Forensics Careers: Job Description & Salary Info

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Are you thinking about pursuing a career in forensics? Get real job descriptions and training requirements to see if a career in forensics is right for you.
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Careers in Forensics

The field of forensics includes a range of occupations and activities that cover the collection and analysis of evidence. This field encompasses a number of specialties including forensic science technician, forensic anthropologist and computer forensic investigators. Here is a brief comparison of these occupations:

Forensic Science Technician Forensic Anthropologist Computer Forensic Investigator
Career Overview Forensic science technicians gather and analyze evidence to help solve crimes Forensic anthropologists examine human remains and try to determine their identity Computer forensic investigators obtain and analyze information from computers that can be used as evidence in court
Education Requirements Bachelor's degree Master's degree Bachelor's degree
Program Length 4 years, full time 2-3 years beyond undergraduate education 4 years, full time
Additional/Other Training Apprenticeship or on-the-job training required Field research typically required in graduate school Continuing education required
Certification and Licensing Optional certification available through the American Board of Criminalistics Optional certification available through the American Board of Forensic Anthropology Optional certification available through organizations like the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists; some states require licensure as a private investigator
Experience Required None; entry level 0-4 years of previous work experience in forensic anthropology preferred 1-5 years of experience in a related field
Job Outlook for 2012-2022 700 additional jobs expected (6% increase)* 1,400 additional jobs expected for all anthropologists and archeologists (19% increase)* 3,300 additional jobs expected for all private detectives and investigators (11% increase)*
Mean Average Salary (2014) About $59,000* About $62,000 for all anthropologists and archeologists* About $53,000 for all private detectives and investigators*

Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Forensic Science Technician

Forensic science technicians analyze evidence collected at crime scenes, as well as perform tests in a laboratory setting. The evidence they examine can take many forms, such as bodily fluid, drugs, hair, weapons and clothing. They preserve the evidence, document their findings and testify in court. The forensic science technicians who specialize in gathering evidence are commonly known as crime scene investigators. Some forensic science technicians become experts in a particular field, such as ballistics or fingerprint analysis.

Requirements

A bachelor's degree is typically required for employment as a forensic science technician. Some majors that can prepare you for employment in this field are chemistry, biology and forensic science. After you secure employment, you can expect to receive on-the-job training, with the duration dependent on the specialty.

If you enter the field as a crime scene investigator, you complete an apprenticeship under an experienced investigator, learning proper procedure and documenting methods. Technicians in forensic laboratories complete on-the-job training for anywhere from 6 months to 3 years, depending on the specialty. A proficiency exam must be passed before performing on your own, and you must keep your skills current through additional training. Most forensic science technician positions are found in police departments, morgues and forensic laboratories.

The following are what employers of forensic science technicians were looking for in November 2012:

  • A federal agency with a forensic laboratory located near San Francisco was seeking a forensic laboratory technician to analyze evidence and perform tests on firearms and ammunition. Requirements included an associate's or bachelor's degree in a scientific discipline and the ability to pass a thorough background check. A master's degree and an internship in toolmark and firearms were preferred.
  • A Connecticut agency was looking for a forensic science examiner to analyze evidence collected during criminal investigations. Candidates were required to have at least 6 years of experience or a combination of relevant education and experience.
  • A police department in Oregon sought a forensic analyst to gather and analyze evidence, working mostly with fingerprints and crime scene reconstruction. A bachelor's degree in forensics or another science and at least a year of experience were required.

Standing Out

Since some employers require prior experience in the field, one way to gain an edge over the competition is to complete an internship program. Internship programs provide hands-on training in DNA, substance analysis, firearms, trace evidence and latent prints, as well as allow you to observe criminal trials.

Obtaining certification is another way to stand out in forensics, since certification provides proof of your expertise, and you typically must satisfy minimum education and experience requirements in order to sit for a certification exam. For example, the American Board of Criminalistics offers a certification exam that covers several forensic specialties, including firearms and toolmarks, fire debris and explosives, crime scene reconstruction, photography and drug analysis. You must have a bachelor's degree and 2 years of experience before becoming eligible to take this exam.

Forensic Anthropologist

Forensic anthropologists recover human remains from graves and perform tests to establish identification. They examine skeletons to determine age, sex and height, as well as the time and cause of death, often working as part of a forensic team during criminal investigations. Although many forensic anthropologists work in law enforcement, career opportunities are available in museums and academia. The government and military also employ their services.

Requirements

Although it is possible to obtain an entry-level position with a bachelor's degree in anthropology, a graduate degree is usually required. A degree program in forensic anthropology provides courses in human anatomy, biological anthropology, human osteology and archeology. Graduate programs in anthropology generally offer field experiences and research opportunities, which are typically required by employers.

To give you an idea of what employers look for, here are some job openings that were available in November 2012:

  • A U.S. military agency sought a forensic anthropologist to analyze, test and identify human remains recovered from sites related to military operations. A bachelor's degree or combined anthropology experience and relevant education were required.
  • A university in Michigan was looking for a physical anthropologist with a specialization in forensic anthropology to help in the school's forensic anthropology laboratory and to work with coroners and law enforcement agencies.
  • A Tennessee University wanted to hire a research assistant professor of forensic anthropology to work in the school's forensic anthropology center. Duties included teaching courses and supervising teaching assistants. A Ph.D. in Anthropology in addition to teaching, laboratory and field experience were required.

Standing Out

According to the BLS, a doctorate is typically required to advance to a supervisory position, to work as a museum curator or to oversee projects in foreign countries. If you desire to advance in the field of forensic anthropology, obtaining a doctorate in this discipline can give you an edge. Another way to stand out is to become certified by the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA). You must pass written and practical exams to receive ABFA certification, and this credential proves that you have excelled in this field. In addition, prospective employers can go to the ABFA website to see the list of people who have received this credential.

Computer Forensic Investigator

Computer forensic investigators acquire and analyze information from computers, cell phones, servers and other electronic sources. This information can be used as evidence in criminal investigations and administrative actions. Computer forensic investigators use specialized computer forensic software to recover file fragments and information that has been deleted.

Requirements

You typically need a bachelor's degree in computer forensics to learn about case law and computer systems. Schools that offer degrees in computer forensics typically offer courses in computer and network security, digital forensics investigative techniques and the handling of digital evidence. Computer forensics investigators are also employed in the fields of management information systems, forensic accounting and network security. You should regularly continue your education in computer forensics to stay current in this field, since the technology keeps evolving. Additionally, some states require computer forensic investigators to hold licensure as a private investigator, and a license may be helpful for doing follow-up or investigative work, according to the BLS.

Employers were looking for the following in November 2012:

  • A digital risks services company in Texas was looking for a digital forensic examiner with a Bachelor of Science degree and at least 2 years of experience to collect and analyze digital evidence, develop programs to improve efficiency and to testify in legal proceedings. Required skills included data breach, digital and computer forensics, EnScript, incident response and EnCase.
  • A Chicago consulting firm sought a computer forensics consultant to obtain data from various electronic sources, such as cell phones, laptops, desktops and servers in order to analyze evidence. A Bachelor of Science in Computer Forensics or an associated discipline is required, and experience in computer forensics, legal activities or information technology is preferred.
  • A Fortune 500 firm in Washington, D.C., sought a computer forensics analyst with proficiency in electronic discovery and computer forensics software like EnCase to collect and search electronic information for legal purposes.

Standing Out

Obtaining a graduate degree can improve your chances for career advancement and help you stand out from the crowd, according to the BLS. Certification is another pathway for advancement, and there are several organizations that offer credentials in computer forensics, including the International Association of Computer Investigative Specialists and the Information Assurance Certification Review Board. Additionally, networking with other computer professionals and user groups can improve your chances of success in this field, since they may be able to provide the information needed to help you solve crimes involving operating systems and software with which you aren't familiar.

Popular Schools

  • Online Programs Available
    1. American InterContinental University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Corrections and Case Management
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Generalist
      • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Homeland Security and Crisis Management
      • Bachelor of Information Technology - Digital Investigation
    Associate's
      • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice
  • Online Programs Available
    2. University of Delaware

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Science in Cybersecurity
  • Online Programs Available
    3. Colorado Technical University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
      • Doctorate: Management - Homeland Security
    Master's
      • M.S. - Criminal Justice
      • Master: Management - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Cybersecurity Policy
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
      • Master of Science in Homeland Security - Cybersecurity Policy
    Bachelor's
      • BS - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Cybercrime and Security
      • BS - Management - Cybersecurity Management
      • BS - Computer Science - Cybersecurity Engineering
  • Online Programs Available
    4. Colorado State University Global

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Bachelor's
      • Undergraduate Specialization - Criminal Forensics
      • BS - Criminal Justice and Law Enforcement Admin
    Certificate
      • Graduate Certificate - Cyber Security
  • Online Programs Available
    5. Keiser University

    Program Options

    Bachelor's
      • B.A. - Criminal Justice
      • B.A. - Homeland Security
    Associate's
      • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
      • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    6. Northcentral University

    Program Options

    Doctorate
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
      • Doctor of Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD in Business Admin - Homeland Security: Leadership & Policy
      • PhD Technology and Innovation Management Cybersecurity
    Master's
      • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Criminal Justice
      • MBA - Homeland Security
      • MS Technology and Innovation Management Cybersecurity
  • Online Programs Available
    7. Saint Joseph's University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MS - Criminal Justice
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
      • MS Criminal Justice with Behavior Analysis Specialization
      • MS Criminal Justice with Homeland Security Specialization
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Federal Law Enforcement Track
      • MS in Criminal Justice - Behavior Management Track
    Certificate
      • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis
  • Online Programs Available
    8. Penn Foster High School

    Program Options

    High School Diploma
      • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
      • HS Diploma
  • Online Programs Available
    9. Regent University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • Master of Arts in Law - Criminal Justice
      • Master of Arts in Law - National Security
      • Master of Public Administration - Emergency Management and Homeland Security
    Bachelor's
      • Bachelor of Arts in Leadership Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Corrections
      • Bachelor of Science in Professional Studies - Criminal Justice
      • Bachelor of Arts in Law and National Security
      • Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice - Homeland Security
  • Online Programs Available
    10. Herzing University

    Program Options

    Master's
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Project Management and Public Safety Leadership
      • MBA Dual Concentration: Healthcare Management and Public Safety Leadership

Featured Schools

American InterContinental University

  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Forensic Science
  • Bachelor or Science - Criminal Justice: Law Enforcement
  • Associate of Science in Criminal Justice

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University of Delaware

  • Master of Science in Cybersecurity

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Colorado Technical University

  • Doctor - Management - Criminal Justice
  • M.S. - Criminal Justice
  • BS - Criminal Justice

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Colorado State University Global

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

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Keiser University

  • B.A. - Criminal Justice
  • B.A. - Homeland Security
  • Associate of Arts - Criminal Justice
  • Associate of Arts - Homeland Security

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Northcentral University

  • Doctor of Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • PhD in Business Admin - Criminal Justice
  • Master of Science in Organizational Leadership - Criminal Justice
  • MBA - Criminal Justice

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Saint Joseph's University

  • MS - Criminal Justice
  • MS in Criminal Justice - Intelligence & Crime Analysis Track
  • Post-master's Certificate in Criminal Justice - Behavior Analysis

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Penn Foster High School

  • Penn Foster High School with Early College Courses
  • HS Diploma

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