The Pros and Cons of a Forensic Analyst Career
A forensic analyst collects and analyzes material evidence found at crime scenes. Keep reading to learn more about the pros and cons of a career as a forensic analyst.
|Pros of a Forensic Analyst Career|
|Excellent pay ($59,000 mean annual wage in 2014)*|
|Excellent job benefits (retirement plan, health insurance, paid vacation, sick leave)**|
|Potentially rewarding career that helps society***|
|Job provides variety (visiting crime scenes, analyzing evidence, testifying in court)*|
|Cons of a Forensic Analyst Career|
|Crime scenes can be distressing*|
|Possibility of exposure to contaminants from physical evidence**|
|Strong job competition*|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **iseek.org, ***American Academy of Forensic Sciences, ****Allegheny College.
Forensic analysts collect and preserve the evidence at crime scenes and then analyze it onsite or in a laboratory. The evidence they analyze includes substances such as hair, fibers, blood, and glass; and other physical evidence such as fingerprints and weapons. They document the crime scene by taking notes and photographs.
After the evidence has been preserved and transported to the laboratory, forensic analysts use microscopes, chemicals and other methods to analyze it. They also perform ballistics tests on bullets and search computer databases to match DNA and fingerprints to try and connect a suspect to a crime. They document their tests and findings and sometimes are required to testify in court.
Forensic analysts commonly specialize in different areas such as toxicology, chemistry, fingerprinting and document examination. Tooth mark identification, firearms and DNA are some other fields of specialization.
Salary and Career Outlook
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic analysts earned a mean annual wage of $59,000 in 2014. Job prospects in this field are below average, with job growth projected to be around 6% between 2012 and 2022.
Most entry-level positions for forensic analysts require a bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology or an associated field. Certificate programs, associate's degrees and bachelor's degrees in forensic science are available at some colleges and universities. A typical forensic science program includes courses in collecting and preserving evidence, crime scene investigation, laboratory techniques and analyzing evidence. The educational requirements vary among different employers, and some agencies accept a high school diploma.
In order to be employed as a forensic analyst, you must have a clean record. Background checks are run to ensure that a candidate has no criminal record. Polygraph tests are sometimes required. Some states and jurisdictions also require forensic analysts to be sworn law enforcement officers.
Other skills you will need to bring to this field include:
- Inductive and deductive reasoning
- Complex problem solving
- Ability to detect patterns
- Critical thinking
- Ability to communicate both orally and in writing
- Far and near vision
- Obtaining and documenting information
- Computer skills
- Ability to organize and prioritize
Actual Job Postings from Employers
Employers typically want to hire forensic analysts with experience and a bachelor's degree. Job postings often describe the type of work the forensic analyst can expect. Following are some actual jobs employers advertised in April 2012:
- A laboratory in North Carolina wanted to hire an experienced forensic DNA analyst. A bachelor's degree in forensic science or an associated discipline was required.
- A California county sought a senior forensic analyst to manage its laboratory and to participate in crime scene investigations. Two years of crime scene investigation and one year of forensic laboratory experience were required.
- A police department in Maryland looked for a forensic analyst to evaluate biological samples in its DNA laboratory. Minimum qualifications included a bachelor's degree in criminology, biochemistry, criminal justice or a related field; and one year of experience as a forensic analyst. Candidates with an equivalent combination of education and experience would also be considered.
How to Get an Edge in the Field
While working towards your college degree, you can choose from several ways to get experience that may help you to get a job as a forensic analyst. You can get an internship in a forensic laboratory or obtain a summer job working in a laboratory. This experience looks good on your resume and put you ahead of any inexperienced competition when you are ready to get a job. Once you are employed, you can advance in your career by gaining experience and learning new skills. Obtaining a master's degree in forensic science or a related discipline can offer a path to career advancement as well. A graduate degree can make promotion to an administrative position possible.
Alternate Career Paths
If you like the idea of working in a laboratory and want to use your bachelor's degree as the springboard to earn more than you could as a forensic analyst, a career as a materials scientist is another option. Materials scientists study the composition of various substances, test them, analyze the results and write reports about their findings. They develop new materials and processes. Materials scientists in 2011 earned a mean annual wage of $87,000, according to the BLS. Although this is considerably higher than a forensic analyst's salary, the job outlook isn't as good, with jobs only projected to increase around four percent between 2010 and 2020, which is slower than the average for all careers.
Another career you may want to consider is private detective. Private detectives gather information, conduct surveillance and collect evidence. They perform a wide range of activities, including performing background checks, finding missing persons and solving crimes. Although the pay for private detectives is lower than that of forensic analysts and materials scientists, with a mean annual wage of $49,000 in 2011, the job prospects are better. The BLS projects a growth in that field of 21% between 2010 and 2020. Another plus is that it is possible to obtain employment as a private detective without a college degree and to receive on-the job training.