How Do I Become a Forensic Scientist?

If you pay close attention to details and have the composure to stay calm even in the unpleasant environment of a crime scene, you might wonder how to become a forensic scientist. Forensic scientists collect and analyze physical evidence, like DNA and fingerprints, from crime scenes. Most forensic scientists specialize in either collecting evidence at crime scenes or conducting analysis in laboratories. Forensic scientists are also referred to as forensic science technicians or crime scene investigators.

Forensic scientists who investigate crime scenes are responsible for finding and storing evidence to be taken back to a laboratory for analysis. Upon reaching a crime scene, investigators, walk through the scene and attempt to figure out what happened based on the evidence. They must be thorough to make sure they don’t miss any crucial pieces of evidence. Crime scene investigators take pictures, make sketches and take notes about the crime scene. They carefully preserve evidence in ways that allow the evidence to be transported to the laboratory.

Another group of forensic scientist spends much of their time in laboratories, examining the evidence investigators have collected through scientific analysis. They must be technically proficient to successfully use chemicals, laboratory equipment and computer database programs to uncover information about the crime, such as whether or not physical evidence places a suspect at the scene. The goal of laboratory forensic scientists is to recreate the events of the crime based on scientific evidence.

To begin preparing for a position as a forensic scientist, candidates must pursue a formal college education. A bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a science-related field, such as chemistry or biology, is an excellent starting point for candidates who want to work in a laboratory. Crime scene investigators are usually police officers, so they will often prepare for their careers by earning a bachelor’s degree in law enforcement or criminal justice and then complete the necessary training, such as police academy training, to become a police officer. Coursework in forensic science may also give these candidates an advantage, with a solid mathematics and science background to draw from when investigating crimes. While many law enforcement agencies consider formal education important, on-the-job training is also necessary for this career. Crime scene investigators begin their careers under the supervision of seasoned investigators, who teach them to gather and document evidence without contaminating it. Forensic scientists in a laboratory undergo specialty training in subjects such as DNA-analysis and firearms analysis.

Forensic scientists earn a median salary of $51,570 per year, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). These professionals can expect a positive job outlook, with the BLS anticipated job opportunities for forensic scientists to grow by 19 percent during the 2010 through 2020 decade, as compared to 14 percent job growth across all occupations. If you are an excellent problem solver with poise and critical-thinking skills, knowing how to become a forensic scientist could be your first step toward an exciting new career.

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