Forensic Scientist Career Overview
Forensic scientists use cutting-edge scientific techniques to preserve and examine evidence and develop investigative leads in connection with civil and criminal proceedings. Their job duties fall into two basic categories: analyzing evidence and acting as expert witnesses in legal proceedings.
Forensic scientists collect, identify, and analyze physical evidence related to criminal investigations and testify as expert witnesses on evidence or crime laboratory techniques. Forensic scientists often specialize in a particular area of expertise, such as ballistics, DNA analysis, fingerprinting, handwriting, toxicology or biochemistry.
EducationWhile some forensic scientists hold a certificate or associate’s degree, candidates with bachelor’s degrees will find the most career opportunities. Degrees in biology, chemistry, forensic science, pre-med, microbiology or related natural science field are common for careers in forensic science. Some forensic scientists possess advanced degrees; those who provide expert analysis and testimony often have a Ph.D. or master’s degree in their field of expertise.
Excellent communication skills are important in order to convey findings and testify in court. Forensic scientists must also possess strong analytical skills, attention to detail and objectivity to analyze evidence and interpret scientific results. A background in law enforcement and an understanding of, or experience with, the law and legal procedures can be helpful.
Forensic scientists are employed in a number of work environments including police departments, government agencies, investigation and security service organizations, prosecutors’ offices, law firms, medical and diagnostic laboratories, insurance companies, hospitals and consulting firms. Some specialists are self-employed, such as those who offer testimony as expert witnesses.
Forensic scientists earn a mean annual wage of $52,960 and a mean hourly wage of $25.46, according to the Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
According to the BLS, forensic science is one of the 30 fastest growing occupations. As developments in technology increase the role of forensic science in the courtroom, the demand for forensic analysts will continue to grow.
Source: Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition.