How to Become a Forensic Scientist in 5 Steps
Forensic scientists use scientific tools to document and analyze criminal evidence. Continue reading to learn more about becoming a forensic scientist. Schools offering Forensic Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.
What is a Forensic Scientist?
A forensic scientist is a professional who applies concepts from the natural sciences to analyze physical evidence. In most instances you would focus on solving crimes, but you could also play a role in civil cases. Your duties might include recovering and storing evidence from crime scenes; photographing crime scenes; using microscopes, spectrometers and other devices to examine evidence; reconstructing crime scenes; preparing reports detailing your investigatory methods and conclusions; and providing expert testimony in court.
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, physics or physical anthropology is sufficient for entry-level work as a forensic scientist. However, many schools offer interdisciplinary 4-year degree programs in forensic science that synthesize content from each subject area with criminal justice concepts. In addition to basic science, academic and lab courses might include organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, genetics and microbiology. Some programs offer specialized tracks in forensic biology, chemistry or anthropology.
Step 2: Participate in an Internship
An internship enables you to network with professional forensics experts and observe the investigatory process first hand. County governments, federal agencies and local police departments may have standing programs for students and recent graduates. Some bachelor's degree programs formally include an internship as an elective class.
Step 3: Earn a Graduate Degree
A master's degree in forensic science could give you access to more advanced positions. Degree programs at this level are widely available. Many emphasize further specialization in biology, chemistry or anthropology, while others offer a comprehensive or integrated approach. Serology, toxicology, microscopy or ballistics are other possible areas of emphasis. Most master's degree programs require the completion of a master's thesis or capstone project.
Step 4: Obtain a Job
Your leading job prospects are with city, county and state crime labs. Federal law enforcement agencies are the next largest employer of forensic scientists. You could also become an independent consultant or consider seeking positions with coroners' offices or medical labs.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that forensic science technicians held 12,440 jobs in May 2012 (www.bls.gov). Employment was projected to increase 19% from 2010-2020, reflecting law enforcement's increased reliance on DNA testing to solve crimes. The median salary of a forensic science technician in May 2012 was $52,840.
Step 5: Consider Certification
You have multiple options if you want a professional credential. The American College of Forensic Examiners International offers the Registered Investigator (RI) credential (www.acfei.com). To qualify to take the exam, you must be 21 years of age and have a bachelor's degree, two years of work experience and no criminal record. The RI exam will test your knowledge of crime scene processing, interrogation methods, evidence handling and types of investigations.
The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) offers two levels of certification for forensic professionals: the Diplomate of ABC (D-ABC) and Fellow of ABC (F-ABC). To earn the D-ABC credential, you'll need a bachelor's degree in a natural science, two years of lab experience and passing scores on a forensic specialty exam (www.criminalistics.com). To earn the F-ABC credential, you'll need two years of experience in a forensics specialty and passing scores on both a specialty and proficiency exam. Specialty exam areas for both certifications include trace evidence analysis, drug analysis, molecular biology and fire debris analysis.
The International Association for Identification offers eight certification types, including crime scene, forensic photography, forensic video, footwear and bloodstain pattern examiner certification (wwwtheiai.org). Each certification has distinct training requirements and its own exam; most require several hundred hours of training in forensic science, as well as some job experience and/or a professional portfolio.
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