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How to Become a Forensic Scientist in Washington, DC

Forensic science in Washington D.C. is a hot career choice, given recent statistics by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). The BLS reported that, as of May 2012, our nation’s capital had the highest concentration of jobs in the nation and came in first in the nation for its pay of forensic scientists, with a mean annual salary of $73,010. Further, the Washington-Arlington-Alexandria, DC-VA-MD metropolitan area ranked third in the nation for its employment level of forensic scientists during the same time.

Washington D.C. is home to a number of colleges and universities that offer study in forensic science. There are a few degree-granting schools that offer undergraduate degrees in forensic science, although many students pursue bachelor’s degrees in one of the sciences, such as chemistry or biology.

Advanced Degrees in Forensic Science

Graduate degrees in forensic science have become an important component for many forensic scientists, given the highly technical nature of these careers.  Students may therefore pursue a degree such as a Master of Forensic Science, a laboratory-intensive degree that often affords them the opportunity to choose a specific concentration, or track, such as:

Master of Forensic Science in Forensic Chemistry

A Master of Forensic Science in Forensic Chemistry is designed to provide study in the field of forensic drug chemistry and trace evidence analysis. Individuals choosing to pursue this degree will likely possess a bachelor’s degree in chemistry. Required coursework in this graduate degree typically includes the following:

  • Trace Evidence Analysis
  • Criminal Law
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Physical Aspects of Forensic Science
  • Forensic Drug Analysis

Master of Forensic Science in Forensic Molecular Biology

A Master of Forensic Science degree in Forensic Molecular Biology is designed to prepare students to work as DNA analysts in crime laboratories. Individuals choosing this major will likely possess an undergraduate degree in molecular biology. Study includes training in chemical, physical, immunological, and microscopic methods, principles of criminal law and procedure, and the theoretical aspects of advanced methods in forensic molecular biology.

Required coursework often includes the following:

  • Forensic Biology
  • Physical Aspects of Forensic Science
  • Forensic Molecular Biology
  • Forensic DNA Profiling
  • Population Genetics

Master of Forensic Science in Forensic Toxicology

A Master of Forensic Science in Forensic Toxicology is designed to prepare students for careers in private testing laboratories or in a medical examiner’s office. This type of degree often teaches students how to conduct analyses of biological samples and interpret their findings. Students pursuing this major will likely possess a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biology.

Required coursework likely includes the following:

  • Physical Aspects of Forensic Science
  • Biological Aspects of Forensic Science
  • Principles of Toxicology
  • Medicinal Chemistry
  • Analytical Toxicology
  • Criminal Law
  • Forensic Toxicology

Forensic Jobs and Careers in Washington D.C.: How to Become a Forensic Scientist

Individuals who want to learn how to become a forensic scientist must meet a specific set of requirements to achieve employment through the District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences.

Forensic scientists in Washington D.C. may be assigned a number of duties in the areas of:

  • DNA and serological methods
  • Latent prints
  • Materials analysis
  • Firearms and toolmarks
  • Questioned documents
  • Digital evidence
  • Photography

They must be able to conduct a wide array of complex analyses, including quantitative and qualitative analyses using specific techniques, such as physical testing, identification and classification, comparison, polarizing, and scanning electron, just to name a few.

Individuals who want to pursue forensic scientist careers in D.C. must possess, at a minimum, a bachelor’s of science degree in a natural or forensic science, although graduate programs accredited by the Forensic Science Educational Program Accreditation Commission are preferred.

About the DC Department of Forensic Science

The District of Columbia Department of Forensic Sciences (DFS), which was established in 2011, provides science services to District agencies, including the Department of Health, the Metropolitan Police Department, the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, the Attorney General, the Department of Health, the Fire and Emergency Medical Services Department, and a number of other law enforcement and investigative agencies.

The DFS consists of the following three divisions:

Consolidated Forensic Laboratory (CFL)

The Consolidated Forensic Laboratory (CFL) provides public safety and health science infrastructure through advanced laboratory and work facilities.

Forensic Science Laboratory Division (FSL)

The Forensic Science Laboratory Division of the DFS is responsible for collecting, examining, analyzing, and reporting on physical evidence that is submitted in criminal cases. The FSL provides forensic biology, materials analyses, fingerprint, and firearms examinations.

Public Health Laboratory Division (PHL)

The Public Health Laboratory Division is called upon to test samples for toxins, infectious organisms, and other threats to public health. The PHL provides clinical diagnostic testing, disease surveillance, emergency response support, laboratory training, and applied research services.

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