Forensic Technician Careers: Job Description & Salary Information

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A forensic technician's mean annual salary is near $59,000, but is it worth the education and training requirements? Get the truth about the job duties and career prospects to decide if it's the right career for you.
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Pros and Cons of a Forensic Technician Career

Forensic technicians, also known as forensic science technicians or crime scene investigators, collect and analyze evidence found at crime scenes. Review the pros and cons of being a forensic technician to help you decide if this career is for you.

Pros of a Forensic Technician Career
Above-average wage potential (mean annual wage of about $59,000 as of 2014; the national average for all occupations was about $47,000)*
Satisfaction of helping solve crimes*
Variety in work location (labs or crime scenes)**
Specializations available (e.g., ballistics or DNA analysis)*

Cons of a Forensic Technician Career
Usually requires a bachelor's degree and extensive training*
Work can be stressful*
Might encounter gruesome sights*
Possible exposure to hazardous chemicals**

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **Sloan Career Cornerstone Center.

Career Information

Job Description and Duties

Forensic technicians walk through crime scenes to see what, if any, evidence should be retrieved and evaluated in a laboratory. Making sketches, taking pictures and documenting findings are also part of what makes up a forensic technician's workday. Using scientific and chemical analysis in the lab, technicians consider connections between evidence and criminal suspects, while reconstructing the crimes and discussing their observations with experts. Forensic technicians must keep accurate documentation of their findings and be prepared to provide this to attorneys and other law enforcement officials. They also spend time looking under microscopes and analyzing their data through computer databases.

Forensic technicians may specialize in areas such as firearms examination or DNA analysis. These technicians must be analytical, detail-oriented and skilled at communicating so they can relate their findings to lawyers, law enforcement officials and associates. They are often called as expert witnesses in criminal trials to report their findings and explain their analysis.

Job Growth and Salary

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment of forensic science technicians was projected to grow by 6% between 2012 and 2022, which is slower than average. The public's awareness of forensic evidence and advances in technology have increased the use of forensic science in criminal proceedings, which may result in the need for more forensic technicians. However, the number of jobs available is affected by federal, state and local budgets, according to the BLS. Those with bachelor's degrees in forensic science are expected to see the best employment opportunities.

As of May 2014, forensic science technicians earned an average annual salary of almost $59,000. The states that employed the highest number of forensic science technicians were California, Florida and Texas.

What Are the Requirements?

Education and Training

If you want a career as a forensic technician, you'll need to complete formal training. While associate's degree programs are offered, the usual requirement is at least a bachelor's degree in forensic science or a natural science with an emphasis on forensic science or criminology. Some schools offer certificate programs in forensic science, but these are usually offered in conjunction with a bachelor's degree program. You'll need a solid background in math, physics and chemistry. Forensic technicians can specialize in certain areas, such as firearms analysis or DNA analysis. DNA analysis training may take six months to a year, while firearms analysis training can take up to 36 months.

Forensic training programs include coursework, hands-on lab experiments and internships. Courses may include criminal law, criminal investigations, science and crime, forensic chemistry, forensic pattern analysis, forensic toxicology and research methods in forensic science. Before a forensic technician can testify in court or perform independent casework, he or she must pass a proficiency test. Even when forensic graduates are hired, they often complete apprenticeships to gain experience under veteran investigators.

Job Postings from Real Employers

Because competition for these jobs is expected to be stiff, you'll want to possess as many qualifications as possible to get into this field. Job requirements often vary by location and employer. Below are a few real job postings so you can see what potential employers may be looking for. These jobs were open as of April 2012.

  • A biotechnology/pharmaceutical company in Vermont was seeking a qualified individual to fill the position of an entry-level forensic DNA technician or an experienced DNA analyst. Applicants needed to meet QA standards and ASCLD/LAB requirements set by the FBI, which include a bachelor's degree in a forensic science-related field, and they needed to be familiar with PCR quantitation using AB instruments, DNA extractions, PCR amplification and GeneMapper ID. Once hired, continuing education and proficiency tests could be required. Travel and court attendance also might be required.
  • A California county was seeking an experienced forensic technician to fill the position of senior forensic technician. Job duties included assisting in crime scene investigation by collecting and processing evidence and overall management of the department's crime lab. Applicant needed two years of experience dealing with crime scene investigations and one year of experience performing forensic lab functions.
  • A Louisiana toxicology testing laboratory was in need of a lab technician to perform forensic quality lab analysis for alcohol and drugs as a way to deter substance abuse in the workplace. This full-time (Tuesday through Saturday) position was located in Virginia. Applicants needed a bachelor's degree in science (preferrably biology or chemistry), along with good math and computer skills.

How to Beat the Competition

Earning your degree and obtaining work experience could help you get a job. However, there is a lot of competition in the job market, so you'll want to take some steps to ensure you can successfully compete. Certification can demonstrate your knowledge and proficiency in your field. Several organizations offer certification, including the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC), which offers credentials in crime scene reconstruction, molecular biology and DNA, firearms and toolmarks and drug analysis, among others. The American Board of Forensic Entomology and the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners also offer certification. Keeping abreast of advances in forensic technology through continuing education is another way to stand out in your field.

Other Careers to Consider

If after researching this career, you're not sure you can deal with the gruesome crime scenes, or you don't want to work unconventional hours, there are other careers to consider.

Paralegal or Legal Assistant

Being part of the legal system and learning about criminals can take place by working as a paralegal or legal assistant. This career allows you the opportunity to assist lawyers in court and in finding evidence and investigating case facts. This career usually requires an associate's or bachelor's degree. If you already have a bachelor's degree, you might be able to complete a paralegal certificate program. The BLS reported that employment of paralegals and legal assistants was predicted to see 18% growth between 2010 and 2020. As of May 2011, the average annual wage for these legal professionals was near $50,000.

Occupational Health and Safety Technician

If you enjoy investigating and collecting data, you may find a career as an occupational health and safety technician a rewarding career. In this job, you would work with specialists as they investigated work sites to determine if they're up to standards with their safety rules and regulations. You'd also collect and record data on the health and safety conditions of the workplace. This career can be accomplished with a high school diploma and on-the-job training or with formal education like an associate's degree. As of May 2011, occupational health and safety technicians earned an average annual wage of about $48,000, according to the BLS. The BLS projected that these workers would see employment growth of 13% between 2010 and 2020.

Popular Schools

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    1. Kaplan University

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    4. University of Delaware

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    5. Colorado State University Global

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Featured Schools

Kaplan University

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

Which subject are you interested in?

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?

Regent University

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

What is your highest level of education completed?

University of Delaware

  • Master of Science in 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?

Utica College

  • Master of Professional Studies in Cyber Policy and Risk Analysis
  • MS in Data Science: Financial Crime
  • BS in Cybersecurity - Cybercrime and Fraud Investigation
  • Bachelor of Science in Fraud and Financial Crime Investigation

What is your highest level of education completed?

Benedictine University

  • MPH - Emergency Preparedness Focus

What is your highest level of education?

Saint Leo University

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

What is your highest level of education completed?