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Careers

Forensic scientist employment opportunities include regional, state, and local forensic laboratories; district attorney's/prosecutor's/state's attorneys' offices; public defender contracts; private firms; colleges and universities; the military; and federal agencies such as the DEA, ATF, Customs, FBI, and Postal Service.

Between 2009 and 2016, employment opportunities for forensic scientists are expected to grow by 31% (from 13,000 to 17,000, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics).

Given the potential tight competition for these positions, the successful job candidate might need to relocate to other areas of this region or to other locations across the country or to other countries.

Job postings through the American Academy of Forensic Sciences list starting salaries of $25,000, up through $80,000, depending on the position level. Positions requiring a medical degree listed for $200,000 and above. The Bureau of Labor Statistics lists forensic scientist positions with investigative and security service positions as an average of $58,420 per year, and in medical and diagnostic lab settings as $53,670 per year. The Illinois State Police Division of Forensic Services posts positions from $40,740 through $57,792 at the Trainee level.

Potential career opportunities are listed below. These careers require different levels of academic experience (see key at end of list).

Criminalist specialist/serologist*#

Criminalist/serologist*

Senior evidence technician^

Mitochondrial DNA examiner*, **

Forensic scientist*

Criminalist I, II, III (variety of crime lab positions, including biological and trace evidence)**

Forensic toxicologist*

Forensic pathologist+

DNA analyst (entry level and beyond)*

Forensic drug analyst*

Toxicology medical technician*

Chemistry instructor**

Latent print instructor/examiner*

DNA instructor*, **, &

Subject matter expert (biometrics)***

Morgue supervisor*

Quality assurance director#

Latent prints *&

Forensic photographer (different educational/experience background)

Firearms examiners*

Evidence custodians^

Biometrics examiners*#

Laboratory manager**

Laboratory director**

DNA CODIS administrator*&

Regional forensic pathologist+

Computer forensic examiner (prior computer experience)

Associate medical examiner+

Crime scene manager*&

Forensic analyst*&

Drug chemist**

Laboratory manager for Firearms and Toolmark section*&

Advanced ballistics instructor#

Geneticist/molecular biologist***

Arson crime lab*&

Fingerprint criminalist*

Intelligence officer/analyst*

Forensic nurse/physician's assistant investigator*

Police services support technician

Forensic investigator with Medical Examiner's Office*

Forensic drug analyst*

Crime lab technicians*

Handwriting examiners*

Forensic Anthropologists (academic, research institutions, medical examiner's officers, and the military are some general employment outlets)**, ***

LEGEND:

*= Bachelor's degree in biology, chemistry, or forensic sciences (and in limited jobs, nursing)

** = prefer advance degree: Master's

*** = prefer advance degree: Ph.D.

# = requires professional certification

^ = only requires prior law enforcement experience

+ = Medical degree required

A Day in the Life of a Forensic Science Technician

From the Bureau of Labor Statistics:

  • examine, test, and analyze tissue samples, chemical substances, physical materials, and ballistics evidence, using recording, measuring, and testing equipment;
  • interpret laboratory findings and test results to identify and classify substances, materials, and other evidence collected at crime scene;
  • collect and preserve criminal evidence used to solve cases;
  • confer with ballistics, handwriting, documents, fingerprinting, electronics, medical, chemical, or metallurgical experts concerning evidence and its interpretation;
  • reconstruct crime scene to determine relationships among pieces of evidence;
  • prepare reports or presentations of findings, investigative methods, or laboratory techniques;
  • testify as expert witness on evidence or laboratory techniques in trials or hearings

[U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2008-09 Edition, Science Technicians, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos115.htm (2008)]

Additional Training and Certification

Those interested in forensic sciences can consider taking the General Knowledge Examination (GKE) given by the American Board of Criminalistics ( http://www.criminalistics.com ). Individuals may study for and take this exam even if they are not yet currently employed in the profession.

The American Board of Criminalistics suggest that the Forensic Science Assessment Test, which can usually be administered in the last semester of the academic undergraduate career, can be used as an incentive for employers as to the candidate's forensic science knowledge. For more information, go to http://www.criminalistics.com/.

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