A forensic science degree enables graduates to investigate and solve crimes. Forensic science – often called ‘forensics’ – is the gathering of evidence and details of a crime. A forensic scientist must also research and present found evidence to others involved in criminal cases, such as detectives and lawyers. The responsibilities of a forensic scientist include documenting evidence from a crime scene through photos, videos and notes, studying physical evidence from the crime scene, and deciding if toxic substances were present at the scene or with the victim, among other tasks. Use the links below to learn more about forensic science degrees:
- Typical coursework in a forensic science program
- What are the most popular degrees in forensic science?
- Forensic science specializations
- Career paths in forensic science
- Characteristics of a successful forensic science technician
The two primary categories of people who handle evidence associated with a crime scene are the crime scene technician and the laboratory forensic technician. The crime scene technician (also known as the crime scene investigator) would be the one at the scene with the police officers. Once they have collected all of the evidence and documented the scene, they hand off their findings to the laboratory forensic technician, who then processes and analyzes the given information.
Typical coursework in a forensic science program
A forensic science degree is one that focuses heavily on science, facts, and verification. Consequently, the training earned through this degree is heavily geared towards logic and analysis, and many of the recommended courses are based in biology, chemistry, math, logic, anthropology, and psychology. Some sample courses might include:
- Biological Evidence
- Forensic Toxicology
- Blood Distribution and Spatter
- Environmental Forensics
- Forensic Analysis of DNA
- Human Osteology
- Forensic Genetics
- Toxic Substances
What are the most popular degrees in forensic science?
In order to work in forensic science or criminal justice, you’ll need to obtain a degree related to the field. Our list of schools will help you find the right program that meets your specific career goals.
American InterContinental University
University of the Rockies
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Forensic science specializations
As we mentioned earlier, there are many different areas of specialization within the forensic sciences. As you progress through your academic career, you will be able to dedicate more time to your particular area of interest. Below are some of the popular degree programs that will prepare you for the forensic science field. These are just a few of the different opportunities available in this field. To get started on this exciting and rewarding career path, check out each page for more information.
- Cybercrime and Security Programs – Computer forensic technicians are in high demand, since more crimes are being committed with and solved through the use of technology. This program will teach you how to analyze and retrieve data from computers, mobile phones, cameras, and surveillance videos. You will be taught how to prevent and stop viruses, hackers, and spammers.
- Crime Scene Investigation and Analysis Programs – Crime scene investigation (CSI) programs will enable you to develop the skills necessary in order to correctly and efficiently collect and document evidence from a crime scene. You will also learn how to investigate and analyze the evidence and the crime scene itself.
- Criminal Justice Programs – While pursuing a criminal justice program you will learn about our society’s judicial system and how to analyze a crime pattern in order to try an predict how the pattern may progress. This program will teach you how political and economic factors can contribute to crime rates and victims targeted.
Career paths in forensic science
There are several different areas that are open to those with a forensic degree, some of which pay a little over $55,000 per year as of 2014. Forensic science technicians can usually find employment in crime laboratories, medical examiners offices, police departments, with criminal defense or prosecution attorneys, as well as hospital and clinical laboratories. If an organization is large enough, they may have multiple forensics positions.
Graduates of a forensic science degree program are qualified to work in any of those different positions, and by taking a look at the map below (provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics) you can see which states hire the most forensic science technicians.
Source:U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics Employment Program
There are many different specialties within forensic science, but the two broadest categories are crime scene investigators and laboratory technicians. There are specialties within those two categories, which we will discuss further later on.
Crime scene investigators collect footprints, fingerprints, hair samples, weapons, and all other evidence from the crime scene. Taking photographs, writing detailed notes about the scene, and interviewing witnesses, are also important parts of the evidence collection process. All physical information is carefully cataloged and transferred to a lab for further investigation.
Once the evidence arrives at the lab, a laboratory technician will begin to reconstruct the crime scene using the gathered evidence. With computers and other lab equipment, a laboratory technician can begin to analyze the data and create links between the evidence and crime. The laboratory is also where any DNA analysis or toxicology information is evaluated.
Job conditions for each position will vary, which means it’s possible for people with all kinds of personalities, interests, and preferences to find a position which suits them. Crime scene investigators, for instance, may work long, uncertain hours alternating between indoors and outdoors, often in the presence of the victim. They might work with other investigators or work on-site with the police. Laboratory forensic science technicians work full time, during regular business hours, and in a traditional lab setting. While there are often non-traditional coworker relationships, many hours are spent alone in a lab analyzing data.
Characteristics of a successful forensic science technician
This field often requires someone with a sharp, focused, analytical mind that also enjoys processes and problem solving. A degree in forensics aims to equip graduates with all the skills and knowledge necessary to work in the field of criminal research. It is important for a forensic science technician to be emotionally and psychologically prepared for potentially distressing situations like murder scenes. Students of a forensics degree program will have the fundamental tools to evaluate and handle risk.
A successful forensic science technician is always looking for a way to expand their knowledge. While it is not necessary to acquire any advance licenses or certifications after receiving a degree, it is heavily advised to be familiar with (and possibly become a member of) organizations related to forensic scientists. Some of these organizations include:
- The American Board of Criminalistics
- The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners
- The American Board of Forensic Entomology
- The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (of which the accrediting body of criminal justice degree programs, FEPAC, is a subsect of)
Forensics is a great career path for someone looking to contribute to the intellectual and practical pursuit of criminal justice.