Forensic Scientists Careers

Forensic Scientists and Forensic Science Technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.

Duties

Forensic scientists and technicians work in laboratories and on crime scenes, and typically do the following

  • Analyze crime scenes to determine what evidence should be collected and how
  • Take photographs of the crime scene and evidence
  • Make sketches of the crime scene
  • Record observations and findings, such as the location and position of evidence
  • Collect evidence, including weapons, fingerprints, and bodily fluids
  • Catalog and preserve evidence for transfer to crime labs
  • Reconstruct crime scenes

In laboratories, forensic scientists and technicians typically do the following

  • Perform chemical, biological, and microscopic analyses on evidence taken from crime scenes
  • Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity, using the results of DNA or other scientific analyses
  • Consult with experts in specialized fields, such as toxicology (the study of poisons and their effect on the body) and odontology (a branch of forensic medicine that concentrates on teeth)

Forensic scientists and technicians may be generalists who perform many or all of the duties listed above or they may specialize in certain techniques and sciences. Generalist forensic scientists and technicians, sometimes called criminalists or crime scene investigators, collect evidence at the scene of a crime and perform scientific and technical analysis in laboratories or offices.

Forensic scientists and technicians who work primarily in laboratories may specialize in the natural sciences or engineering. These workers, such as forensic biologists and forensic chemists, typically use chemicals and laboratory equipment such as microscopes when analyzing evidence. They also may use computers to examine DNA, substances, and other evidence collected at crime scenes. They often work to match evidence to people or other known elements, such as vehicles or weapons. Most forensic scientists and technicians who perform laboratory analysis specialize in a specific type of evidence, such as DNA or ballistics.

Some forensic scientists and technicians, called forensic computer examiners or digital forensics analysts, specialize in computer-based crimes. They collect and analyze data to uncover and prosecute electronic fraud, scams, and identity theft. The abundance of digital data helps them solve crimes in the physical world as well. Computer forensics technicians must adhere to the same strict standards of evidence gathering found in general forensic science because legal cases depend on the integrity of evidence.

All forensic scientists and technicians prepare written reports that detail their findings and investigative methods. They must be able to explain their reports to lawyers, detectives, and other law enforcement officials. In addition, forensic scientists and technicians may be called to testify in court about their findings and methods. [More.....]

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Video Transcript
In popular media, the work of forensic science technicians seems fast-paced and exciting. In reality, the work is slow and painstaking—but still extremely important. Forensic science technicians often specialize in either crime scene investigation, or laboratory analysis. At a crime scene, they record observations, take photos, and collect evidence. In the lab, they perform tests on weapons and substances such as fiber, hair and tissue to determine a connection to the crime… and to a suspect. They also write reports to document their findings and the laboratory techniques used. Some forensic technicians specialize in particular areas such as fingerprinting, DNA, handwriting analysis, or ballistics. Digital forensics analysts specialize in computer-based crimes. They collect and analyze data to expose electronic fraud, scams, and identity theft. Most forensic science technicians work for police departments, crime labs, morgues, and coroners’ offices. They may work outside in all types of weather, and divide their time between labs and offices. While they gain expertise and deductive skills from on-the-job experience, forensic science technicians typically need to start with at least a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, biology, or forensic science. Forensic science technicians might be called upon to testify as expert witnesses in court. Their evidence and testimony can help send the guilty to prison…or clear the innocent.2

 

Work Environment

Forensic science technicians held about 17,200 jobs in 2019. The largest employers of forensic science technicians were as follows:

Local government, excluding education and hospitals58%
State government, excluding education and hospitals29
Medical and diagnostic laboratories4
Testing laboratories2

Forensic science technicians may have to work outside in all types of weather, spend many hours in laboratories and offices, or do some combination of both. They often work with specialists and other law enforcement personnel. Many specialist forensic science technicians work only in laboratories.

Crime scene investigators may travel throughout their jurisdictions, which may be cities, counties, or states.

Work Schedules

Crime scene investigators may work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect or analyze evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a case.

 

How to Become a Forensic Scientist/Technician

Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. On-the-job training is usually required both for those who investigate crime scenes and for those who work in labs.

Education

Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. Forensic science programs may specialize in a specific area of study, such as toxicology, pathology, or DNA. Students who enroll in general natural science programs should make an effort to take classes related to forensic science. A list of schools that offer degrees in forensic science is available from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Many of those who seek to become forensic science technicians will have an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science.

Many crime scene investigators who work for police departments are sworn police officers and have met educational requirements necessary for admittance into a police academy. Applicants for civilian crime scene investigator jobs should have a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science, with a strong basic science background, or the natural sciences. For more information on police officers, see the profile on police and detectives.

Training

Forensic science technicians receive on-the-job training before they are ready to work on cases independently.

Newly hired crime scene investigators may work under experienced investigators while they learn proper procedures and methods for collecting and documenting evidence.

Forensic science technicians learn laboratory specialties on the job. The length of this training varies by specialty, but is usually less than a year. Technicians may need to pass a proficiency exam or otherwise be approved by a laboratory or accrediting body before they are allowed to perform independent casework.

Throughout their careers, forensic science technicians need to keep up with advances in technology and science that improve the collection or analysis of evidence.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A range of licenses and certifications is available to help credential, and aid in the professional development of, many types of forensic science technicians. Certifications and licenses are not typically necessary for entry into the occupation. Credentials can vary widely because standards and regulations vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another.

 

Forensic Scientist/Technician Salary and Pay

The median annual wage for forensic science technicians was $59,150 in May 2019. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $35,620, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $97,350.

 

In May 2019, the median annual wages for forensic science technicians in the top industries in which they worked were as follows:

State government, excluding education and hospitals$60,830
Local government, excluding education and hospitals59,840
Testing laboratories55,100
Medical and diagnostic laboratories38,380

Crime scene investigators may work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect or analyze evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a case.

 

Job Outlook

Employment of forensic science technicians is projected to grow 14 percent from 2019 to 2029, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 2,400 new jobs over the 10-year period.

State and local governments are expected to hire additional forensic science technicians to process their high case loads. Additionally, scientific and technological advances are expected to increase the availability, reliability, and usefulness of objective forensic information used as evidence in trials. As a result, forensic science technicians will be able to provide even greater value than before, and more forensic science technicians will be needed to provide timely forensics information to law enforcement agencies and courts.

Job Prospects

Competition for jobs is expected to be strong. Applicants who have a master’s degree should have the best opportunities.1

Sources

  1. US Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook
  2. US Department of Labor, Career One Stop

 

More Information

For more information about forensic science technicians and related specialists, visit

American Academy of Forensic Sciences

American Board of Criminalistics

American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators

Association of Firearm and Tool Mark Examiners

International Crime Scene Investigators Association