Looking for a career that isn’t boring and will let you flex your intellectual muscle? Forensics is the art and science of legal evidence and argument. But that doesn’t tell the whole story. Forensics is exciting, it’s well-paid, and you can get the training to enter one of the following specialties.
Forensic science: scientific evidence can be a powerful persuader, so forensic scientists must be accurate and totally unbiased in their work to prevent a miscarriage of justice.
Forensic psychology: as psychological problems and questions arise in courts of law, forensic psychologists are there to give lawyers, judges, and jurors insight into the human mind.
Computer forensics: a constantly evolving field, computer forensics is challenging work because criminals often encrypt or try to destroy digital evidence before their devices are confiscated. Computer forensics experts use their ethical hacker skills to get the evidence they need.
What Forensic Scientists Do
Forensics is the underlying art and science behind the CSI crime dramas. There are many specialties to choose from: ballistics, DNA fingerprinting, forensic dentistry, forensic accounting, forensic biology (entomology, genetics, microbiology, ecology and botany), toxicology, and more.
Forensic scientists decide which tests or analyses are appropriate for the issues at hand and carry them out as objectively as possible. After doing their research, they present their findings and may be called upon to testify as expert witnesses.
Forensic psychology is the understanding of the human mind and behavior applied to legal matters. Forensic psychologists conduct psychological evaluations and offer expert opinions at trial.
Forensic psychologists evaluate people in civil proceedings (such as workers compensation and child custody cases) or criminal proceedings (like the selection of jurors and competency to stand trial).
Today, computer forensics is more important than ever before. Computer forensics experts retrieve, preserve, and present data stored on computers and other digital media. If you want to become a “legal hacker,” this is the career for you.
Which of these three forensics specialties is your calling? Once you decide, get the forensics degree you need to make your mark in the field.
Skills You’ll Need
To work in forensics, you’ll need to be analytical, logical, and detail oriented. You’ll also need the following training, personality traits, and skills:
- A solid background in a relevant field of science, psychology, or computers
- Critical thinking
- Good writing and speaking skills
- Honesty and a sense of fairness
Forensics is a well-paid career field. Compare the median annual salaries for the following related professions:
|Forensic Science Technicians||$60,590|
|Computer Systems Analysts||$93,730|
|Information Security Analysts||$103,590|
Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics 2020 Occupational Outlook Handbook
The salary information listed is based on national median salaries, unless noted. Actual salaries may vary greatly based on specialization within the field, location, years of experience and a variety of other factors. National long-term projections of employment growth may not reflect local and/or short-term economic or job conditions, and do not guarantee actual job growth.
There were 17,200 forensic science technicians in 2020, according to the BLS, and employment is projected to grow 16% through 2030. They work in police departments, crime labs, morgues, and medical examiners’ offices.
Forensics experts may have their own private practices, or they may work primarily in police departments or within the legal system.
In a 2009 blog post, the American Psychological Association calls forensic psychology a “postgrad growth area” and points out that the demand for forensic psychologists is greater than the supply.
Job growth for information security analysts is estimated at 33% by the BLS through 2030, because as computer and cybercrime continues to grow, there should be job opportunities in computer forensics in both the legal system, and in corporations large and small for the foreseeable future.
The forensics degree you pursue depends on your specific career goals.
- If you want to be a forensic science technician, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in one of the natural sciences, like chemistry or biology.
- If you’re thinking of forensic psychology, you’ll need a master’s or doctoral degree in psychology.
- If you’d rather work in computer forensics, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science or computer forensics.
Computer Forensics Major: What You’ll Study: If you’re interested in computer science and want to help bring cybercriminals to justice, here’s an example of some of the courses you’ll take:
- Introduction to Computer Theory
- Computer Security
- Criminal Law
- Cybercrime and Criminal Investigations
- Digital Forensics
- E-Discovery and Data Analysis
- Forensic Science Lab
- Mobile Device Forensics
If you’re curious about courses like these and want to take the next step, contact schools near you to get the training you need to enter this exciting—and potentially lucrative—field.
Length of Program: You can normally complete a bachelor’s degree in four years if you go to school full-time, pass all of your classes, and have no scheduling problems.
If you want to become a psychologist, you’ll need a doctorate (PhD or PsyD), and it’ll take at least four additional years of full-time study, depending on your program. As part of your requirements, you’ll also need to do a supervised internship and/or professional residency.
Forensics Master’s Degree: If you do a master’s in computer forensics and cybersecurity, you’ll get more knowledge and experience to fight cybercrime, and may have more job opportunities in the court system or the corporate sector.