Forensic Lab Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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What are the pros and cons of a forensic lab technician career? Get real job descriptions, career prospects and salary info to see if becoming a forensic lab technician if right for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Forensic Lab Technician Career

Forensic lab technicians work in crime labs where they assist investigators and forensic scientists in solving crimes. For a career as a forensic lab technician, a candidate must complete formal training in forensic science, which typically includes an apprenticeship as well as passing a proficiency test. Forensic lab technicians are often required to work evenings, weekends and holidays because evidence often needs to be investigated quickly. Candidates must have a strong stomach due to the potential violent nature of crime scenes. Reading about the pros and cons of a forensic lab technician career may help you decide if this is the career you want.

Pros of a Career as a Forensic Lab Technician
Good salary ($56,000 mean annual salary)*
A graduate degree is typically not required*
Work may help solve crimes**
Choose from various disciplines (criminalistics, toxicology, questioned documents)***

Cons of a Career as a Forensic Lab Technician
May be required to work unconventional hours*
May encounter unpleasant and disturbing sights*
Stiff competition for jobs*
May be exposed to hazardous materials**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Sloan Career Cornerstone Center, ***The Forensic Sciences Foundation

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Forensic lab technicians play important roles in the criminal investigation process because they analyze evidence that helps detectives solve crimes. Because you may be handling blood samples, human tissues and body parts, you should have a strong stomach and good composure. This career provides the opportunity to work both independently and as part of a team. Forensic lab technicians may be called to crime scenes to collect and document evidence. Additionally, the techs are often responsible for making lab results and reports available to those in law enforcement. Communicating with law enforcement personnel and medical examiners about their findings is an important part of this job. You'll also use your scientific knowledge to reconstruct crime scenes and classify crime scene evidence. The Forensic Sciences Foundation identifies 11 disciplines within forensic science from which to choose. Some examples include criminalistics, toxicology, questioned documents, odontology and pathology/biology.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians were expected to see an employment growth of 19% between 2010 and 2020. However, it's important to note that the field is small with only 13,000 forensic science technicians employed in 2010. The 19% predicted job growth translates into the relatively small addition of 2,400 jobs, which will make the field highly competitive. The increasing use of forensic evidence to solve crimes and the importance of providing law enforcement with this evidence as quickly as possible were cited as contributing factors to the projected employment growth. As of May 2011, the mean annual wage for forensic science technicians was near $56,000, according to the BLS.

Education and Training Requirements

To become a forensic lab technician, you need to complete a formal training program that emphasizes math, biology and chemistry courses. Although bachelor's degree programs are usually required for careers in forensic science, some schools offer career-specific certificate programs and associate's degree programs in criminal science and forensic science. The curriculum usually consists of coursework and laboratory studies. Course topics may include law enforcement, forensic toxicology, chemical analysis of crime and forensic pathology. Additionally, you'll cover topics such as laboratory safety and techniques, forensics identification technology, chromatographic methods, forensic science and chemical technology.

Employers often provide their technicians with on-the-job training under the direction of lab supervisors to ensure proficiency with computers and lab equipment as well as to gain work experience. In addition to training, individuals often complete internships or apprenticeships to get hands-on experience working in lab environments. Internships often consist of fieldwork with local sheriff or police departments, fire departments or medical examiners.

Useful Career Skills

Earning a degree and obtaining experience are important. However, there are other qualities you should possess to ensure success as a forensic lab technician. These qualities include:

  • Detail-oriented
  • Good critical and analytical skills
  • Passion for science
  • Good writing skills
  • Good communication skills
  • Composure and professionalism

Job Postings from Real Employers

Job requirements may vary widely depending upon the specialty and type of employer. Here's a sampling of a few jobs that were posted in April 2012:

  • A California company is seeking an experienced forensic specialist to work in one or more areas, including fire science cause and origin, tool mark analysis, failure analysis of electrical or mechanical systems and accident reconstruction. Knowledge of all aspects of forensic investigating are required. Travel to investigation sites will be necessary. Applicant must have a 4-year degree in engineering or science and at least five years of experience.
  • A forensic biologist is needed to fill a position for the Department of Justice working in the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Applicant must have at least a bachelor's degree in a major related to this position and related work experience. Candidate will perform DNA extraction and interpretation, prepare lab reports and provide court testimony based on lab examinations. To be eligible for specific wages, candidates must meet certain education and work experience requirements.
  • An accredited autopsy facility in Tennessee is looking for a forensic technician to assist forensic pathologists with forensic autopsies and death investigations. A degree is preferred. Candidate must be kind, respectful, communicative and meticulous. Salary ranges from around $28,000 to $35,000 annually.

How to Maximize Your Skills

Due to the highly competitive job market, you'll want to keep up with advances in technology and science as they apply to the collection and analysis of evidence. Certification may not be required, but is a good way to demonstrate your knowledge and commitment to the profession. The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) offers certification to individuals interested in careers in criminal justice and forensic science. Eligible applicants can obtain certification by passing the 3-hour, 220-question examinations. ABC certification is valid for five years. The International Association for Identification (IAI) also offers various certifications for candidates in forensic or criminal science.

Alternative Career Paths

Police Officer

If a career in law enforcement interests you but you're looking for more variety, you may find becoming a police officer a good fit. Although the BLS predicted this profession would see only a seven percent employment growth, it also stated that local departments would see a demand for police officers due to the increase in need for public safety. The BLS also reported that police officers and detectives earned around $56,000 as of April 2011. Although the wages are similar to what forensic lab technicians earn, the educational requirements are different. In addition to having high school diplomas, police officers are typically required to complete a training academy program. They're also required to pass a physical examination and criminal background check.

Materials Engineer

You may find a career as a materials engineer an interesting choice if you enjoy researching and analyzing things. As a materials engineer, you'll develop and test materials that are used in a variety of products from computer chips to golf clubs and more. According to the BLS, materials engineers were predicted to see an employment growth of nine percent between 2010 and 2020. Workers in this profession earned around $87,000 in 2011, which according to the BLS was substantially higher than that of forensic lab technicians. This career requires completion of a bachelor's degree program.

Popular Schools

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    1. Purdue University Global

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    2. Saint Leo University

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Featured Schools

Purdue University Global

  • Master: Criminal Justice
  • BSCJ: Crime Scene Investigation
  • Associate: Criminal Justice

Which subject are you interested in?

Saint Leo University

  • BA: Criminal Justice
  • BA: Criminal Justice - Criminalistics
  • AA: Criminal Justice
  • AA: Cybersecurity

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado State University Global

  • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
  • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
  • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security

What is your highest level of education?

Grand Canyon University

  • MS in Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Master of Science in Cyber Security
  • B.S. in Information Technology with an Emphasis in Cybersecurity
  • B.S. in Cybersecurity

What is your highest level of education?

Regent University

  • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
  • Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice
  • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education completed?

Colorado Christian University

  • Criminal Justice, M.S.
  • Criminal Justice, B.S.
  • Criminal Justice, A.S.

What is your highest level of education completed?

Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • MS - Organizational Leadership: Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Joseph's University

  • MS in Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice Intelligence & Crime Analysis
  • MS in Criminal Justice Behavior Analysis

What is your highest level of education completed?