If you have a deep interest in television programs like CSI and Law and Order, the question, “How do I become a forensic scientist?” may have crossed your mind. Before choosing this career, you will need to learn about the work that forensic scientists do.
The images you may have seen on television about the work of forensic scientists is misleading. People who work in this field are focused on using information at their disposal to determine the facts of a case. The results of their work may be relied on by the prosecution or the defense in a criminal proceeding and it is very important for scientists to conduct themselves in a highly ethical manner at all times.
Types of Forensic Science
There are a number of branches within the field of forensic science. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) recognizes the following discipline sections:
• Digital and Multimedia Sciences
• Engineering Sciences
• Physical Anthropology
• Psychiatry & Behavioral Science
• Questioned Documents
Education Required to Become a Forensic Scientist
The minimum level of education required to work as a forensic scientist is a Bachelor’s degree. If your goal is to work in the Criminalistics discipline, you would need to obtain an undergraduate degree in biology, chemistry, molecular biology or physics. Specialists in Digital and Multimedia Sciences hold a degree in computer science, engineering or digital forensics.
Prospective forensic engineering scientists would have a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, and an advanced degree is preferable. Some universities offer program in forensic engineering.
Odontology, or forensic dentistry, requires a DDS (Doctor of Dental Science) degree and specialized training offered through the AAFS. Forensic pathologists are medical doctors who specialize in this field. They perform autopsies and other tests to determine whether the cause of an individual’s death was an accident, homicide, natural, suicide or undetermined.
Forensic anthropologists usually hold a doctorate in anthropology with a concentration in human osteology (skeleton and bone) and anatomy. The American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA) offers certification for experts who will be testifying at criminal trials.
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who have completed 12 years of post-secondary education (undergraduate degree, medical school, residency training in their specialty). Some doctors specializing in forensic psychiatry enroll in a post-residency program focusing on psychiatry and the law.
Forensic psychologists hold a Ph.D in psychology and have undergone practical training in this area. They may have also completed a post-doctoral fellowship in forensic psychology. The final step in qualifying to become a forensic psychologist is to apply for certification to the American Board of Professional Practice in Psychology.
If you are interested in working with questioned documents, you will want to complete a Bachelor’s degree in science. Another option is to look for a program which includes courses in this subject as part of a criminal justice or forensic science degree. After graduating, you would complete a two-year apprenticeship program. This practical training is done under the supervision of a member of the American Society of Questioned Document Examiners or a Full Member of the Questioned Documents Section of AAFS.
Toxicology specialists have an undergraduate degree in physical science and may have an advanced degree in forensic toxicology. They are also certified by the American Board of Forensic Toxicology and the Forensic Toxicology Certification Board.
The answer to the question, “How do I become a forensic scientist?” is that each area of specialization requires a specific type of degree, but a minimum of a Bachelor’s degree is required to work in this field.