How To Become a Forensic Scientist

What Is a Forensic Scientist?

A forensic scientist is a highly trained professional who utilizes scientific methods and techniques to process crime scenes and analyze evidence.1 They play a pivotal role in applying analytical reasoning and technical expertise to conduct scientific investigations, identify suspects and construct compelling cases both in the lab and at crime scenes.1 If you are intrigued by the intersection of science and criminal justice, you may want to consider pursuing a career as a forensic scientist. 

2,600

Estimated number of new jobs set to open from 2022 to 20322

What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?

At crime scenes, they meticulously analyze, document and collect evidence such as weapons, fingerprints and bodily fluids. In the lab, forensic scientists specialize in various areas such as DNA analysis, toxicology, firearms, fingerprint analysis or controlled substances, among others.1 Their tasks may vary depending on the organization they work for, but they commonly include the following:1

 

Forensic Scientist Working at Crime Scene in Scrubs
Aid in criminal investigations

Gather evidence, analyze data, and provide expertise in various forensic disciplines.

Document findings

Write reports detailing findings and methods, including photography, sketching, observation recording and evidence collection.

Catalog and preserve evidence

Carefully document, label and store all collected crime scene items for evidence integrity and traceability in investigations and legal proceedings.

Articulate findings

Explain findings and methods to lawyers, detectives and other law enforcement personnel.

Testify in court

Testify as an expert witness about their findings and methods.

Reconstruct crime scenes

Analyze physical evidence, witness testimonies and forensic data to recreate the sequence of events leading up to and following a crime.

A forensic scientist employs scientific methodologies to probe crimes and scrutinize evidence. They utilize analytical reasoning and technical proficiency to identify potential suspects, aid in the construction of compelling cases, and operate effectively in both laboratory settings and crime scenes.

What Experience and Education Does a Forensic Scientist Need?

Knowing how to become a forensic scientist is essential for those aiming to enter the field. Here’s a typical educational path and steps for starting this career:

Prioritizing high school coursework in subjects such as biology, chemistry, physiology, statistics and mathematics can be a great start toward a career in forensic science. Enrolling in Advanced Placement (AP) courses can also be advantageous. Additionally, gaining practical experience through volunteering or internships at relevant institutions like police, medical labs or similar organizations can be a valuable step in preparation.3

Forensic science technicians typically require a bachelor's degree in a physical science such as chemistry, biology or forensic science. Forensic science programs may specialize in a specific area of study, such as toxicology, pathology or DNA analysis. Many prospective forensic science technicians obtain an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences before pursuing a master's degree in forensic science.4 

Newly recruited crime scene investigators and forensic scientists will undergo training alongside experienced scientists to familiarize themselves with the proper procedures and techniques for collecting and documenting evidence.4 On-the-job training is required both for those who investigate crime scenes and for those who work in labs.4 Training lasts anywhere from six months to four years, depending on the forensic specialty.4

While numerous licenses and certifications exist to facilitate the professional development of forensic science technicians, they are generally not obligatory for entry into the field. The diversity of credentials may fluctuate considerably due to variations in standards and regulations across different jurisdictions.4

By following this educational and experiential path, you can prepare yourself for a career as a forensic scientist, equipping you with the knowledge, skills and practical experience necessary to pursue this critical field.

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Best Degrees for Forensic Scientists

The ideal education path for aspiring forensic science technicians is to earn a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, biology, chemistry or a related field.4 These degrees can provide you with a strong foundation in scientific principles and analytical techniques that may be essential for forensic work.

Students pursuing hands-on experience through internships or research opportunities can help further enhance their skills and understanding in this field, while advanced degrees or specialized certifications may offer opportunities for career growth and specialization within forensic science.

  • Forensic science principles
  • Crime scene investigation
  • Forensic chemistry/biology
  • Evidence analysis
  • Ethics and accreditation standards

GCU Recommends These Degree Programs for Forensic Scientists

Embarking on a career as a forensic scientist requires a solid educational foundation rooted in specialized knowledge and skills. Grand Canyon University stands as a beacon for aspiring forensic scientists, providing a curated selection of degree programs tailored to this field.

If you are looking to pursue a career as a forensic science technician, you may want to pursue one of the following GCU degree programs:

Bachelor's Programs

Master's Programs

Other Programs


What Skills Does a Forensic Scientist Need?

Forensic scientists can be pivotal in upholding justice and their contributions have the potential to significantly impact communities. When learning how to become a forensic scientist, it’s important to acquire essential skills, such as:4 

  • Analytical reasoning
  • Attention to detail
  • Problem-solving 
  • Math knowledge 
  • Scientific knowledge
  • Ethical integrity
  • Critical-thinking
  • Observational skills 
Forensic Science Student Working with Hammer in Lab

Median Annual Wage

$64,940

Median annual wage for forensic science technicians as of May 2023.5

Forensic scientists who investigate crime scenes may work varied shifts and overtime to ensure timely evidence collection and analysis.6 Laboratory technicians typically adhere to a standard workweek but may be on call after hours for immediate case needs.6 According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, forensic science technicians had a median annual wage of $64,940 in May 2023.5

Projected Job Growth

13%

Estimated job growth for forensic science technicians from 2022 to 2032.2

State and local governments are expected to continue hiring forensic science technicians to process their high caseloads.6 According to the BLS, 2,300 new jobs are estimated to open for forensic science technicians from 2022 to 2032.2

Where Do Forensic Scientists Work?

Forensic scientists usually work behind the scenes, either in a laboratory or crime scene environment.1 They work closely with law enforcement agencies, legal teams, attorneys and other professionals to gather and interpret evidence that can be used in criminal investigations and court proceedings.

 

Crime Testing Laboratories

Forensic science technicians often work in crime labs and able to work day, evening or night shifts.6

Crime Scenes

Forensic science technicians may be required to travel throughout their jurisdiction (cities, counties or states) and work outside in all types of weather to help gather evidence from crime scenes.7

National Government

The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) hires forensic scientists to perform fingerprint analysis and forensic computer investigators to support DEA agents and other law enforcement personnel.6

Local and State Government/Law Enforcement

Local and state police departments, such as city and state police, employ forensic scientists to process evidence and assist in the investigation of crimes, including reconstructing the crime scene using various techniques such as diagrams and trajectory analysis.8

Hospitals

Hospitals employ forensic nurses to provide trauma care and collect physical evidence from crime victims.8 This career route requires a nursing degree and specialized training.

Forensic Science: An Appealing Career Choice

Individuals aspiring to become forensic scientists may find the field enticing due to its potential for intellectual stimulation, diverse specializations and ongoing learning prospects. You may find these factors can make forensic science an appealing career choice for those seeking fulfilling work. Furthermore, state and local governments are projected to maintain their hiring of forensic science technicians to manage their substantial case volumes.2 The weight placed on evidence within legal proceedings are increasing the need for forensic science technicians to assist law enforcement agencies and courts.2

Two Forensic Science Students Work in Lab Clothes at GCU

Explore forensic science to contribute to crime resolution and public safety. Start your path to becoming a forensic scientist now.

1 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). What Forensic Scientists Technicians Do. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Feb. 8, 2024. 

2 COVID-19 has adversely affected the global economy and data from 2020 to 2022 may be atypical compared to prior years. Accordingly, data shown is effective September 2023, which can be found here: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Occupational Outlook Handbook, Forensic Science Technicians, retrieved on Feb. 9, 2024. 

3 Roy, S. (2023, Aug. 29). What courses should I take in high school should I take if I want to start a career in forensic science? Career Village. Retrieved on Feb. 9, 2024. 

4 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). How to become a forensic science technician. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Feb. 8, 2024. 

5 The earnings referenced were reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Forensic Science Technicians as of May 2023, retrieved on May 13, 2024. Due to COVID-19, data from 2020 to 2023 may be atypical compared to prior years. BLS calculates the median using salaries of workers nationwide with varying levels of education and experience. It does not reflect the earnings of GCU graduates as forensic science technicians, nor does it reflect the earnings of workers in one city or region of the country or a typical entry-level salary. Median income is the statistical midpoint for the range of salaries in a specific occupation. It represents what you would earn if you were paid more money than half the workers in an occupation, and less than half the workers in an occupation. It may give you a basis to estimate what you might earn at some point if you enter this career. Grand Canyon University can make no guarantees on individual graduates’ salaries. Your employability will be determined by numerous factors over which GCU has no control, such as the employer the graduate chooses to apply to, the graduate’s experience level, individual characteristics, skills, etc. against a pool of candidates. 

6 U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. (2023, Sept. 6). Work Environment. Occupational Outlook Handbook. Retrieved Feb. 26, 2024. 

7 DEA. (n.d.). Forensic Sciences Careers. Retrieved on Feb. 26, 2924. 

8 La Bella, L. (2022, June 17). Places to Work If You Are a Forensic Scientist. Chron. Retrieved on Feb. 26, 2024.