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Forensic Science Careers – Education, Skills & Salary

forensic science careers

Forensic science is an ever-evolving and intense field that helps to catch criminals. It’s highly competitive and leads to many high-paying careers in law enforcement and computer science. Forensic science careers are some of the best for logically minded students who love the physical sciences and law.

Not sure where exactly you should focus your efforts as a forensic science major? This article breaks down some of the best forensic science careers you can pursue.

Who Should Study in the Forensic Science Field?

The forensic science field is vast, and there are many careers one can pursue. This field is best for those who:

  • Want to work in laboratory environments or at crime scenes
  • Like their work to contribute positively to society by assisting in criminal investigations
  • Want to have practical scientific problems to solve everyday

Many forensic science positions are particularly suited to individuals with minds for math and science. They’re logical, procedural positions that require long working hours in some cases. However, these jobs can be gratifying because of their tangible results.

Furthermore, many forensic science positions have lots of opportunities for advancement. Lab technicians or analysts can become managers or take on new specialties. Others may choose to enter law enforcement and become crime scene investigators. Regardless, the forensic science field could be a great career field for many college graduates.

Forensic Medical Examiner

The forensic science career of forensic medical examiners is one of the highest-paid profession in this industry. That’s partially because forensic medical examiners must not only complete four-year bachelor’s degrees. They must also complete four-year medical degrees in addition to completing residencies and state requirements.

All that education adds up to highly skilled medical doctors who receive specialized training as physicians or forensic pathologists. Medical examiners use their forensic science skills to:

  • Help determine the cause of death of individuals at crime scenes
  • Determine the potential presence of poisons and other toxic substances
  • Examine other biological aspects of a crime scene, like bloodstains

Once evidence is gathered and analyzed, forensic medical examiners present their conclusions to law enforcement officers and other professionals. These individuals help catch criminals and prevent future deaths from occurring. The path of the forensic medical examiner is ideal if you want to have a long career.

Forensic medical examiners earn average salaries of over $95,000 a year.

Forensic Accountant

Forensic accountants are unique professionals who blend forensic science and accounting principles into a single career. These professionals track the signs of fraud and criminal financial activity across bank accounts and financial software. In this forensic science career, these accountants often assist law enforcement personnel in pursuing financial criminals, like embezzlers or tax evaders.

Depending on the program one pursues, forensic accountant programs may allow specializations in areas such as:

  • Securities fraud
  • Tax fraud
  • Bankruptcy
  • Post-acquisition disputes
  • Breaches of contract
  • Money laundering
  • Business valuation
  • Computer and information technology crimes

Forensic accountants also make a lot of money because of their unique and specialized skill sets. Cybercriminal activity is on the rise. As this activity becomes more common, law enforcement agencies will need more forensic accountants.

Forensic accountants earn average salaries of over $77,000 per year.

Crime Laboratory Analyst

A forensic science career in crime laboratory analysis is perfect for those who love science and criminal justice. These professionals use forensic science skills to analyze evidence gathered at crime scenes. Crime laboratory analysts need a background in:

  • Biology and biochemistry
  • Molecular biology
  • Physics
  • Psychology

These skills are necessary so crime laboratory analysts can complete their important work. This work includes evidence analysis, bodily fluid analysis, and much more.

Many crime scene analysts must first complete internships with law enforcement or forensics organizations. Generally, a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, forensic science, or microbiology is needed.

Given time and experience, many crime laboratory analysts may become crime scene investigators. However, crime laboratory analysts do most of their work in laboratory environments. They may not physically visit the scenes of crimes. Instead, they analyze the evidence gathered by crime scene investigators or other professionals and summarize their conclusions for legal prosecution purposes.

Crime laboratory analysts earn nearly $58,000 each year.

Crime Scene Investigator

One of the most well known and popular forensic science careers is that of a crime scene investigator. CSIs are the go-to specialists who examine the scenes of crimes and perform work like:

  • Determining how criminal activities occurred
  • Inferring motive from criminals based on evidence at the scene of the crime
  • Examining crime scenes to gather more evidence or analyze existing evidence
  • Working with law enforcement officers to gather testimony for upcoming court cases

Most crime scene investigators require bachelor’s degrees in this field. They may also need to take classes in criminal psychology, law enforcement, and related topics. Crime scene investigators can technically be detectives.

For example, students can become detectives by earning degrees in law enforcement or law. Then they can specialize in forensic science or take a few concentration classes in the field. Such qualifications allow them to earn crime scene investigator positions. It all depends on the police department or forensic evidence organization.

Crime scene investigators earn about $66,000 per year.

Fingerprint Analysts

Fingerprint analysts are advanced professionals who focus on collecting, preserving, and analyzing fingerprints left at a crime scene. As their job title suggests, they study and evaluate fingerprints in the context of criminal investigations or pursuits. Most fingerprint analysts work in laboratory environments. However, some may visit crime scenes to gather fingerprint samples in person.

Regardless, all fingerprint analysts perform duties such as processing and preserving fingerprint samples. Once they process those samples, they analyze them and load the images into fingerprint databases. These databases are used by law enforcement personnel nationwide.

For specific criminal investigations, fingerprints might help locate criminals. Most fingerprint analysts require bachelor’s degrees in either forensic science or a related field. Depending on one’s career goals, some fingerprint analysts branch out into other forensic science careers. Some even become crime scene investigators.

Fingerprint analysts earn about $62,000 each year.

Evidence Technician

Evidence technician is a forensic science career that collect evidence at crime scenes. This is not as simple as one might think. Proper evidence collection involves following strict protocols and avoiding evidence contamination.

Because of their background in forensic science, evidence technicians know how to do this. They can gather evidence without contaminating it or ruining it. Then the evidence can be analyzed and even used in court cases. Evidence technicians are responsible for:

  • Collecting evidence at crime scenes ranging from fingerprints to bullet casings to blood samples and more
  • Processing that evidence, typically in laboratories
  • Transporting evidence

Regardless of their exact duties, evidence technicians need degrees in criminal justice or forensics. Depending on the police department, some professionals can hold entry-level technician jobs provided they have previous forensic experience. Thus, the degree requirements for this position are a little more flexible than the requirements for other positions.

Evidence technicians earn approximately $62,000 a year.

Forensics Manager

Forensics managers are advanced professionals who oversee any supporting activities for criminal investigations. These duties can include:

  • Planning criminal investigations
  • Directing evidence gathering and analysis efforts
  • Coordinating with different departments or personnel to ensure crime scene investigations go smoothly

Because of this leadership-oriented task list, most forensics managers have some skill in the field. They could be cross-promoted from other areas as well. They all require bachelor’s degrees in forensic science or related fields.

Note that forensics managers don’t typically gather evidence themselves. They are more people-focused and help ensure that other analysts or evidence collectors do their jobs properly.

Forensics managers earn nearly $100,000 a year in many cases.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists work closely with the legal system. They always require a master's degree in forensic psychology. However, several hold dual degrees in similar fields like psychology or psychiatry. Most forensic psychologists have certifications from the American Board of Forensic Psychology.

Forensic psychologists perform a lot of duties, including:

  • Performing in-depth psychological assessments of accused or convicted criminals
  • Performing psychological assessments of witnesses or defendants in court cases and other legal proceedings
  • Speaking as expert witnesses in court cases
  • Devising treatment plans for prison inmates or convicted criminals
  • Making recommendations for convicted criminals’ parole

Many forensic psychologists work closely with psychiatric hospitals or correctional facilities. They also work with community health centers and government agencies. This forensic science career is ideal for individuals who want to understand the minds of criminals.

Forensic psychologists earn approximately $81,000 a year.

Forensic Ballistics Expert

These experts are specialists in the matter of ballistic evidence. Ballistic evidence involves any evidence related to gun use or bullets. For example, forensic ballistic experts know:

  • What type of firearm a bullet came from
  • What the impact damage from specific bullet calibers looks like
  • How far someone was when they fired a bullet
  • Where a gun was pointing when it fired
  • And more

All of this physical evidence proves helpful as police determine crime suspects or reconstruct crime scenes. Forensic ballistics experts work closely with crime scene investigators and law enforcement personnel.

Depending on the case, some forensic ballistics experts may provide expert testimony during court cases. Through science, they can prove that a gun did or did not fire a specific bullet. Both prosecutors and defense attorneys use forensic ballistics experts for their goals.

Forensic ballistic experts earn about $62,000 a year.

Forensic Bloodstain Pattern Analyst

Another example of a forensic science career are forensic bloodstain pattern analysts.  These experts specialize in the area of bloodstain patterns. They determine:

  • Where someone was standing when they suffered a wound
  • What kind of weapon created a bloodstain
  • The age of old bloodstains

Analysts use this information to reconstruct crime scenes, clear or accuse suspects, etc. Forensic bloodstain pattern analysts work with law enforcement personnel closely. They sometimes gather evidence at crime scenes. But most of their work is done in a laboratory by analyzing photographs and blood samples.

As with many other forensic experts, these analysts may be called upon to provide expert testimony during court proceedings.

Forensic bloodstain analysts earn about $58,000 a year.

Forensic Pathologist

First, forensic pathologists are medical doctors. They have crucial duties when murder is suspected. They conduct detailed autopsies on bodies to determine:

  • Cause and time of death
  • Whether foul play was involved in the death of a victim
  • If there are any substances, such as toxins, in the body at the time of death

This is a vital forensic science career that assists criminal investigations. Forensic pathologists both gather and analyze evidence from their autopsy procedures. Because this requires medical and forensic experience, forensic pathologists must go through a lot of schooling.

All forensic pathologists have to complete medical school programs. Afterward, they must complete between three and five years of residency training in general pathology. They do not necessarily need degrees in forensic science. Some have bachelor’s degrees in this field, however.

Forensic pathologists earn approximately $81,000 a year.

Forensic Odontologist

The forensic science career that identifies human remains through dental records is called forensic odontology. For example, a forensic odontologist may:

  • Examine the teeth of a murder victim
  • Compare the results of that examination to existing dental records
  • Using this information, the forensic odontologist then identifies the victim for criminal investigations

Forensic odontologists primarily identify the bodies of otherwise unidentifiable victims. This is important when identifying victims whose bodies may have decayed over time. In addition to this, some forensic odontologists analyze bite marks or dental injuries that may have occurred during criminal activity. Many medical examiner offices have at least one forensic odontologist on their staff or on retainer.

Forensic odontologists need to complete lots of schooling to qualify. They may complete a bachelor’s degree or a certificate in forensic science as well. Note that forensic odontologists are not licensed dentists and cannot open practices. However, some forensic odontologists may still be called on as experts in criminal court cases when needed.

Forensic oncologists earn about $58,000 a year.

Forensic Toxicologist

Toxin experts are known as forensic toxicologists. This forensic science career examines how alcohol, drugs, and other substances may have affected a victim or led to their death. They don’t complete autopsies specifically. But they may take drug reports from autopsies and analyze the discovered information.

The duties of forensic toxicologists include:

  • Identifying poisons and toxins used in a crime
  • Determining whether a substance affected a person’s driving ability
  • Deciding whether a person was poisoned prior to death

Forensic toxicologists are also used to identify criminal activity for living people. For example, they may analyze drug reports for drivers accused of driving under the influence. They can determine whether a person was really affected by alcohol or not with more accuracy.

Due to their responsibilities, many forensic toxicologists perform in-depth scientific tests. They act as experts in court cases. Regardless, many of them work very closely with attorneys, police, and crime scene investigators.

Forensic toxicologists earn approximately $58,000 a year.

Forensic Document Specialist

Some criminal activity occurs in documents. Forensic document examiners or document specialists analyze signatures and handwriting samples. They also complete other duties, such as restoring destroyed documents.

For example, suppose a detective accuses someone of having written a letter. In that case, a forensic document specialist can determine whether the accused individual actually wrote the letter. This can be crucial when determining whether an accused individual is a criminal or not.

Many forensic document specialists perform other duties, such as restoring liquid-soaked or burned documents. This is especially vital when pursuing criminal actions in the financial fraud sector. On top of those duties, some forensic document examiners classify types of printers used in crimes. Again, this information can be invaluable when convicting financial criminals.

State and federal law enforcement agencies hire these specialists. They are not law enforcement officers themselves. They may be hired for individual jobs or kept on retainer.

Forensic document specialists earn approximately $58,000 a year.

Veterinary Forensic Specialist

Another forensic science career is that of a veterinary forensic specialist. These professionals work with animal evidence. Their duties include:

  • Recovering evidence (blood, saliva, etc.) from animals involved in crimes or animal victims
  • Identifying bite marks, scratches, and other evidence on victims to determine the animal involved
  • Examining animal remains

Note that veterinary forensic specialists are not licensed veterinarians. Instead, they typically work with licensed veterinarians to conduct detailed medical tests. They usually have degrees in forensic science with concentrations in veterinary science.

In many cases, veterinary forensic specialists help with illegal animal trading or inhumane animal treatment crimes.

Veterinary forensic specialists earn approximately $58,000 per year.

Cybersecurity Forensic Specialist

Cybersecurity forensic specialists are now much more common because more criminal activity occurs online than ever before. In this forensic science career, specialists gather evidence of crimes committed within the world wide web.

For example, they may gather information like:

  • Code strings that can identify cybercriminals
  • Keywords or passwords from cybercriminals
  • How a cyberattack took place
  • Where a cyber breach first began

All of this information can be invaluable when solving cybercrimes. These specialists may have degrees in either forensic science or cybersecurity. Then they may have concentrations or certificates in the other field.

Cybersecurity forensic specialists are essential for all types of cybercriminal activity. They help law enforcement agencies track down hackers, fraudsters, and others.

Cybersecurity forensic specialists earn over $100,000 a year.

Forensic Engineer

Forensic engineers are one of the highest-paid forensic science careers. They examine structures and machines to determine the cause of failure for accidents or criminal activities. In many cases, forensic engineers help law enforcement personnel determine whether a crime took place. Or they may discover that a building collapsed or sustained other damage due to purely accidental causes.

Forensic engineers need to know a lot about architecture, building construction, and related topics. These professionals must also be able to blend forensic principles and ideas with architectural concepts.

Students pursuing forensic engineering positions should get degrees accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology. That will ensure that their program is fully accredited and attractive to employers.

Forensic engineers earn approximately $62,000 a year.

Polygraph Examiner

Polygraph examiners are forensic science experts who specialize in the use of the polygraph test. The polygraph is a common tool used to solve crimes or detect deception from criminal suspects.

All polygraph examiners go through training to conduct these examinations using polygraphs. They know the ins and outs of the test and can identify whether someone is lying or telling the truth. They can then present their evidence to crime scene investigators or law enforcement personnel. In some cases, they provide expert testimony in court. This is very important forensic science career since polygraph reports aren’t always admissible in court.

Polygraph examiners earn about $58,000 a year.

Start Your Forensic Science Career Today!

All in all, there are many forensic science jobs to consider as you begin or build your career. Forensic science as a field won’t be going away anytime soon. Getting a high-paying job in this field could set you up for success for decades.

GetEducated.com can help you make that dream happen through online education. Many of the best forensic science programs are now available through online schools. Check out our catalog of top online universities today for more information!

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