If you are visiting our web site, you are likely interested in a career in forensic science. As you proceed toward accomplishing your career objectives, there are a few important facts that you need to know about forensic science.
Colleges Offering Forensic Science Programs
Please click here to visit the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC). FEPAC offers a listing of colleges and universities to whom accreditation has been awarded.
ASCLD Scholarship Program
The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors awards scholarships to forensic science students on an annual basis as approved by the Board of Directors. Please review the following forms and instructions if you are interested.
Learning About Forensic Science
Crime Labs vs. Crime Scenes
Forensic scientists are generally employees with science degrees and/or significant science backgrounds who examine and process physical evidence items that were collected at a crime scene and subsequently transported to the laboratory where the scientist is employed.
Crime scene technicians are employees (usually sworn police officers) who a dispatched to crime scenes and are responsible for securing and photographing the scene, collecting physical evidence, and preserving the evidence until it can be examined at a crime laboratory.
Forensic scientists who actually process crime scenes and work in a laboratory are becoming increasingly rare. As a student, you will likely find yourself having to decide if you want to work as a scientist in a laboratory or become a police officer in the hopes you may one day be assigned to a crime scene unit.
Academic Credentials for Forensic Scientists
If you are interested in becoming a forensic scientist, you should seek to earn a B.S. degree in chemistry, biology, molecular biology, or forensic science. Your elective courses should include criminal justice, criminal law, criminal procedure, introduction to forensic science (or criminalistics), and statistics.
If you chose to pursue a degree in forensic science, be sure that your school’s program is heavily weighted in chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and other natural sciences. Not all forensic science programs are created equal and you must be very careful not to invest your tuition dollars in a program that is inadequate.
Are internships necessary to work in a crime lab?
Not necessarily. Internships are sometimes required by universities that have forensic science programs, but a laboratory may choose to hire a college graduate and train him/her on site. The completion of an internship is rarely a qualification that is necessary for employment; however, it can give a student a chance to feel what it is like to work in a crime lab.
But there is a catch – laboratories often prefer interns to have already committed to a career in forensic science and are not eager to accept younger students who have not yet amassed the academic credentials that would make the intern useful to the lab. Therefore, the internship is not often useful as a way to “test drive” a career in forensic science. Instead, the student should research the profession in depth to determine if it is the right choice.
Is on-the-job training required?
Most definitely, yes. In fact, this is one of the major challenges for crime laboratories today. Caseloads are high, scientists are busy, and finding the resources and time to train a new scientist can be hard to come by. Some laboratories prefer to hire experienced scientist, while others have resources to train new employees on-site.
The training of a forensic scientist can take up to two years and is very intensive. Student who go into the forensic sciences should mentally prepare themselves for the commitment and hard work that is common in a laboratory training program.
Can I pick and choose my specialty?
Only if you want to significantly limit your options. Given how popular forensic science is right now – combined with the fact that laboratories are sometimes hard-pressed to find the time and money to train a new scientist, your goal as a student should be to get into a crime lab and be trained. The students who are most flexible and most willing to subordinate their personal career preferences to what’s best for the lab and its staff will likely be more happy and more effective in their new career.
How should I proceed in finding a job?
College graduates should expect to spend 15-25 hours per week writing letters, sending resumes, researching the internet, and making phone calls. Laboratory directors have become increasingly electronic in their communications, which means that job announcements are usually posted on the internet at forensic science web sites such as this one. You can click on the employment links button in our visitors center to view current job openings.
Remember that forensic science can be a very difficult profession to break into, but it is highly rewarding for those individuals that succeed in doing so. If forensic science is something you have a passion for, be persistent and enthusiastic in your search for a job.
What is the average day like for a forensic scientist?
On most days, a forensic scientist arrives to work in the morning and reviews the case backlog to determine what cases need to be worked. Sixty to seventy percent of the scientist’s time may be spent in the laboratory conducting physical evidence examinations. The other thirty to forty percent of the time may be spent writing reports, meeting with attorneys and detectives, fielding phone calls, and assisting with the laboratory’s quality assurance monitoring.
What is the best part of being a forensic scientist?
Assuming the employee is in the right profession, forensic science is very rewarding because the employee is contributing to the safety of the public and is able to apply science to solve crimes. People who love working in the forensic sciences generally enjoy working in a laboratory setting with other scientists. Testifying in court can be exhilarating and exciting. Also, its fun having a job that so many people want, and that so many people find fascinating.
What’s the worst part of being a forensic scientist?
Forensic science can be frustrating as case backlogs grow and feelings of being overworked come about from time to time. Government salaries are often lower and grow slowly when budgets are tight and revenues are in decline.
Also, some new employees in the forensic sciences quickly realize that the profession is nothing like what is portrayed on television. Most cases are routine and mundane. Extremely interesting cases with high public consequence are infrequent. This is why it is important that students interested in forensics have a love of science and a profound respect for public safety and government institutions. Just looking for a career that is entertaining or interesting is not the right way to go.
What are some qualities of a good forensic scientist?
No criminal record, strong ethical center, confident, strong public speaking skills, high aptitude for science and math, strong report writing skills, friendly and pleasant disposition, courteous, tenancy to practice good hygiene, conservative or un willing to take unnecessary risks, good time management and organizational skills, patience and tolerance for the slower wheels of government.
Good luck in you career endeavors!!
The ASCLD Board of Directors