Forensic Scientists are trained experts who typically work with law enforcement agencies. There are different types of Forensic Scientists such as Crime Scene Investigators, Forensic Biologists and Chemists, Forensic Digital Analysts, Forensic Financial Analysts etc.
What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?
Forensic Scientists help solve crimes by either collecting evidence and analyzing crime scenes or by analyzing the gathered evidence in a lab. In 2019, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics provided information about Forensic Science Technicians and described the basic duties of this occupation as follows. As mentioned on the BLS website, they are typically supposed to,
Assess the crime scenes to evaluate techniques of evidence collection
Record evidence by taking photographs of the crime scene and the gathered evidence
Create sketches to recreate crime scenes later
Make a record of all observations and write a detailed report on it
Analyze the gathered evidence such as, fingerprints, fibers, blood patterns, weapons and bullets etc.
Create catalogs of all collected evidence in the law enforcement database before sending evidence to crime labs for further analysis
Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist in the US
As discussed above, there are various types of Forensic Scientists and the requirements for each position would vary. However, a few basic requirements are similar which are described below in detail.
Step-1: High School Diploma
If you really want to build a career in this field, then you should take courses like biology, chemistry and computer science etc. in high school to acquire the fundamental knowledge that would help you enroll in a relevant degree at the bachelor’s level.
Step-2: Bachelor’s Degree
There are several institutions in the US that offer bachelor’s degree such as the University of Florida and UCLA etc. Numerous institutions offer degrees in Forensic Science, Criminology, Biotechnology, Molecular Science, Computer Science and other related subjects. These degrees can help you land a job as a Forensic Scientist with a law enforcement agency. A typical bachelor’s degree can be completed in 4 years.
Step-3: Master’s Degree
Even though you can get employed with a bachelor’s degree at an entry-level position, majority of the graduates choose to complete a master’s degree to improve their job prospects. The University of Florida among many others offers a master’s degree in Forensic Science that can be completed with 32 credit hours in 4 semesters.
Step-4: Field Experience
As part of the bachelor’s and master’s degree, universities provide students with internship opportunities that help them acquire hands-on field experience. Apart from that, voluntary work also helps while applying for jobs. However, most mid-level or advanced level jobs require at least 1 to 2 years of field experience and many employers prefer hiring candidates who possess field experience.
Although acquiring a state-issued license or certification is typically not mandatory but it depends on the state where you want to work. Employers look favorably upon people who are licensed or certified.
Step-6: Application, Interview and Police Training
After applying for a position, candidates need to pass all medical tests and the interview etc. Those who are hired for jobs in law enforcement agencies must attend the police academy and graduate successfully.
How Much Can I Earn as a Forensic Scientist in the US?
According to the data reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics in 2019, the Forensic Science Technicians earned an annual mean salary of $63,170 which approx. amounts to $30.37 mean wage per hour. Furthermore, BLS listed the Federal Executive Branch as the highest paying industry for this occupation with an annual mean income of $111,180. The state of California was reported as the highest paying state for this profession with an annual mean salary of $87,200.