Willow Dawn Becker
It’s not always the big-name detectives and top-notch investigators that solve crimes and put someone behind bars. Those working in a crime lab, known as forensic science technicians, and others who inspect and collect potential evidence from a crime scene, known as crime scene investigators, also are important contributors when it comes to catching criminals.
Forensic scientists typically need a graduate-level education, but forensic science technicians can often find entry-level employment with a bachelor’s degree, reports the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS 2017). While it’s true that they may spend most of their day in the lab, they do need to collaborate with other individuals, discussing their findings and relaying this information back to detectives and others working on a case.
Crime scene investigators, on the other hand, spend much more of their time out of the office and at the location of a crime scene. From knowing what to collect at the scene to how to photograph or even sketch what they see, they form another important cog on the team of crime solvers. A bachelor’s degree is typically needed to enter the field of crime scene investigation (CSI), but many individuals pursue the career by completing a police academy, which may have its own educational prerequisites.
Before considering an education in the field, it’s important to know whether forensic science technicians can support themselves. The BLS suggests that they can. In fact, the mean annual wages for the occupation, as of May 2017, were $61,220, which is higher than them mean annual wages of $50,620 for all occupations combined. Unfortunately, in West Virginia (WV), forensic science technicians did not earn quite as much — $49,670 — as of May 2017 BLS data. Of course, forensic science technicians pursuing an education in the state could always go on to look for employment elsewhere. Further, according to the Missouri Economic Research and Information Council, West Virginia ranks 23rd when it comes to cost of living, making it more affordable than many states in the union.
Job opportunities for forensic science technicians are expected to grow nationwide by 17 percent from 2016 to 2026. This could lead to 2,600 new opportunities becoming available during this time. However, some of the best opportunities could be available to those who have a master’s degree, reports the BLS. So, while this graduate-level degree is not required, it certainly could make graduates more competitive when it comes to seeking a job. Other factors that could give students an edge include knowledge about DNA analysis or digital forensics, according to the BLS.
Not everyone thinks of West Virginia as a mountainous state, but that is exactly how it obtained its name. So what about attending school in a state in which eighty percent of the land is forested and that is marked by the peaks of the Allegheny Mountains? Individuals considering a forensic science career in West Virginia may also want to know how to pursue an education in the field. Below is one of the most common paths to the career.
In addition to an obtaining an education, other components are important to becoming a forensic scientist. Remaining unbiased and having intellectual curiosity are essential as is having personal integrity, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS). Forensic scientists also need to be able to relay information to others, including investigators and those in a court of law, making effective communication important. Of course, being detailed oriented and being a critical thinker also are imperative on the job.
Another related career path to consider is that of the crime scene investigator. The fact is that many procedures need to be carried out accurately and comprehensively at a crime scene, from securing it in the first place, to photographing it, and identifying evidence that needs to be taken to the lab. There are different paths available to help people enter the CSI field, several of which are provided below.
Like forensic scientists and forensic science technicians, those entering CSI need to be superb communicators. With those skills, they can let others around them know what is going on as they work. They also need to transport and provide evidence and samples to those in the lab and might need to be able to lift significant weight at various crimes scenes, suggests Forensic Enterprises, Inc.
Nearly two million people live in West Virginia, providing ample competition for jobs. Actually, as with many other places around the country, the unemployment rate has been dropping since the Great Recession and is at just 5.4 percent in the state, as of March 2018, according to the BLS. Some of the larger cities in West Virginia include Charleston, Huntington and Morgantown, but smaller cities too, like Clarksburg or Fairmont, could provide opportunities for jobs. Graduates of recent forensic science schools in West Virginia could look for employment opportunities with the:
Of course, many people entering forensic science careers are employed by governmental agencies, whether at the state or regional level. In fact, nine out of 10 forensic science technicians find employment there, but others may be employed by federal organizations or even work for a private college or university in teaching or be a self-employed expert or consultant.
West Virginia actually was a part of Virginia until 1861. It became its own state in 1863, but has been providing educational opportunities even before it entered the Union. Those opportunities continue on today, and there are many programs available in the state to help train people to seek forensic science and CSI careers, including:
West Virginia offers a broad variety of options for learning in terms of forensic science education, more than in many other states. However, students may still be interested in alternatives that they can pursue online and through distance learning, for which some opportunities are explored below.
Online courses and degrees can offer students more choices when it comes to pursuing an education, particularly if they have other commitments such as a full-time job or a family to care for. A few online education programs in forensic science are listed below, but of course, there are others that could meet students’ requirements.
Students graduating from a FEPAC-accredited program in West Virginia may have an advantage in the job market just because this accreditation shows that they have obtained an education that meets the high standards of the AAFS in terms of curriculum, qualified instructors and professors, lab partnerships and additional areas. Accreditation is rigorous, however, and some schools may be on their way toward application for accreditation or trying, at a minimum, to meet some of the guidelines. In the case of a program that has not earned FEPAC accreditation, institutional accreditation becomes more important.
Institutional accrediting agencies take into account a school’s facilities, faculty, curricula and students outcomes in determining its accredited status. In West Virginia, the most common regional institutional accreditation comes from the Higher Learning Commission. Students should verify a school’s accreditation status prior to applying to any program.
Students who want to become forensic scientists or crime scene investigators also may want to seek certification through a related organization. For those with upper-level degrees that could include board certification through a group, such as the:
Numerous certifications for forensic scientists, forensic science technicians, police officers and crime scene investigations can be found through the International Association for Identification (IAI) and the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (ICSIA). Finally, for networking and conferences, continuing education and advocacy, professionals may wish to join the AAFS, which offers opportunities for students, trainees, affiliates, members and fellows.
|American Public University System (APUS)
|West Virginia University (WVU)
|Glenville State College
|West Virginia University Institute of Technology
|Blue Ridge Community and Technical College
|Fairmont State University
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.