How to Become a Forensic Scientist
The field of forensic science has now become a key part of the justice system, with forensic lab scientists working to unveil details of matters associated with regulatory, criminal, and civil matters. Their work is solely based upon scientific investigation, therefore helping law enforcement agencies and facilitating judicial matters that involve investigating crimes and resolution of legal problems.
Forensic scientists operate as a portion of an evidence team and oftentimes confer with crime scene investigators and members of law enforcement. Engaged mostly in forensic lab work, forensic scientists utilize their knowledge of analytical methods and scientific principles when they examine physical evidence collected at the crime scene. The scope of their duties also includes creating in-depth reports based on their findings, and they might be called to testify in court as expert witnesses.
Forensic scientists have to have a strong foundation within the natural sciences (physics, chemistry, and biology), and they also must understand the workings of the law and criminal justice system. To get ready to become a forensic scientist, someone should expect to complete numerous measures:
Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist
Step One: Complete at least a Bachelor’s degree
People studying to become a forensic scientist first must pursue a degree program, preferably in a natural science or forensic science. Even though requirements for trainee or entry-level work within one of the forensic science disciplines oftentimes differ according to the law enforcement agency, most employers require at least a bachelor’s degree from an accredited university or college.
Even though the road to a degree within this industry is pretty straightforward, the course of study might differ based upon the institution’s offerings or area of study that is being pursued.
People wanting to learn how they can become a forensic scientist might pursue:
- Certificate (undergraduate or graduate)
- Master’s degree
- Bachelor’s degree
- Certificate (Undergraduate or Graduate)
- Doctorate degree
An undergraduate or graduate certificate is the perfect addition to a chemistry, biology, or forensic science degree.
Forensic science undergraduate certificates often are pursued by people wanting to supplement their primary degree program, whereas forensic science graduate certificates are perfect for the ones already possessing a bachelor’s degree within a natural science or for those already employed within the forensic science industry and have an interest in concentrating their career on a certain forensic science area.
Forensic science bachelor’s degrees might include a Bachelor of Science in chemistry or biology, or they might be forensic science degrees that have concentrations in chemistry or biology. Furthermore, some forensics science bachelor’s degrees permit students to concentrate their degree on a certain forensic science area, like ballistics, trace evidence, or DNA, for instance.
Just some of the available programs in forensic science are:
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Biology
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Chemistry
- Bachelor of Science in Genetic Engineering w/ a focus in Forensic Science
- Bachelor of Science in Biology w/ a focus in Forensic Science
- Bachelor of Science in Chemistry w/ a focus in Forensic Science
- Bachelor of Science w/ a focus in Forensic Science
Forensic science master’s degrees are reserved for people who already possess a strong background in forensic science or natural sciences via an undergraduate program. Besides offering students the chance to concentrate their forensic science careers upon a certain forensic science area, most people seek a master’s degree, so they can advance their career.
Some master’s degree forensic science programs are:
- Master of Science in Biomedical Forensic Science
- Master of Science in Forensic Biology
- Master of Science in Criminalistics
- Master of Science in Forensic Science
Forensic science doctorate degrees are:
- Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) or Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS)
- Doctor of Medicine (MD)
- Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Generally, PhD programs are reserved for advanced studies in forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and forensic biochemistry, therefore making them perfect for those interested in pursuing teaching opportunities or scholar work.
A forensic pathologist is a Doctor of Medicine; thereby, this forensic science industry requires a Doctor of Medicine to practice as a medical examiner or in the industry of pathology.
DMD or DDS programs are reserved for dental practices. Thereby, people pursuing dentistry (forensic odontology) must hold this professional degree.
Step Two: Pursue an Apprenticeship or Training Program
After completing a forensic science degree program, most people pursue trainee or technician positions beneath the supervision of senior forensic scientists. Most employers hold training programs for new graduates, whereas other employers have certain periods of probation.
Step Three: Pursue a Professional Certification
Besides the completion of a forensic science degree program and training program or period, most forensic scientists search for a professional certification via forensic specialty boards. A few employers require that their forensic scientists accomplish certification, whereas a few forensic scientists pursue certification to advance into a supervisory role or accomplish professional recognition.
Professional certification is a concise indication of someone’s experience in a certain forensic science area, as the majority of certification programs require completing certain education and expertise requirements and, more than likely, completing a comprehensive examination.
The FSAB, created with the support from National Institute of Justice, National Forensic Science Technology Center, and American Academy of Forensic Sciences, will serve as a forensic community in which professional boards or organizations which certify forensic specialists or individual forensic scientists are monitored, recognized, and assessed. A full list of accredited organizations may be found on the FSAB website.
Forensic Scientist Education and Skills
Even though the responsibilities of forensic scientists vary according to their specialty or discipline, they have to have similar skills that include having the ability to adequately show:
- Deductive reasoning
- Written and verbal skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Critical-thinking skills
In addition, they have to be highly detail-oriented and perceptive, and they have to have the ability to spend extended spans of time performing meticulous, oftentimes painstaking, work.
Besides holding a key set of characteristics, forensic scientists have to finish a certain course of training and education to accomplish the skills needed to do their jobs.
The most typical requirement that is found on any job description for a forensic scientist is a graduate or bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, forensic science, or an associated industry. Even though certain degrees generally aren’t required in this industry, most employers search for programs which have been approved by the Forensic Science Education Programs Commission.
Furthermore, depending upon the specialty, most employers search for candidates who have specific coursework, like physics, organic chemistry, and microbiology.
Professional Certification for a Forensic Scientist
A certification in forensic science is common, given the multiple specialties which exist inside this industry. Typically, professional certification involves certain experience and educational requirements, and most require people to pass an examination before certification is accomplished. Some of the certification boards are:
- The American Board of Forensic Toxicology
- The American Board of Criminalistics
- The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators
- The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners
A full certification board list may be found via Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, created with support from National Institute of Justice, National Forensic Science Technology Center, and American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Other Requirements for Forensic Scientists
Besides detailing the experience and education requirements necessary for accomplishing a job in forensic science, a job description also may include additional requirements necessary to accomplish employment. Candidates specifically might have to:
- Show proof of formal training program
- Hold valid driver’s license
- Pass urinalysis drug test
- Pass polygraph exam
- Undergo background investigation
- Finish a training course beneath the guide of a seasoned forensic scientist
- Offer proof of certification, education, and expertise through certificates, diplomas, and original transcripts
Forensic Lab Scientist Salary
The average yearly salary for forensic science technicians was $52,840, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics with the leading 10% making over $85,210.
But, a forensic science salary, as with the majority of professions, is mainly dependent on education, experience, the industry, specialized knowledge, and geographic location.