Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist

If you are wondering whether forensic science is a field for you, you ought to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the idea of investigating crime scene seem appealing to you?
  • Do you have good logic and reasoning skills?
  • Are you emotionally strong?
  • Do you have good communication skills and high ethical standards?

Law enforcement agencies in the United States have special teams dedicated to forensic science. These teams collect and analyze physical evidence available at the crime scene. They basically recreate the crime scene to understand the sequence of events that might have taken place. Forensic Scientists also identify the unknown objects and substances that may provide important information about the crime. All the evidence collected are thoroughly documented and examined in labs at later stages. Multiple physical, biological and chemical analyses are carried out on these samples to figure out how a particular crime was carried out. In addition to working on the crime scene and the lab, forensic scientists also make frequent visits to the court for testifying. Questioning in court would typically be about the methods of sample collection, analysis and deriving conclusions.

Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist
Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist

Should I Become a Forensic Scientist?

If you are wondering whether forensic science is a field for you, you ought to ask yourself the following questions:

  • Does the idea of investigating crime scene seem appealing to you?
  • Do you have good logic and reasoning skills?
  • Are you emotionally strong?
  • Do you have good communication skills and high ethical standards?

Law enforcement agencies in the United States have special teams dedicated to forensic science. These teams collect and analyze physical evidence available at the crime scene. They basically recreate the crime scene to understand the sequence of events that might have taken place. Forensic Scientists also identify the unknown objects and substances that may provide important information about the crime. All the evidence collected are thoroughly documented and examined in labs at later stages. Multiple physical, biological and chemical analyses are carried out on these samples to figure out how a particular crime was carried out. In addition to working on the crime scene and the lab, forensic scientists also make frequent visits to the court for testifying. Questioning in court would typically be about the methods of sample collection, analysis and deriving conclusions.

Steps to Become a Forensic Scientist

After watching television programs such as CSI or NCIS, the job of a forensic scientist may seem too technical for most people. But if you follow the right path, becoming a forensic scientist might just be your ideal career path. To become a forensic scientist, you will need to follow these steps:

Step 1: Earn a Bachelor’s Degree

The minimum entry level education required to become a forensic scientist is a bachelor’s degree, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics. You can get this degree in a natural science major such as biology or chemistry or in forensic science. If you opt for a forensic science degree, you may choose between concentrations such as toxicology, DNA or pathology, etc. You will also be participating in a lot of lab courses, which will give you a good insight into working as a forensic scientist.
Most bachelor degrees in forensic science would have a mandatory internship component, incorporated with the degree itself. This internship would help you network with experts in forensic science and would give you a firsthand look into the investigatory process. You can apply for an internship with your local county government, police department or with a federal agency. Even if your bachelor’s degree does not have an internship component, you are advised to go for one after completing your degree, since skills learned here would come in handy in the future.

Step 2: Get a Graduate Degree

Even though this is not a mandatory requirement for entry level positions, getting a graduate degree would improve your job prospects greatly. Many Forensic Science Technicians have a master’s degree in forensic science or natural science. And since the field is so competitive, going for a graduate degree is definitely something you should consider.

Step 3: Fulfill all Training Requirements

Training requirements for forensic scientists can be divided into two parts – the compulsory training you will receive to become a forensic scientist and the specialized training you will receive according to your chosen employment path. The compulsory training for all forensic scientists new to the job would involve working under a senior professional and crime scene investigators. Laboratory specialties may also be learned on-the-job. The length of the training period depends on the specialty, but would typically be finished within one year. Once the training is complete, forensic scientists would be required to pass a proficiency exam or be approved by an accrediting body before they can begin working on cases independently.
In some cases, you might need to get training before you embark on your chosen career path. For instance, if you intend on joining the police force as a forensic scientist, you will need to become a sworn police officer. This would include meeting all training and education requirements to become a police officer before you can begin working as a forensic scientist.

Step 4: Consider Getting a Professional Certification

Even though getting a certification is not an entry level requirement, some employers may need you to be certified through a forensic specialty board. Various certifications for forensic scientists are available through different governing bodies – The American College of Forensic Examiners International offers the Registered Investigator (RI) credential. Similarly, The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) also offers certifications for forensic scientists, such as the Diplomate of the ABC or the Fellow of the ABC. The International Association for Identification offers eight different kinds of certification options for Forensic Scientists, covering topics such as crime scenes, forensic videos, footwear and bloodstain pattern examiner and forensic photography certification.

Completion of all these steps is a time consuming process. Therefore, if you plan on becoming a forensic scientist, you are advised to research into all the requirements relevant to it.