How to Become a Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientist conducts work in the crime lab

Do you have a love of science and a passion for fighting crime?

If so, a career as a forensic scientist might be the perfect choice for you. Forensic scientists fight crime from inside the friendly confines of their laboratories. They use analytical reasoning and technical skills to analyze evidence, identify suspects and build an airtight case.

It’s often necessary to obtain postsecondary education if you wish to become a forensic scientist. Look for a degree program that emphasizes science, such as chemistry or biology. An alternative to these is to earn a Bachelor Science in Forensic Science.

Forensic Science Basics 

Forensic scientists work behind the scenes to support law enforcement agencies in the solving of crimes. They are responsible for collecting and analyzing evidence. It’s a job with a great deal of professional responsibility, as justice can hinge upon a fingerprint or fiber sample. It’s also a job with a lot of potential. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, this career field is expected to grow by 14 percent through 20281 — a rate that is much faster than average.

Pursuing a Bachelor’s Degree

If you have decided to move forward with your goal of becoming a forensic scientist, the first step is to choose an undergraduate program. In general, students should major in chemistry if they plan to focus their careers on analyzing trace evidence. Trace evidence can include hair and fiber samples. On the other hand, if you would like to focus your career on analyzing DNA evidence, a degree in biology is a good choice. If you aren’t sure which option is right for you, a general forensic science degree is a good overall choice for aspiring forensic scientists.

Some schools offer specialty degrees in forensic science. A Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science may be the best option for you because it focuses on the integration of both biology and chemistry.

During the course of your studies in this degree program, you can expect to study the following topics:

  • The analysis and identification of body fluids and tissues, including DNA profiling
  • The principles of toxicology, forensic toxicology and drug metabolism, including a look at the different types and effects of drugs
  • An examination of genetics, including DNA structure, DNA replication and population genetics
  • Methods of analyzing samples, including gas chromatography, mass spectroscopy, infrared spectroscopy and fluorescence spectroscopy
  • The evidentiary recovery of samples at crime scenes, with a look at maintaining the chain of custody and analyzing the evidence in the lab

Students can also expect to study forensic photography and crime scene reconstruction. In addition, a typical degree in forensic science will include a thorough review of multiple disciplines of science. These include chemistry, biology, anatomy, physiology and physics.

Choosing a Specialty

As you work toward your biology, forensic science, or chemistry degree, you should begin thinking about choosing an area of specialization. In general, a forensic scientist, or criminalist, will work to reconstruct crime scenes, collect evidence or analyze the evidence.

There are many subspecialties to consider, however. These include the following:

  • Blood Splatter Analyst: Assesses the shape, pattern and diameter of bloodstains to ascertain the events that occurred.
  • Firearms Examiner: Evaluates guns believed to have been used in the execution of crimes by comparing bullet fragments and cartridge casings
  • Toxicologist: Analyzes hair, nails and bodily fluids to check for evidence of drug use or poisoning

Other forensic science specialties may require other types of degrees. For example, an aspiring digital forensic investigator, who works on cybercrimes, should pursue an IT-related degree. An aspiring forensic psychologist, who interviews suspects, victims and witnesses, should pursue a graduate degree in psychology.

Earning a Certification

It is not strictly necessary to earn an advanced certification in forensic science. However, doing so will reflect your dedication to your profession and may help you land employment, as it will enable you to stand out from the crowd of other job applicants.

There are many certification options available to forensic scientists. Many of them are available through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC).

The following are examples of certifications administered by the ABC:

  • Drug Analysis
  • Trace Evidence: Fire Debris
  • Trace Evidence: Hairs and Fibers
  • Trace Evidence: Paint and Polymers

Other certifications are administered by the International Association for Identification (IAI). These include fingerprint identification, forensic photography, and marks and impressions (footwear). Expect to take an examination to obtain these credentials. You also may need to become re-certified on a regular basis.

If you aspire to be a forensic scientist, you can build a strong academic foundation for future success at Grand Canyon University. Our Christian learning community emphasizes STEM degrees, including the Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science and the Bachelor of Science in Chemistry. To explore these degree programs further, click on Request Info at the top of your screen.

Reference

1 https://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-sciencetechnicians. htm#tab-1

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