Does using science to help convict criminals or acquit the innocent appeal to you? If you have an eye for detail, a problem-solving intellect and a love of technology and science, perhaps a degree in forensic technology and science would be right up your alley. Keep reading for more information about this field of study.
Forensics is the application of scientific principles and advanced technology like DNA analysis to resolve legal issues. Forensic scientists analyze evidence found at crime scenes in an attempt to discover the guilty parties. This helps prosecutors, as well as defense attorneys, to build legal cases that convict criminals or exonerate the falsely accused.
According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), there are 11 disciplines within the field of forensic science (www.aafs.org). These include criminalistics, physical anthropology, digital and multimedia sciences, psychiatry and behavioral science, engineering sciences, jurisprudence, pathology and biology, odontology, questioned documents, toxicology and general forensic studies. Specialists within each discipline apply the available technology and science to the collected evidence in an attempt to understand and recreate the scene of a crime or accident. The information may then be used in a court of law to convict or acquit a suspect.
As a forensic technologist or scientist, you will most likely work in a crime lab that is run by a city, county, state or federal government agency. You might be a crime scene investigator, who is one of the first to arrive at the scene of a crime to collect evidence. You might choose to be a forensic specialist who examines documents to determine whether a signature is genuine or forged. If you're a toxicologist, you'll be looking to see whether a person's death might have been an accident or a homicide, based on the toxicological evidence.
Your duties might include analyzing DNA evidence or trying to match fingerprints to suspects. Each of the specialties addresses a different aspect of the examination and analysis of evidence. You might also have to spend time in court as an expert legal witness. This requires you to be neat in appearance with good poise and communication skills.
The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that as of May 2010, forensic science technicians had a median annual wage of $51,570 (www.bls.gov). However, that figure reflects only technicians, who generally assist in the lab setting and do not necessarily possess an advanced degree. As of October 2011, Payscale.com reported that most forensic scientists made between $30,499 and $93,578, annually. According to the BLS, job prospects are best for those with certification or an advanced degree in a forensic science specialty.
There are some associate degree programs available in forensic technology and science. However, according to the AAFS, the minimum of a bachelor's degree in forensic science is required in the majority of the field's disciplines. Furthermore, several specialties and advanced positions, such as a lab director, require a forensic science master's or doctoral degree. For some positions, like a forensic pathologist, you will need to be a licensed medical doctor.
After completing your degree, you may wish to pursue certification. The American Board of Criminalistics, the American College of Forensic Examiners International and the International Association for Identification each offer certification opportunities. Since certification requirements vary, you should investigate the certification you are interested in to learn what education level is required and if there is a specified number of years of experience you must have. Generally, all certifications require you to pass an exam. You also need to periodically seek recertification. These certifications help identify you as being competent in your area of forensic expertise.
As with all scientific fields of study, you will need a good foundation in science and math to pursue a career in forensics. For a bachelor's degree in forensic technology and science, expect to take a rigorous course load that includes courses in quantitative analysis and statistics, mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology. Your advanced classes include organic chemistry, biochemistry, instrumental methods, criminalistics, law, criminal justice and technical writing. Most programs also require an internship that will give you experience in a medical lab.