Forensic science has been glamorized in recent years by shows such as "CSI" and "Bones." While real-life forensic science technicians are integral to court investigations, the reality is that their work can be much different than what is shown on television. They may perform routine, repetitive tasks in a laboratory or spend long hours in a courtroom explaining detailed scientific findings. Students should be aware that courses for online criminal justice degrees in forensic science are rigorous and only those with a love of learning need apply. In addition, individuals interested in forensic science should have excellent analytical, logic and communication skills.
Careers in forensic science
According to the American College of Forensic Examiners International, there are forensic applications in almost every scientific and technical field. Some forensic occupations may require individuals to earn a degree in a separate field before studying forensic science. For example, medical examiners generally hold a medical degree in addition to their forensic training.
Dale Nute, an adjunct faculty member of the School of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Florida State University, writes on his web page that other forensic science technicians may go on to work in a variety of specialties:
- Crime laboratory analyst
- Crime scene examiner
- Forensic engineer
- Technical assistant
The College Board reports that most forensic scientists work in laboratories, although some may do their work in police departments, hospitals, morgues or universities.
Evaluating online degrees in forensic science
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences indicates all forensic science professionals need at least a bachelor's degree, and some specialties may also require an advanced degree. While bachelor's degrees in forensic science are available from many institutions, Nute recommends students consider an undergraduate degree in a more general science field such as chemistry to expand their job prospects. Then, at the graduate level, students can focus on forensic studies.
Online degrees in forensic science are available at the undergraduate and graduate degree levels. These programs are conducted almost entirely online, although some universities may require students attend final examinations in-person or meet other on-campus requirements. However, learning is generally conducted through online course modules and lesson plans. Students may interact with instructors and students via online chats, email or discussion boards.
Courses commonly required for forensic science degrees are a mix of science and criminology:
- Law enforcement
- Human behavior
In addition to earning a degree, forensic science professionals may become certified in their specialty. Organizations such as the American Board of Criminalists and the American Board of Forensic Toxicology offer credentialing opportunities.
Professional outlook for forensic science technicians
The job outlook for forensic science technicians is bright, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Demand for professionals trained in forensic science is expected to grow by 20 percent from 2008 to 2018. The bureau sees the growth in this field fueled by local and state governments that have increased the use of forensic science techniques to solve crimes.
According to the BLS, mean annual wages for forensic science technicians were $55,040 in 2010. The top percentile of workers earned wages of more than $82,990.
Forensic science at a glance
- Education options: Both undergraduate and graduate degrees in forensic science are available. Those who have a degree in another field may be eligible for a certificate program instead.
- Salaries: Mean annual wages for forensic science technicians are $55,040, with top wage earners making more than $82,990 per year. (BLS)
- Job prospects: The BLS reports state and local governments employ the greatest number of forensic science technicians.