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Forensic Scientist: Career Definition, Job Outlook, and Training Requirements

Research what it takes to be a forensic scientist. Learn about job duties, training requirements, job outlook, and salary to find out if this is the career for you.

What Do Forensic Scientists Do?

You've seen them on television solving crimes in an instant using fingerprints, DNA, computers and chemistry. The truth is, forensic scientists do solve a lot of crime, only it's not quite so instant or as glamorous. Forensic scientists must be competent and trained in several areas as they work with law enforcement agencies by analyzing evidence and the scene of a crime. They may be tasked with taking photographs of crime scenes, sketching those scenes that need details photographs can't show, and collecting evidence like fingerprints, body fluids and weapons. On top of all this, forensic scientists work in labs with the latest computer-aided tools and software created to help solve crimes. The table below shows some general information about this career.

Degree Required Bachelor's degree
Education Field of Study Forensic science
Key Skills Attention to detail, analysis skills, laboratory skills, communication skills
Job Growth (2018-2028) 14% for forensic science technicians*
Average Salary (2018) $58,230 for forensic science technicians*

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

What Are My Duties As A Forensic Scientist?

As a forensic scientist, you're responsible for helping detectives, investigators and attorneys better understand what took place at a crime scene. You may do this by comparing crime scene evidence to evidence found on a suspect. You may also be called upon to provide expert testimony as a court witness. Your main responsibility is to collect and analyze chemical and physical evidence that may be integral to an investigation.

The materials that you and other forensic scientists typically study include bodily fluids, hair, fingerprints, fibers and tissue. According to your specialty, you may also analyze handwriting samples or perform tests on any firearms, shell casings and other material found at a crime scene. You may find yourself performing DNA analysis, which has increasingly played an important role in confirming the identity of suspects at a crime scene.

How Is My Job Outlook?

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians -- a group that includes forensic scientists -- had an annual median salary of $58,230 in May 2018 (www.bls.gov). Most worked for local governments. As a forensic scientist employed by federal agencies, you'll typically earned higher wages than those employed by state and local agencies. In May 2018, forensic scientists who worked in the federal government had a mean wage of $110,720, compared to those who worked in state government at $62,070 a year.

The BLS also reported that this occupation is expected to grow by 14% between 2018 and 2028, which is much faster than average. The top paying states for forensic scientists were Illinois, California, Massachusetts, Connecticut and New Hampshire in 2018.

What Are My Training Requirements?

To work a forensic scientist, you may complete a bachelor's degree program in forensic science. Along with a strong math and science curriculum, you may want to take courses in criminal justice, forensic anthropology, investigative procedures, forensic science, public speaking, biostatistics and microscopy.

Also, some of these programs offer a forensics laboratory internship. Accumulating laboratory experience as an intern can help you prepare for the work expected of a forensic scientist. For example, you'll develop your communication skills as you learn to prepare and share reports of your findings with others. These skills are also needed to present clear testimony as a witness.

What Are Some Related Alternative Careers?

There are a plethora of occupations similar to forensic science. With a high school diploma, one can typically become a police officer or hazardous materials removal worker. An associate's degree is necessary for jobs as a chemical technician or environmental protection technician. Bachelor's degrees are needed by biological technicians, chemists and materials scientists, and a master's is required for epidemiologists who follow patterns and causes of disease in communities.