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Watch crime shows like “Dexter” and you can’t help but be intrigued by how blood splatter analysis can reveal the exact height of an otherwise invisible assassin.
Forensic scientists, sometimes known as CSIs, are crime-fighting geeks. They are highly trained in law enforcement and the biological sciences.
Many types of professionals are attracted to a career in forensics. The field, which requires an understanding of criminal psychology, law enforcement and lab science, attracts law enforcement professionals, psychologists and scientists—biologists, chemists and even computer scientists.
Much of the mystique of this career comes from the allure of using science to catching criminals red-handed.
Online Forensic Science Degrees
Many mistakenly believe lab science majors can’t be taught online. While it is difficult to teach upper-level chemistry or physics through distance learning, many online forensic science schools use virtual labs.
Virtual labs allow crime scene investigators simulate and study crime scenarios on their laptops. Virtual science labs and video course modules help criminologists master the applied science of crime—like how to interpret blood splatter patterns.
Because forensic science is so popular, many online schools offer programs in this major (view all criminal justice degrees). Be aware that a bachelor’s degree is optimal and often required to become a forensic scientist. The field is very specialized, so a master’s degree may be required for management positions or for employment with state and federal agencies.
Be careful when choosing an online school for this career. Many online programs that advertise as “crime scene investigator schools” offer training courses that may not be adequate for employment in the government sector.
Most CSIs or forensic specialists work for government agencies. This includes the military as well as local, state and federal police agencies. Government employment in this area often requires at least a bachelor’s degree.
What Is a Forensic Scientist or CSI?
Forensic scientists investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. They gather evidence in the form of fibers, glass, hair, tissue, body fluids, bullets or other items and then test them to find out whether—and how—they are significant to the investigation.
Many forensic scientists have areas of specialization, such as weapons, cybercrime or DNA analysis.
Forensic science investigators also write reports about their findings and provide their expert opinion to investigators. When criminal cases come to trial, forensic science technicians often give testimony in court about evidence collected at the scene of a crime.
How to Become a Forensic Scientist — Career Change
CSI careers require a solid understanding of science and an ability to perform scientific experiments. Professionals with degrees in chemistry, physics, biology and the lab sciences are often attracted to this field. Such professionals have the science foundation needed to excel as forensic scientists.
Forensics has become a popular career choice among students who major in criminal justice or criminology, as well as those who study the lab sciences, including biology and chemistry.
The most common degree chosen by computer scientists entering this field is the online computer forensics degree. Forensic specialists who earn this major fight cybercrime or the use of computers in criminal activity.
Computer experts are increasingly needed for crime scene exploration of computer networks and data drives. One IT career area that intersects with the CSI field is the information assurance field. Graduates of information security degree programs learn how to safeguard information that is stored online and inside computerized data systems.
Those who hold bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice, psychology or human services are good cross-career candidates for specialized work in forensic science.
Private investigators, detectives and police officers often re-specialize in this area for the added benefit of working outside of the line of fire.
Forensic Science Salary & Wages
Jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 20 percent through 2018, much faster than the average. Increasingly, state and local governments are using forensic science to examine, solve and prevent crimes.
People mistakenly believe that evidence subjected to lab analysis is infallible. This belief makes forensic scientists increasingly popular hires by public law enforcement agencies as well as private security firms.
In 2010, forensic science technicians with bachelor’s earned a median salary of almost $52,000 per year. Employees of the federal government earn more than their local counterparts and those working for psychiatric facilities or private security firms. Wages vary by state, with Connecticut, Kansas, California, Virginia and New York paying the most.
Jobs for forensic scientists, which are plentiful, come mainly from state and county crime labs.
For more information on careers in forensic science, salaries, and job prospects visit: U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Science Technicians and the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Employment Statistics.