A forensic scientist is a member of the team that investigates crimes. He or she gathers and documents, or analyzes, physical evidence from crime scenes. This evidence may include fingerprints, blood, hair and bullets. A forensic scientist, also called a crime scene investigator or a forensic science technician, may specialize in crime scene investigation which entails the collection and cataloging of evidence, or laboratory analysis which involves using scientific methods to identify and classify evidence.
In 2010, 13,000 people were employed as forensic scientists. They worked primarily for state and local governments in police departments, morgues, crime laboratories and coroner offices. Crime scene investigators must travel to various parts of cities and regions where the crimes they are investigating have occurred. The gruesome nature of the crimes they must investigate makes their work very stressful.
To become a forensic scientist, one usually needs to earn a bachelor's degrees in chemistry, biology, or forensic science. Some crime scene investigators and forensic science technicians are trained as police officers who have graduated from police academies.
Before one can work independently as a forensic scientist, he or she must receive extensive on-the-job training. This takes place through an apprenticeship with an experienced colleague. The novice technician is trained to properly collect and document evidence. He or she may go on to receive training in a laboratory specialty such as DNA or firearms analysis.
In addition to needing very specific technical skills to do this job, forensic science technicians also need certain soft skills—personal qualities or traits. They should be able to work well with others and have strong organizational skills. Their work requires excellent problem solving and critical thinking skills. They must have an eye for detail. Forensic scientists need strong speaking and writing skills as well.
Employment of forensic scientists is expected to increase as fast as the average for all occupations through 2020.
Forensic scientists earned a median hourly wage of $25.41 and a median annual salary of $52,840 in 2012.
Use the Salary Wizard at Salary.com to find out how much forensic scientists currently earn in your city.
A Day in a Forensic Scientist's Life:
On a typical day a forensic scientist, depending on whether he or she specializes in crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis, might perform some of the following duties:
- Visiting crime scenes in order to plan how and what evidence to collect
- Collecting, cataloging and preserving criminal evidence that may be used to solve cases
- Photographing or making sketches of crime scenes
- Reconstructing crime scenes
- Examining, testing, and analyzing evidence including tissue samples, chemical substances, physical materials and ballistics
- Meeting with ballistics, fingerprint, handwriting, document, electronics, medical, chemical or metallurgical experts to discuss and interpret evidence
- Reconstructing crime scenes in order to figure out if and how pieces of evidence are related
- Writing and presenting summaries of findings
- Testifying as an expert witness on evidence or laboratory techniques in trials or hearings
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Forensic Science Technicians, on the Internet at http://www.bls.gov/oco/ocos115.htm (visited July 17, 2013).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online, Forensic Science Technicians, on the Internet at http://online.onetcenter.org/link/details/19-4092.00 (visited July 17, 2013).