How Do I Become a Criminalist?

If you have an interest in crime and science, pay attention to details and possess the self-control to remain calm even in the potentially grisly environment of a crime scene, you might wonder how to become a criminalist. Criminalists, also known as forensic scientists or forensic science technicians, work in crime scenes and investigative laboratories to collect and test evidence of crimes using scientific methods and techniques. Regardless of which type of setting a criminalist works in, they have the same goal: to determine the events the occurred at the crime scene and be able to back up the story with reliable proof.

Some criminalists spend the majority of their time in the field, gathering evidence on crime scenes. Criminalists attain visual representations of the scene, including photographs, diagrams and drawings. They record information about the evidence they found so they and law enforcement can refer to it later in the investigation, if necessary. Criminalists cautiously accumulate evidence, including fingerprints, DNA traces found in blood and other body fluids and guns or other weapons.
Criminalists may also work largely in laboratories, where they examine evidence that has been gathered. They use scientific methods, including physical and chemical testing, to learn as much as they can about how the crime occurred and what suspects can be linked to the crime scene through physical evidence. In addition to fingerprint and DNA evidence, criminalists can study handwriting of suspects and the mechanics of bullets being fired.

To become a criminalist, candidates usually must earn a four-year bachelor’s degree from an accredited school, though certain employers may require graduate-level degrees and others may accept associate’s degrees. Students typically study forensic science, criminal justice, or a discipline of science such as chemistry or biology. Because criminalists must notice even subtle abnormalities on a crime scene or in a piece of evidence, individuals who pay attention to detail will have a good chance of finding success in this field. Aspiring criminalists must also be good at analyzing information and resolving problems, sometimes thinking creatively to figure out how the crime progressed. If the criminalist is also a police officer, he or she must meet all standards set by the law enforcement agency as well, which may include firearms training and physical fitness requirements.

Forensic scientists earned a median salary of $51,570 per year, as compared to the $33,840 median annual salary for all occupations, the United States Department of Labor Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported. The career field is expected to grow by 19 percent, as compared to only 14 percent job growth across the overall economy, according to the BLS. Criminalists often find personal satisfaction in their jobs, which are exciting and help people, assisting law enforcement in collecting the evidence needed to prosecute criminals. If you have an interest in crime scene investigation or scientific laboratory work and enjoy criminal justice, knowing how to become a criminalist could be the start of a fulfilling new career path.

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