What Forensic Science Career is Right for You?
Learn about what forensic scientists do, where they work and the different forensic specialties.
If you’re passionate about science and can stomach the gory details, there are many great forensic science careers that might be just what you’re looking for.
Using science to help identify criminals and analyze evidence against them, forensic scientists are detectives with microscopes. From matching shell casings to the gun that fired them, to using hair samples to identify a suspect, forensic scientists help determine the facts of a legal case. These careers offer criminal justice jobs that will really keep you busy.
What Forensic Scientists Really Do
Forensic scientists are sometimes also referred to as criminalists, and the field is sometimes called criminalistics. While they may not be exactly as they appear on TV, forensic science careers do play a crucial role in our legal system.
Forensic scientists essentially perform these types of tasks:
- They analyze physical evidence collected at crime scenes
- They provide expert forensic testimony before and during trials
- Investigators collect evidence such as blood, hair samples and other trace evidence, and send it to crime labs to be examined
- Use chemical and biological techniques to analyze the evidence and document their findings
- Prepare reports on their findings and provide expert opinions for people within the judicial system
- Accurately document everything they do so that their testimony holds up in court
If you’re fascinated by technology, a career in forensic science gives you an opportunity to use fascinating tools as well. Here’s a look at some of the items you’ll use on the job:
- Computer-aided (CAD) software
- Biological evidence collection kits
- Photo imaging software
- Footprint lifters
Forensic Science Careers
There are many forensic science schools and career options to go with them. Forensic scientists can work in any one of the following fields:
They can become forensic scientists and work in a forensics lab evaluating trace evidence and poisons, sometimes presenting their findings at trial.
Those more interested in computers and technology can work in the world of computer forensics, scouring deleted hard drives for evidence that will help convict criminals.
You can work in forensic psychology. Forensic psychologists evaluate the psychological state of those on trial, convicts seeking parole, and witnesses, who may or may not be telling the truth.
Finally, there are forensic pathologist careers for students with a more scientific bent who want to learn how to identify human remains.
Other Forensic Science Career Paths
Forensics experts can also be found in fields you might not expect. If you’re looking for a unique opportunity, consider these options. In some cases, such as forensic dentistry or nursing, you’ll need an additional degree.
From bridge collapses to product defects, forensic engineers focus their attention on the health and safety of humans. They are often called upon to investigate issues related to environmental damage and personal injury. While many forensic engineers operate their own consulting firms, they’re also employed by crime labs, insurance companies and corporations.
Also known as odontology, this field of forensics focuses primarily on identifying human remains through the use of dental records. However, you may also be asked to analyze bite marks or dental injuries that occurred during a crime. In many cases, medical examiner offices have an ongoing relationship with a forensic odontologist.
In this role, you’ll examine how drugs or alcohol played a role in a person’s death. You’ll also determine if a substance was used in a crime or whether it affected someone’s driving ability. Forensic toxicologists perform scientific tests and often testify in court cases. They work closely with crime scene investigators, police and attorneys.
Forensic document examiners are primarily known for analyzing handwriting and signatures. However, their role goes much further, from restoring a burned or liquid-soaked document to classifying the type of printer used in a crime. Document examiners are hired by police departments and state and federal law enforcement.
In this fast-paced role, you’ll be needed in a hospital emergency room. There you’ll take blood samples, photograph injuries and support victims. You’ll also spend some of your time in the courtroom testifying as a medical expert.
This discipline focuses on recovery, identification and examination of evidence. Veterinary forensic scientists often work with a licensed veterinary to conduct medical tests and they’re called on to help solve crimes related to inhumane treatment of animals and illegal trading.
According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, those who work in accounting, education and research, art and geology fall under the General Forensics category. Other disciplines include firearms analysis, radiology and archeology.
Qualities You’ll Need to Succeed
In any forensic science career, you’ll need to possess certain qualities to help you get the job done.
Because you’ll be asked to testify in court and write reports, solid communication skills are necessary.
Forensic science technicians must avoid making errors and possess an ability to notice very small changes.
You’ll use logic to analyze problems, search for facts and find solutions.
A crime scene can be gruesome. Forensic technicians need to be able to stay professional and control their emotions.
Working at a crime scene requires many hours of standing and kneeling.
Forensic science careers offer a variety of job opportunities. Forensic scientists work in the forensic labs of such places as these:
- Police departments
- Sheriffs’ offices
- District attorneys’ offices
- Regional and state agencies
- Medical examiners’ offices
- Private companies
- Colleges and universities
- Toxicology labs
- Federal law enforcement agencies such as the DEA and the FBI
Forensic Science Salary
The median annual salary for forensic science technicians is
according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, there is the potential to earn more. The highest 10 percent earned more than $91,410 as of 2015.
Many factors, such as geographic location, type of employer and experience level, will dictate how much you can earn in a forensic science career.
Curious how a forensic science salary stacks up to similar professions?
Forensic science technicians usually work during regular business hours in a lab whereas crime scene investigators tend to have an irregular schedule. You might work staggered shifts in the day, evening or night. If evidence has to be collected or analyzed, crime scene investigators may be required to work overtime.
Forensic Science Career Outlook
As technology advances, the use of forensic information is expected to increase. This is good news for anyone interested in pursuing a forensic science career. Employment in this area is expected to grow 27 percent through 2024. While this is much faster than average, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that the occupation is small. Therefore, the growth will only result in about 3,800 new jobs in 10 years.
One factor that could negatively impact job growth is budget restraints. As federal, state and local agencies and governments pull their purse strings tighter, fewer jobs for forensic science technicians may become available.
As you search for a career in forensic science, keep in mind that competition may be tough. Thanks to the popularity of crime scene shows, more people have entered the field looking for a job. Differentiate yourself by participating in an internship during school and earning professional credentials. Another option? Search for a career in a lesser-known area of forensics.
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