Last updated on February 9th, 2024 at 11:35 am

Forensic science was popularized by hit shows like “CSI.” But forensic science isn’t just a story element in Hollywood productions; it’s an important methodology for bringing criminals to justice. If you’ve ever wondered how to become a forensic scientist, there are several things you must consider.

What Is a Forensic Scientist?

Crime scene evidence is an essential element of criminal court cases. However, the evidence must be analyzed to develop objective findings. Forensic scientists apply scientific principles to analyze evidence, helping law enforcement agencies exonerate the innocent and convict the guilty.

There are many forensic science disciplines, such as forensic molecular biology, trace evidence examination, handwriting analysis, forensic toxicology, and digital evidence analysis.

What Do Forensic Scientists Do?

As a forensic scientist, your daily activities may depend on your discipline. For example: 

  • Forensic molecular biologists specialize in DNA analysis and isolation.
  • Trace evidence examiners determine whether unknown samples are similar to known samples. For example, they may determine whether a contact lens found at a crime scene is the same kind used by the suspect.
  • Handwriting analysts compare handwriting samples to determine whether the suspect wrote a questioned piece of writing. 
  • Forensic toxicologists examine bodily fluids and tissue samples to identify whether drugs are present.
  • Digital forensics experts determine whether digital information was stolen.

Required Skills and Certifications of a Forensic Scientist

To become a forensic scientist, you must have a solid scientific foundation, critical thinking skills, attention to detail, and the ability to communicate effectively. Generally, a bachelor’s degree in a relevant field, such as forensic science or crime scene investigation, is required. Some positions may necessitate additional qualifications like a master’s degree or specialized certification from a professional organization, but a bachelor’s degree is an excellent foundation for many related careers, including  law enforcement, private investigation, crime scene investigation, child protective services, and, of course,  forensic science.

Forensic Scientist Salary and Job Outlook

How much does a forensic scientist make? According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there are around 2,500 job openings for forensic science technicians each year. This field is expected to grow around 11% from 2021 to 2031, and the median annual wage is around $62,000.

Factors That Affect Salary

Forensic scientist salaries vary based on education, experience, geographic location, specialty, and employer. For example, the annual mean wage for forensic science technicians in California is $93,630, while the annual mean salary in Texas is $59,070. Those in San Jose, California, can earn up to $106,600 annually.

Forensic archaeologists have an average salary of $61,220, while forensic psychologists average around $73,000. Forensic medical scientists have an average salary of $82,240, while forensic nurses earn around $71,000.

Entry-level forensic science jobs tend to pay less, but those with significant experience earn around $100,000 a year.

How to Become a Forensic Scientist

You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree in a field like biology, forensic science, or crime scene investigation. Still, you can earn more with a graduate-level degree. Forensic scientists typically undergo on-the-job training, whether investigating crime scenes or working in a lab. It’s a good idea to seek an internship before applying for jobs, as this can give you valuable experience and a leg up on your competition.

You often don’t need to wait until you graduate to seek volunteer experience or internships. When you feel you’re ready to volunteer, do a Google search for “forensic science volunteers + your area” to see what’s available.

Spend time thinking about your desired specialty and research it to see if you’d benefit from advanced education or certification. Per Indeed, many forensic morgue technicians only need an associate degree, while some forensic DNA scientist jobs require you to have chemistry and molecular biology credits.

Finally, it always helps to network. Use sites like LinkedIn to connect with professionals in law enforcement agencies, private laboratories, or consulting firms. Get to know them and learn whether they offer volunteer programs or internships.

Staying Up to Date on Advancements in the Field

As a forensic scientist, staying current with new technologies and techniques that can improve evidence analysis and interpretation is crucial. Joining professional organizations like the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), attending conferences, participating in workshops, and reading industry publications are excellent ways to keep your knowledge up to date and maintain your competitive edge in the job market.

For example, biosensor research has led to the increased use of biosensors in fingerprint analysis. This technology lets scientists analyze bodily fluids found in fingerprints to identify suspects. Similarly, forensic anthropologists now use isotopes from water to geolocate suspects and victims. Stable isotopes have different numbers of neutrons, and the water we drink contains different ratios of stable isotopes depending on where we live. Using this knowledge, forensic scientists can pull the water from a person’s tissues and use it to identify where they lived.

Do I Need a Degree?

Most forensic scientist jobs require a bachelor’s degree, although some lower-paying jobs only require an associate degree. Those with graduate degrees can enhance their earning potential and will qualify for more jobs.

Career Advancement Opportunities

While a bachelor’s degree is generally required for most entry-level positions, advanced degrees or certifications can open up new opportunities. These qualifications may lead to jobs with increased responsibility, specialized roles, or even management opportunities.

Forensic scientists can move into a crime lab director role but may need a PhD. Crime lab directors supervise forensic scientists, ensuring proper procedures are followed. Often, crime lab directors must have experience in various forensic science disciplines. Additionally, they need a keen understanding of how to safely handle dangerous materials.

Some forensic scientists go on to become forensic science professors at universities like Salem.

Increased Salary Potential

Higher education and specialized certifications can also positively impact earning potential. Professionals with advanced degrees or certificates may be eligible for higher salaries, particularly in competitive job markets or specialized fields.

Refine Skills

Advanced degrees and on-the-job experience can help you refine your skill set and learn more about other forensic science disciplines. This multidisciplinary skillset will be essential if you aim to become a crime lab director. According to Glassdoor, forensic directors can earn up to $140,000 annually and have an average salary of around $99,000.

Apply Knowledge to Other Forensic Science Jobs

Although each forensic science discipline has a unique focus, there is a surprisingly high degree of overlap. Forensic specialists often collaborate with other specialists, law enforcement, investigators, and medical professionals, allowing them to learn from and teach each other.

For example, forensic biologists have a keen understanding of chemistry. Over time, they may learn how to apply this knowledge to identify the type of paint used at a crime scene or the chemical structure of another key piece of evidence.

Consider biosensors used in fingerprint analysis. Fingerprint analysts use these devices to examine bodily fluids. These fluids can be shared with and analyzed by toxicologists to determine whether a suspect was under the influence of illicit drugs. This type of collaboration lets each forensic specialist contribute to another discipline.

Forensic scientists are also encouraged to continue networking well into their careers. Connecting with other scientists from various disciplines will give them more opportunities to apply their knowledge in new ways.

Pursue a Career in Forensic Science With a Bachelor’s Degree

Forensic scientists are an essential part of the criminal justice system and can help prove the guilt or innocence of suspects. Salem University’s Bachelor of Crime Scene Investigation program teaches students everything they need to know about crime scene forensic science, gathering evidence, performing tests, and providing testimony in court. The program focuses on many of the foundational elements of becoming a forensic scientist, such as critical thinking and ethical decision-making. Additionally, Salem offers a one-course-a-month format for those who prefer to focus on a single subject at a time. Contact us today to learn more.

Tags: ,

  • Categories

  • Recent Posts