Willow Dawn Becker
From the Rhode Island State Crime Lab to its custom-built mobile crime lab, there are many opportunities for students to pursue forensic science jobs in the Ocean State. Students who want to pursue a career in forensic science can start by seeking educational opportunities locally or head online to look for programs related to forensic science or crime scene investigation (CSI) so that they can become one of the estimated 17,670 forensic science technicians expected to be employed in the country by 2026, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017).
To be able to work in a crime lab and help analyze crime scene evidence, a bachelor’s degree is typically needed, according to the BLS. In an undergraduate degree program, students gain knowledge in the natural sciences, including biology and chemistry, which can help them to analyze the variety of evidence like bodily fluids, clothing fibers, and DNA, that they might encounter in a crime lab. A master’s degree in forensic science can be a particular advantage to obtaining a job in the forensic science technician field.
Another option for people who are more interested in working in the field (as opposed to in the lab) is to pursue a career as a crime scene investigator. The CSI career may be best pursued through admission to and completion of a law enforcement academy, but some individuals also are able to enter the field as a civilian using CSI education provided through an undergraduate program. According to the BLS, a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences or in forensic science may be helpful to entering this field, but students also may be able to find degrees specifically in crime scene investigation or crime scene technology to help procure a job.
The mean annual wages for forensic science technicians nationwide were $61,220 as of May 2017, according to BLS data. The BLS does not provide wage information for forensic science technicians specifically working in Rhode Island (RI), but there, as elsewhere, job opportunities could be best for those who have a master’s degree in forensic science, have expertise working with DNA or are knowledgeable about digital computer forensics. It also may be valuable to note that the mean annual wages of forensic science technicians nationwide exceeded those for all occupations combined in the U.S. – $50,620, according to May 2017 data.
Nationwide job demand for forensic science technicians is expected to grow 17 percent from 2016 to 2026, according to the BLS, a rate that is nearly twice as fast as that of all professions on average (7 percent). The expected rate of growth for forensic science technicians could result in 2,600 new positions becoming available during that time. Job demand statistics are not specifically available for Rhode Island, but the BLS reports that nationwide job competition should remain strong because of the substantial interest in the forensic science field.
The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is important to obtaining entry-level work as a forensic science technician, but that those with a master’s degree in the field may find the most job advantages. Indeed, with more education, graduates can begin to seek very nuanced fields of forensic science. Below we list the most common degrees pursued by those interested in forensic science.
There are also elements outside of an education that are important to becoming a forensic science technician or forensic scientist. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) reports these as the ability to remain unbiased, having intellectual curiosity and possessing personal integrity. The BLS also indicates good communication skills, the ability to be detail oriented and strong critical-thinking capabilities are important on the job.
Crime scene investigation is also a career that typically needs a bachelor’s degree for entry, reports the BLS. Of course, many people enter the CSI occupation by completing a law enforcement academy, but others are able to obtain employment by completing a degree and seeking employment with a law enforcement agency as a civilian employee. Below are routes for obtaining a CSI education.
The Forensic Enterprises, Inc. website reports that being able to lift and move weight up to 100 pounds is essential on the job. Other physical requirements include being able to kneel, stoop, reach and climb at crime scenes since each will be unique and different. Investigators need to understand a significant amount about photography, such as how lighting, distortion and resolution can affect the ability to sufficiently document crime scenes, which is just one way formal education can be important for this career.
Providence is Rhode Island’s largest city with a population of more than 175,000 people, but Warwick and Cranston are also cities having significant populations each of more than 81,000 people. Larger populations relative to the rest of the state make these cities prime places to look for jobs. Additionally, prospective forensic science technicians can look to specific organizations for jobs, such as the Rhode Island State Crime Laboratory, located in Kingston, R.I. (with a population of just over 6,000). The crime lab provides a range of scientific evidence services related to local, state or federal crimes, including services related to firearms, trace evidence and latent prints. The lab also hosts continuing education classes throughout the year for forensic professionals. Other places to look for jobs in the state include the:
Keep in mind that nine out of 10 forensic science technicians are employed by local or state governments, according to the BLS. Agencies at these levels could provide some of the best job opportunities, although private institutions, either within Rhode Island or in other states could also be sources for job leads.
When it comes to forensic science education in Rhode Island, there are just a few campus-based options. Science classes, in some form or another, will almost always be an important component to a forensic science education, although CSI programs may have fewer scientific courses as part of a degree program than a forensic chemistry program, for instance.
In addition to these options, students also can pursue undergraduate degrees at Rhode Island schools that focus either on biology or chemistry. Having a four-year degree in one of these fields could then enable them to go on and pursue a master’s degree in forensic science available either in another state or through suitable options online.
Online degrees in criminal justice can provide students with options in crime scene investigation or crime scene technology as can online bachelor’s or master’s degrees in forensic science. Below are a variety of options that can be found online and that may provide busy students with flexible options when it comes to their learning and instruction.
View a larger list of schools offering online forensics degree programs.
Programmatic accreditation through the AAFS, founded in 1948, can be important when it comes to seeking a job, but not all forensic science programs across the U.S. have accreditation through its Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission, or FEPAC. As an example, accreditation requires, among many other facets, that 50 percent of full-time forensic science staff have a doctoral degree and that the program has at least one relationship with a forensic science lab. Programs that have not earned FEPAC accreditation can still provide a reputable education. In fact, FEPAC only accredits those programs that focus heavily on sciences, meaning many CSI and criminal justice programs would not even be eligible to apply. Still, students should be sure to investigate a school’s institutional accreditation more thoroughly if it lacks programmatic accreditation.
While none of the schools in Rhode Island have FEPAC accreditation, they may have regional institutional accreditation through the New England Association of Schools and Colleges Commission on Institutions of Higher Education (NEASC-CIHE), which is another way of assuring students of a quality education when it comes to their learning.
Other ways to show proof of your forensic science skills are by seeking certification. Known as board certification at upper-education levels, this could be available through organizations, such as the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA) or the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO). Graduates could also seek certification through the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA), both that offer numerous certifications particularly related to CSI. Students also may 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 these include the:
Additionally, there may be a forensic science club or organization at the school that you attend, a forensic science honors society or even other opportunities to become involved in forensic science in your community, any of which could lead to networking and job leads when it comes time to look for employment.
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.
Willow Dawn Becker
Willow is a blogger, parent, former educator and regular contributor to www.forensicscolleges.com. When she's not writing about forensic science, you'll find her blogging about education online, or enjoying the beauty of Oregon.