Forensic DNA analysts are scientists who are responsible for obtaining biological information within the scope of a criminal investigation. Data derived from DNA analyses performed by forensic DNA analysts may be used to help law enforcement identify a victim or a perpetrator.
DNA is like an individual’s personal biological signature, and it is found in hair, blood, tissue and bodily fluids. Through a biological sample, forensic DNA analysts are able to isolate an individual’s DNA and cross-reference it with other collected samples as well as with information stored in a national DNA database so as to ultimately determine the identity of the DNA sample. This is used to build a case by placing a suspect at a crime scene, or even isolate a victim’s DNA on a suspect’s clothing, car or home.
The work of a forensic DNA analyst is often crucial in a crime scene investigation, as the results are unambiguous and clear-cut and can be used in a court of law.
The Job of a Forensic DNA Analyst
Forensic DNA analysts work in forensic crime labs, where they conduct tests on samples obtained from crime scenes. Many forensic DNA analysts work for local, state, or federal law enforcement or governmental agencies, while others work for privately owned forensic laboratories.
Forensic DNA analyst jobs involve conducting any number of specialized DNA tests, including DNA purification, PCR amplification, and fluorescent DNA analysis. Through distinct laboratory techniques and strict protocols, forensic DNA analysts catalog and analyze DNA evidence. All findings must be notated and reported, as the results of the testing may be used in a court of law. These professionals may also need to appear in court as expert witnesses to verify the findings of their DNA analyses.
Forensic DNA analyst jobs involve:
- Strictly follow safety procedures and other laboratory rules and regulations
- Analyze and interpret data
- Identify problems that may affect test performance and correct those problems
- Interact with investigative personnel through forensic casework
- Implement and adhere to quality assurance programs
- Provide court testimony when required
- Conduct peer reviews regarding quality assurance and safety procedures
The Educational Path for Forensic DNA Analysts
Forensic DNA analysts must have a formal education through a four-year degree in:
- Molecular genetics
- Molecular biology
- Forensic science
Coursework in these programs often include: microbiology, biochemistry, immunology, and infectious diseases, and considerable laboratory work is central. Because these laboratory professionals must be able to effectively detail their findings and provide expert testimony in a court of law, candidates for forensic DNA analyst positions must have excellent written and oral communication skills.
Just a few of the undergraduate degrees individuals may pursue for forensic DNA analyst careers include:
- Bachelor of Science in Biology, DNA Analysis Methods
- Bachelor of Science in Biological Sciences
- Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science
- Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology
Most positions in this field require at least 2 years of full-time experience in forensic casework, and many employers require graduate-level coursework in biochemistry, genetics, statistics/population genetics, and molecular biology as a condition of employment.
Graduate programs often pursued by individuals interested in careers as forensic DNA analysts include:
- Master of Science in Forensic Science
- Master of Science in Forensic and Conservation Genetics
- Master of Science in Forensic Analysis
- Master of Science in Molecular Biology
- Master of Science in Human and Molecular Genetics
- Master of Science in Biomedical Sciences
- Master of Science in Medical Genetics
- Master of Science in Analytical and Forensic Science
Salary Statistics for Forensic DNA Analysts
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, biological technicians, as of May 2010, earned a mean annual salary of $39,020, with the top 10 percent earning more than $62,890. The BLS also reported a mean annual salary for forensic science technicians of $51,570 during the same time, with the top 10 percent earning more than $82,990. Both professions are expected to grow at a rate of about 19 percent between 2010 and 2010, which is about average among all occupations.
Studying recent job listings for forensic DNA analysts may better highlight the average salaries in this profession. The latest job listings show the following salary ranges for forensic DNA analysts:
- Indiana, private laboratory: $55,000
- Pennsylvania, county medical examiner’s office: $35,820-$59,880
- Colorado, county sheriff’s office: $81,840
- Utah, city department of public safety: $41,548-$77,568
- Louisiana, local criminal laboratory: $53,002
Resources for Forensic DNA Analysts
Forensic DNA analysts often join professional associations as to:
- Stay current on the latest methods, techniques, and procedures used in the field of forensic science and DNA analysis
- Promote the dissemination of information on research and new developments within the field
- Stay current on the latest legislative issues regarding DNA analysis
- Network with other professionals in the field
- Obtain continuing education and other formal training
- Participate in guest lectures and annual events
DNA analysts may find a wealth of information and networking opportunities through the following organizations:
- Association of Forensic DNA Analysts and Administrators
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- International Association of Crime Analysts