If you've ever watched CSI, Law and Order or any other crime-based hit TV show, you're probably familiar with the members of a criminal investigation team that comb the crime scene for prints, DNA, weapons or other clues. They then bring the evidence back to the lab for analysis and make conclusions about what happened based on what they found, sometimes coming to shocking discoveries that shift the focus to another suspect based on the angle of a bloodstain, a microscopic piece of DNA or the pattern of debris found at the scene.
These investigators are known as forensic science technicians. And if you have an interest in both criminal justice and natural science, you might consider becoming one.
What does a forensic scientist technician do?
Forensic science technicians — also known as crime scene investigators or crime scene technicians — work to solve crimes through analyzing evidence from a crime scene. In a criminal investigation, they're responsible for gathering and analyzing evidence from the scene of a crime and crafting a report that can be used to determine what the evidence means for the case.
While some forensic science technicians do both, most of them specialize either in working on location at the crime scene collecting evidence, or in the lab inspecting and cataloging it. Forensic science technicians on the crime scene must first assess the scene to determine how best to collect evidence without tampering with the environment. They then dust for fingerprints, collect and catalog weapons or fluids, take photos, sketch the scene and package evidence for safe transport to the lab. They may also help recreate the crime scene with law enforcement officers to piece together the missing parts of a case.
Through analyzing physical evidence, crime scene investigators can uncover facts and make conclusions about a case. Working in forensic science allows you to work at the intersection of science and criminal justice, using a background in math and natural science to enhance the work of law enforcement.
How do I become a forensic science technician?
There are a few different paths to a career as a forensic science technician. However, there are some core requirements everyone has to pass in order to get the job, and a few key experiences that can help you get ahead in the job market.
Complete the necessary education required for the job. Described in more detail below, the education requirements for forensic science technicians include a bachelor's degree, with optional postgraduate education and specialized certifications. Though most training takes place on the job, being proficient in lab technology and evidence-gathering procedures will enhance your resume.
Pass a background check.
All forensic science technicians have to complete a background check, and it's very important that you don't have anything on your record that will prevent you from passing one. Often, forensic science technicians are given access to sensitive or classified information, and if you work for a high-profile organization like the FBI, you will need a clearance in order to do your job. This means being able to pass a background check and prove your responsibility and reliability.
Pass a drug test.
Forensic science technicians must pass a drug test. This is a requirement consistent with federal occupations and is something to be aware of when going into the field.
Complete an internship.
Though not a requirement, having a relevant internship on your resume will help you stand out to a hiring manager. Completing an internship in forensic science will show you are familiar with what it takes to work in and around a crime scene and have a demonstrated interest in the work. Depending on the internship, it can also help you get acquainted with the technology and procedures forensic scientists must learn to use. This puts you ahead of the game in the training department and shows you already have a knowledge base to start from.
Required education, training and experience.
In order to become a forensic science technician, you typically need a bachelor's degree in a natural science, such as biology or chemistry. You could also study forensic science directly, though not all colleges have specialized undergraduate programs in the field. If you study a discipline outside of forensic science, though, it's a good idea to take as many classes as possible in or related to forensic science. Many forensic science technicians go on to get a master's degree in forensic science after their undergrad education, but this is not a requirement for the job. Within a postgraduate program, you can typically choose to specialize in an area of study, such as DNA, pathology or ballistics. There's also an option to get a doctorate degree in forensic science, but this is not standard.
Some forensic science technicians that work within police departments start as police officers, so they have completed police academy training. However, this isn't a requirement, and many forensic science technicians are civilians. Forensic science technicians new to the field have to learn the proper procedures and correct methods for gathering and cataloging evidence, as well as keep up-to-date with the newest technology in the field for inspecting and analyzing material. This training happens mostly on the job, with trainees working under a more experienced technician before being assigned to cases on their own.
While they are not mandatory, different licenses and certifications can enhance your expertise and verify your proficiency in different areas of forensic science, like blood stains, DNA analysis, latent prints or crime scene photography. Depending on your specialized skills, you can be eligible for senior-level positions and higher salaries.
Skills to have.
Beyond education and training, there are some core skills that all successful forensic science technicians need. Some of the most important strengths to have when going into this career:
- Math and science skills
- Attention to detail
- Ability to solve complex problems
- Communication skills
- Critical thinking skills
How much do forensic science technicians get paid?
A job in forensic science can pay very well, depending on where you work and your career level. Depending on the institution you work for, your salary will vary, but the median annual salary for forensic science technicians is $58,230, with the top ten percent in the field earning over $97,000 per year.
There is some room for mobility within the field. As you gain more experience, you can specialize in a certain kind of forensics, like odontology or forensic pathology. You can also move into a higher-level position, such as a crime scene supervisor or laboratory manager.