Thanks to swift advances in forensic technologies, the field of forensic science is broader than it has ever been, and forensic scientists have more professional opportunities than ever before.
Forensic science, in its simplest form, is science focused on the justice system. Therefore, any science used within the context of the law can be said to be forensic science. There are a host of forensic science disciplines, including:
- Forensic technicians
- DNA analysts
- Forensic toxicologists
- Forensic entomology
- Forensic anthropologists
- Forensic odontologists
- Forensic botanists
- Forensic geologists
- Medical examiners
- Forensic pathologists
- Trace evidence analysts
- Fingerprint examiners
- Questioned documents analysts
- Forensic autopsy technicians
Forensic science jobs are most often focused on the forensic laboratory, whereas the professionals at the scene of the crime generally fall under the field of crime scene investigation (CSI). Forensic scientists are professionals who gain valuable information regarding crime scene investigations through scientific analysis and observation.
Forensic Lab Science Career Info by State
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The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, which represents more than 6,000 scientists, organizes the forensic sciences into 11, distinct sections:
- Digital and Multimedia Sciences
- Engineering Sciences
- Physical Anthropology
- Psychiatric and Behavioral Science
- Questioned documents
Forensic Science Job Description
Although forensic scientists, depending on the discipline, have distinct job tasks and responsibilities, because the scope of their work is primarily focused on the forensic laboratory, their general job duties tend to be similar.
Specifically, forensic scientists are usually responsible for:
- Performing scientific observations and tests according to strict laboratory procedures and protocol
- Using state-of-the-art chemical and biomedical instrumentation and technology
- Providing expert witness testimony in a court of law
- Complying with safety, quality control, and other administrative criteria
- Preparing detailed reports based on their findings
- Preserving physical evidence
- Collaborating and communicating with crime scene investigators and law enforcement personnel
- Utilizing state and national databases for comparison and analyzing purposes
Forensic Science Education
Although each discipline within the field of forensic science requires a distinct educational path, the majority of forensic science careers are grounded in the same, basic framework, which includes study in the natural sciences. Specifically, individuals pursuing careers in forensic science most often complete degrees that are focused on basic science knowledge and applying scientific principles to the collection and analysis of physical evidence.
Forensic science education may include associate’s degrees, bachelor’s degrees, master’s degrees, and graduate certificates. The majority of employers require bachelor’s degrees for entry-level laboratory work, although many forensic scientists pursue graduate degrees when seeking to focus their careers in specific areas of forensic science.
Forensic science degree programs often allow students to choose specific tracks or specialization within a more general degree. For example, a bachelor’s degree in forensic science may offer tracks in biology or chemistry, while a master’s degree in forensic science may allow students to focus their study on forensic biology, forensic chemistry, forensic toxicology, or trace analysis.
Many employers require candidates to possess bachelor or master’s degrees that have been fully accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). Programs that are accredited by FEPAC have also achieved accreditation through a regional accreditation organization.
Areas of study within a forensic science program typically include:
- Forensic Chemistry – The use of chemical tests to identify and analyze evidence
- Forensic Biology – The study of biological evidence, such as tissue, hair, bodily fluids, and DNA
- Criminal Evidence – The study of how physical evidence is applied in the criminal justice system
- Crime Scene Investigation – The study of recognizing, documenting, and collecting physical evidence where a crime has occurred
- Courtroom Proceedings – The study of the environments in which forensic scientists give testimony.
The majority of forensic science training is achieved through apprenticeships and on-the-job training. Many careers in forensic science, for example, require a probationary period for new hires, during which time they work under the close supervision of a senior forensic scientist. Many employers require forensic scientists to achieve professional certification, which often comes with specific experience requirements – experience that may be achieved through on-the-job training.
Forensic Science Professional Certification
Due to the highly technical nature of forensic science careers, it comes as no surprise that professional certification is not only commonplace, but required, in many instances. Some of the most common associations for forensic scientist certification include:
- American Board of Criminalistics
- International Association for Identification
- American Board of Forensic Toxicology
- American Board of Forensic Document Examiners
- International Board of Forensic Engineering Sciences
- American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators
- American Board of Forensic Odontology
- American Board of Forensic Anthropology
- National Association of Forensic Counselors