What kind of person makes a good forensic science technician? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), it’s someone with an interest in the natural sciences who wants to learn how the natural sciences apply to criminal justice and the law. Successful forensic scientists also are good problem-solvers, able to think under pressure, and have a strong ability to notice the kinds of details that may be important to solving a crime. More than 15,000 individuals were employed as forensic science technicians as of 2017 (BLS), so the demand is significant.
Forensic scientists who are interested in working in a crime lab typically need to complete a four-year bachelor’s degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree, according to the BLS. Another route may be to complete an undergraduate degree in the forensic sciences and then seek entry-level employment. Both paths involve substantial training in biology and chemistry as well as math and other sciences.
Another path to consider is a career as a crime scene investigator. The BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is also needed to enter this field, but sometimes training can occur on the job or people can find entry-level jobs with lesser education, such as an associate degree. Whichever career option seems best, potential students can find forensic science programs available that provide theoretical and hands-on education in Washington, D.C. and around the U.S..
One important aspect to consider before deciding on a career is whether the educational investment it requires is worth the future potential income. Indeed, forensic scientists working across the nation had mean annual wages of $61,220, according to May 2017 BLS data. This is much higher than the $50,620 for all occupations combined across the country, according to the BLS, meaning that forensic science can lead to a financially rewarding career.
As a matter of fact, forensic scientists working in Washington D.C., had the second highest wages among all forensic scientists in the country — $85,470, as of May 2017 BLS data. This is more than $30,000 higher than the average for all occupations in the country. Across the country, jobs for forensic scientists are expected to grow by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026. This job growth is much faster than average and could lead to 2,600 new positions opening up during this time. There is no job growth information available specific to Washington, D.C., but the BLS does report that job opportunities across the country should be best for those who have an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences followed by a master’s degree in forensic science.
A college education is typically necessary to become a forensic science technician, simply because so much learning about the natural sciences, particularly biology and chemistry, is essential. Students also often learn about evidentiary, substantive and procedural law and how to analyze substances, such as blood, drugs, fibers, gunshot residue, and paint. Below are the most common steps to pursue a career in forensic science.
Finally, if board certification is available graduates may wish to pursue it following completion of an academic program. Certification is not offered in all fields of forensic science, but is in some, such as forensic anthropology. The American Academy of Forensic Scientists (AAFS) provides numerous details on its website about how to enter specific forensic science fields and whether board certification is available in each niche area.
From finding evidence at a crime scene to preserving it for analysis in a lab, crime scene investigators need to be able to perform a wide variety of skills on the job. Completing a program in CSI can help provide students with skills to pursue entry-level work and to learn more about working on a crime scene. There are various ways for entering a CSI career, but the BLS reports that a bachelor’s degree is most often needed. Following are a few common options for pursuing a CSI career.
CSI certification may also prove worthwhile to individuals, both when it comes to seeking a job and looking for improved opportunities. The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers four specific certifications in CSI as well as others such as latent print certification and footwear certification.
The nation’s capital is home to nearly 700,000 people, with even more living in the metropolitan area. This kind of population means there can be plenty of opportunities for jobs, as well as plenty of opportunities for crime. In fact, the city is ranked the 41st most dangerous in the country by a website called Neighborhood Scout, which ranked the worst 100 U.S. cities for violent crime.
For recent graduates looking for work in the forensic science field, the Consolidated Forensic Lab could be one place to check out. It opened in 2012, but did face auditing issues because of incompetence by analysts, according to the Washington Post. Of course, this could just mean that they need skilled workers who can perform on the job.
Other places to look for work could include:
The AAFS also provides a job board through which jobs can be sorted by state and by title, and opportunities can also be found through college programs, internships or networking with professionals. Since state and local governmental agencies employ about nine out of 10 forensic science technicians, shows the BLS, these agencies could be a good starting point to begin looking for jobs.
Forensic science training is fairly limited within Washington, D.C. unless students are seeking training at the graduate level. Given that, there are several master’s degree options that can be found within the nation’s capital.
Students can also choose to complete an undergraduate degree in biology or chemistry and then find a program – potentially online – at the master’s degree level in forensic science. In the next section, we take a look at some of the programs offered online, many of which offer increased flexibility and unique scheduling.
Several different forensic science college programs are available online at the undergraduate and graduate level. However, at the lower level, many of these are focused on criminal justice and may offer forensic science as a concentration, while at the upper level they may have more of a strict focus in forensic science.
There are also online programs that are listed on the AAFS website. Although these options are fairly limited, they are broken down by undergraduate, graduate and certificate programs. In fact, many are more focused on criminal justice than strictly forensic science, but they may still be highly relevant to those interested working in corrections, law enforcement, federal agencies and social services.
Graduating from a FEPAC-accredited program can be valuable when it comes time to seeking a job, simply because it shows that graduates have received a high-quality education. FEPAC awarded its first accreditation in 2004 and while the number of schools with accreditation has since grown, the overall count is still quite small. In fact, some programs have lost their accreditation because the standards are difficult to maintain. Why look for FEPAC-accredited programs? “On the surface forensic science programs may appear to be similar, but what FEPAC does is dive deep into those programs, separating out those that definitely will prepare and provide graduates with the theoretical knowledge and hands-on experiences desired by employers from those that may or will not,” says University of New Haven instructor Peter Massey in Forensic Magazine.
Since only about 50 programs in forensic science are accredited at the undergraduate and graduate level combined, making sure a school has regional accreditation may be an important alternative consideration. In Washington, D.C., college programs typically receive regional accreditation through the Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE). Another option may be to seek certification or membership through a specific forensic organization. While certification is not available in every field of forensic science, it is in some including forensic anthropology and crime scene investigation. Membership also often offers opportunities, such as advocacy, continuing education, networking and a job board. Some forensic science organizations that could be of value include the:
Joining the AAFS is another option, as its membership gives students and working professionals access to newsletters, the Journal of Forensic Sciences, its website and a range of resources. The organization, founded in 1948, also provides an annual scientific conference.
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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.