Willow Dawn Becker
Although Vermont (VT) is 75 percent forested and one of the smallest states in the country in terms of both geographic size and population, professionals are still needed to help process crime scene information be that through a career as a forensic science technician or a crime scene investigator.
A forensic science technician typically needs a bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences to make a start in the field, although a master’s degree in forensic science can be advantageous, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017). Forensic science technicians work in crime labs, processing specimens and samples that come to them from crime scenes and may even have a specialty in biology or chemistry or a related area like DNA. Although they do their scientific analysis in the lab, technicians also spend time communicating their findings to others, whether that’s a detective, an attorney or before a court of law.
Crime scene investigators, on the other hand, spend much of their out in the field, processing crime scenes and collecting evidence to be turned over to the forensic science technicians. Although a crime scene investigator’s education may include scientific components, they need to be particularly skilled at identifying and preserving evidence at a crime scene, as well as taking notes and details about the crime scene itself. A bachelor’s degree can be helpful to entering the field, although some people pursue CSI by going through a law enforcement academy.
While a forensic science career could be rewarding in many ways, it is also important to take a look at potential pay. After all, no one wants to work all day and not be able to afford a place to stay or be able to put food on the table. That should not be the case with this career. The BLS reports that the mean annual wages for forensic science technicians working nationwide were $61,220, as of May 2017 data. The mean salary for forensic science technicians is higher than the mean annual wages for all occupations combined in the country, which comes in at $50,620. Wage data for the occupation is not specifically available in Vermont through the BLS.
Nationwide, job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026. While this could lead to 2,600 new jobs becoming available across the country, those who could have the best opportunities include individuals with a specialty in DNA analysis or digital forensics or who have obtained master’s degree, according to the BLS.
Obtaining a college education is essential to pursuing a forensic science technician career because so much knowledge in biology and chemistry is necessary. Beyond that, forensic science technicians need to know how to work in a lab and operate the various pieces of equipment there to be able to analyze evidence and samples. Some of the most common educational steps in forensic science include:
What other assets are important to becoming a forensic science technician? The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) and BLS both have suggestions that include that individuals have:
Because forensic science lays at the nexus of science and the law, attributes like these are important, particularly since findings could result in prosecution and justice being carried out in a court of law. In fact, the AAFS reports that forensic science can be “a rewarding career where the love of science can be applied to the good of society, public health, and public safety.”
A related occupational field in forensic science is that of the crime scene investigator. However, the programs for crime scene investigation (CSI) can vary, with some including science classes but others placing more emphasis on criminal justice coursework, the legal ramifications of evidence and what might be feasible for presentation in a court of law. Some of the ways to enter the CSI field include:
Students also can find CSI education at the graduate level through certificate and master’s degrees, although these rarer than undergraduate options. Typically, graduate programs help students to improve their crime scene skills so that they can do a better job collecting and preserving evidence to the overall benefit of the forensic science field.
The Vermont Forensic Laboratory is operated through the state’s Department of Public Safety (DPS) and could be one place to look for a job in the state. In fact, according to the DPS web page, this is the only crime scene lab in Vermont and it provides services to groups including local and state police agencies as well as state attorney’s investigators, public defenders and game wardens. Other organizations offering job opportunities could include the:
The state of Vermont also maintains a listing of police employment opportunities available in the state, some of which could include careers related to CSI. In addition, the AAFS maintains a job board that can be searched by state as well as by organization and job title. Keep in mind that many forensic science lab technician and CSI jobs are available through state and local law enforcement agencies, but that others could be found in instruction or research at universities, work for private labs, or even employment as a consultant.
There are a few opportunities to pursue forensic science or criminal justice related degrees in Vermont. If students cannot find the specific CSI or forensic science degree they seek, they may be able to find coursework in the field, which can at least have them learning skills they will need to pursue this career. Some of the related opportunities in Vermont are offered through:
Alternatively, students in Vermont may want to build their forensic science knowledge by completing a bachelor’s degree in biology or chemistry. Later on, they can continue their learning with graduate-level education, which also can be found offered online or through hybrid programs. This may be an advantage in many ways, since the BLS reports that some of the best job opportunities in the country could be available to those with a master’s degree in forensic science.
An online education can provide students in Vermont and elsewhere with the opportunity to continue their education in forensic science or even to make a start in a related career through a degree in criminal justice. While criminal justice degrees provide more of an arts than a science education, they also can introduce students to various components of CSI, including crime-scene sketching, photography and fundamentals and theories of law. Some online opportunities in the field are available through:
See also our listing of online programs available at the graduate, undergraduate and certificate levels, broken down by specialization such as computer forensics or forensic psychology.
Students may have an advantage by graduating from a program accredited through the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), the accrediting branch of the AAFS. This might lead to better opportunities in terms of employment or garnering more respect on the job, but, unfortunately, there are no FEPAC-accredited programs available in Vermont. Sometimes this lack is due to the high rigor required to meet accreditation standards, and many schools may simply work to comply with as many FEPAC standards as they can instead of attaining accreditation. Further, it is important to note that FEPAC does not accredit criminal justice or CSI programs.
Beyond the programmatic accreditation offered by FEPAC, institutions of higher learning should have overall regional institutional accreditation. In Vermont, the main accrediting body for colleges and universities is the New England Association of Schools and Colleges (NEASC).
Another way to promote an individual’s knowledge and skills is to seek certification when it is available either through a board or through another certifying agency. Many graduates who have completed a graduate-level education may want to seek board certification while those who have a background in CSI may be competent to seek certification through an organization like the International Association for Identification (IAI) or the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). Certification in areas like forensic photography, forensic crime scene investigation, and crime scene reconstruction can be found. Finally, joining an association for its networking, continuing education and conference opportunities could be valuable in many ways. In fact, there are multiple paths for attaining membership through the AAFS, and, in Vermont, joining the Northeastern Association of Forensic Scientists (NEAFS) could be advantageous.
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.