The field of forensic science offers a host of job opportunities, each of which has unique educational and skills requirements. Professor of criminology Dale Nute identifies six general areas of forensic science practice: medical examiner, crime lab analyst, crime scene examiner, forensic engineer, technical assistance and academic assistance. Forensic science is, generally speaking, the application of scientific methods to a legal situation. In most cases, this means that forensic scientists must use science to examine evidence as a part of discovering the perpetrator of a crime.
Medical examiners are medical doctors (MDs) with advanced training in pathology. They are responsible for performing autopsies on people who die unattended or under suspicious circumstances, and documenting their findings. Medical examiners must graduate from a medical training program, which is generally four years long. They then serve a three- to five-year residency in their specialty, during which time they perform procedures under the supervision of senior MDs.
Forensic Anthropology Degree
Forensic anthropologists assist law enforcement agencies in identifying human remains, particularly bones or bone fragments. The majority of forensic anthropologists are employed in academic capacities and work as consultants. A degree in forensic anthropology includes extensive study in the biological sciences, osteology, pathology and anatomy, as well as statistics. Most forensic anthropology jobs require either a master's or doctorate degree.
Degrees for Crime Lab Work
Crime lab analysts examine trace or biological evidence to help law enforcement in solving crimes. Most agencies require crime lab technicians and analysts to have, minimally, a bachelor's degree in physical or biological science, a chemistry background, and some coursework in the field of criminology or law.
Degrees for a Crime Scene Examiner
Crime scene examiners--or crime scene investigators (CSIs)--are forensic professionals who document, collect and package evidence found at the scene of a crime. They work for law enforcement agencies at every level of government and may be either civilian or on the police force. Educational requirements for a CSI are determined by the individual employing agency. As a general rule, agencies prefer applicants to have some specialized education, either in the form of a bachelor's degree in science, or an associate's degree that focuses on forensic science. Typically, additional training is provided on the job.
Technical and Academic Assistance
Law enforcement agencies frequently call in experts from other fields to clarify evidence or provide expert testimony. Examples of individuals who could be called in for assistance might include a building or construction expert, a forensic nurse or a psychologist. The educational requirements vary by position, but expert witnesses and consultants generally possess an advanced degree in their chosen specialty.