Norman and even Broken Arrow, the latter of which has a population of more than 100,000. (Oklahoma City has a population of more than 600,000). While law enforcement agencies may be some of the best places to look for CSI or crime scene lab jobs, universities, private organizations and even corporations also could be another source for career opportunities depending on the niche skills that graduates already have.
There are several opportunities available to students seeking forensic science training through campus-based programs in Oklahoma. This includes programs at the undergraduate and graduate level, and thesis and non-thesis options for master’s degree programs. Some of the forensic science program options in Oklahoma are directly listed below.
Alternatively, students who want to attend other schools in the state might just choose to work on an undergraduate degree in biology or chemistry and supplement that with criminal justice or forensic science electives as they are available. They can then continue their education at the graduate level at one of the schools above, out of state or even through an online program, which is discussed directly below.
A broad number of criminal justice programs are available online that could include courses in CSI and the related forensic sciences. However, the programs that are available specific to forensic science will be more limited in general, but those that are offered online are likely to be in greater supply at the graduate level. Several online program options are listed below.
Online education is important in providing students with flexible options when it comes to their education, particularly if they have other commitments, such as a full-time job or a family to raise. Check out our list of online forensic science programs to find a more complete list of programs available online at the undergraduate, graduate and certificate level for those who may be interested in a forensic science career.
The AAFS accredits programs through its accrediting arm, the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, or FEPAC. Because the accreditation process through FEPAC is rigorous, there are not many accredited programs in forensic science available across the U.S., making the existence of three FEPAC-accredited programs (at UCO and OSU) quite notable. However, not all forensic science or CSI programs have or need this accreditation to provide a valuable and recognized education. Indeed, FEPAC only accredits those programs that are highly focused on science coursework, making many CSI and criminal justice programs ineligible for accreditation.
For those programs that have not earned FEPAC accreditation, students should be sure to review a school’s institutional accreditation. For instance, in addition to its FEPAC accreditation, Oklahoma State University has earned institutional accreditation from the Higher Learning Commission.
Graduation from a FEPAC-accredited school could be beneficial when it comes to seeking employment, but students could also seek certification in their specific CSI or forensic science discipline to increase job competitiveness. Numerous CSI certifications are available through the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA) while board certification is available in some fields, such as forensic anthropology and forensic pathology. The AAFS provides more details on its website about some of the certifications available based on specific forensic science discipline.
Students may also wish to become a member of a forensic science organization, which could provide opportunities to attend conferences, receive continuing education or network with others. Some of the organizations offering either certification or membership include the:
Organizations available at the state or regional level also could provide recent forensic science graduates in Oklahoma with even more opportunities. These could include the Oklahoma Division of the IAI or the Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists, whose annual conference is being held in Oklahoma City in October 2015.
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