Forensic Science: An Exciting Profession
Forensic science is a fascinating profession. If you choose to follow this career path, you will gather evidence and use scientific processes to determine exactly what went on at a crime scene, much like the role of crime scene investigator, which you may have seen on popular television shows. A forensic scientist may work in the field gathering evidence, or he or she may work in a laboratory to process crime scene information using scientific reasoning and processes. Forensic scientists are often called upon in a court of law as expert witnesses in criminal cases to decipher the evidence for the jury to make a decision.
In criminal cases, forensic scientists form the backbone of the legal and justice system. The duties of a forensic scientist include collecting, identifying, classifying and analyzing all the physical evidence related to a criminal investigation. This professional may perform weapon tests or test evidence in a lab, such as hair, fibers or tissue, to determine their significance in an investigation. A forensic scientist can also serve as a specialist in the different areas in which they have expertise, such as fingerprinting, handwriting, ballistics and biochemistry. A forensic scientist may also be referred to as a “forensic scientist technician.”
At a crime scene, forensic scientists analyze the situation and decide how to collect the evidence. They may take photos of the crime scene and any evidence nearby, make sketches of the crime scene and record any observations, such as the position and location of evidence in reference to the crime scene. They will collect evidence of all types and catalog and preserve the evidence to transfer it to the crime lab.
In the laboratory, forensic scientists perform biological, microscopic and chemical analyses of the evidence. Through DNA analysis, they will also explore any type of links between suspects and criminal activities. They may consult with experts in different fields that are pertinent to the case and reconstruct crime scenes.
You can start your education to be a forensic scientist in high school. Courses are available that give you the tools needed to apply scientific methods, forming and testing hypotheses, collection and classification of data, looking for relationships in a crime scene, and forming a conclusion or opinion. These skills provide the building blocks for the more intensive courses required at the college level.
You must obtain a bachelor’s degree as a minimum requirement to become a forensic scientist, with a major in either forensic science or natural science. Some labs require a master’s degree to work in more advanced positions. Students have to participate in lab work and then fulfill an internship. The most common backgrounds of study include biology, chemistry, biochemistry, genetics, molecular biology and forensic science. You must also have a driver’s license. You can choose your major according to the area of forensic science in which you would like to participate. Some candidates want to test guns in forensics, while others are intrigued by testing evidence for fingerprints. You have the ability to specialize in any area that you like the most.
Forensic scientists must have on-the-job training as an assistant to an experienced investigator. The length of the training period is determined by the specialty in which you seek your license or certification. Licenses and certifications can greatly help your credentials when applying for a job in this field; however, they are not usually required for this position.
Some of the top-rated colleges that offer both bachelor’s and master’s degrees include the University of Mississippi, the University of Central Florida, Loyola University and Boston University.
The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reports that the mean annual wage for this professional is $33,860 for the bottom 10 percent of workers. The 50th percentile professionals earn more than $56,750, and the top wage earners in the 90th percentile earn an average of $97,400 per year. In this profession, you may also receive profit-sharing bonuses, depending on where you work.
Forensic scientists work either in a laboratory or in the field, gathering the information needed for crimes scene investigations to formulate a hypothesis as to what happened. They may also serve as expert witnesses in a criminal court case to state unbiased factual evidence based on the scientific findings, which may help either the prosecution or the defendant. They work closely with law enforcement and the judicial system in every state.
The good news for working mothers is that you can work regular hours in a laboratory; whereas, field scientists are basically on call whenever a crime is committed, so they can gather pertinent evidence as soon as possible. These types of jobs exist in police departments and offices, crime laboratories, medical examiners, and at coroner offices and morgues.
Years of Experience
Forensic scientists make a good wage immediately after they complete their college education. As is common with most professions, they receive more in compensation as their experience level grows. Here is an estimate of what you can earn as a forensic scientist:
- 0‒5 years: $48,000
- 5‒10 years: $60,000
- 10‒20 years: $64,000
- Over 20 years: $69,000
Job Growth Trend
The job growth outlook, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, is expected to grow by six percent between 2012 and 2022. This could be because of improvements in analysis and enhanced technology that bring new techniques to the table for criminal investigations.
If you are detail-oriented, have critical thinking skills, composure, communication skills, math and science expertise, physical stamina and problem-solving abilities, becoming a forensic scientist may be the perfect job for you to showcase your talents and earn a good living while doing so.
- Career Trend: The Purpose of Forensic Science
- Career Trend: What Forensic Science Technicians Do
- College Grad: What Forensic Science Technicians Do
- Career Planner.com: Forensic Science Technician
- Study.com: Forensic Scientist Education Requirements and Career Info
- PayScale: Forensic Scientist Salary
Mary Lougee has been writing for over 10 years. She holds a Bachelor's Degree with a major in Management and a double minor in accounting and computer science. She loves writing about careers for busy families as well as family oriented planning, meals and activities for all ages.