Forensic science is the study of science in relation to the law. Forensic scientists analyze evidence from a crime to determine how the crime may have occurred and who may have committed the crime. Forensic science jobs makeup some of the most sought after criminal justice careers in the US, and they are crucial in solving crimes in the modern world. If you are looking for a profitable, exciting, and ever-changing career for your future, this could certainly be it. Here is a look at the practice of forensic science so you can determine if it is the right path for you.
Forensic Scientist Job Duties
The first question you have to understand about this career is, “What does a forensic scientist do?” This is a somewhat difficult question to answer because forensic scientists can cover several areas of evidence analysis in their day to day work. Common job duties for forensic scientists include:
- Analyzing body fluids left at a crime scene, such as blood or semen
- Identifying the presence of drugs, poison, or alcohol in a body
- Examining fibers found at a crime scene
- Determining which weapons and tools may have been used in a crime
- Assessing the chemicals present in a crime scene
- Testifying in court about investigative findings
- Analyzing the psychological components of a crime (see forensic psychology)
- Examining documents to detect forgery, match handwriting, date information, or identify writing tools
- Evaluating fingerprints to determine if a person has been at a crime scene
- Comparing DNA samples from suspects and crime scenes
- Relaying findings to criminal investigators
There are many other responsibilities that you may have as a forensic scientist, depending on what your specialization is. That should give you a general idea of the nature of the work though.
Different Types of Forensic Scientists
While most forensic scientists have general knowledge about evidence analysis, most of them will specialize in a specific type of analysis once they actually begin work in the field. Here are some of the concentrations you may encounter in forensic science:
- Biology: Comparing DNA samples to determine who was around during the time a crime was committed
- Chemistry: Analyzing physical evidence for the presence of various chemicals related to the crime scene
- Toxicology: Examining body fluids for the presence of drugs, poison, or alcohol
- Firearm/Toolmark identification: Comparing tools, weapons, projectiles, and imprints to determine the devices used in a crime scene
- Document examination: Assessing handwriting, signatures, typewriting, printing, and copying to detect document dates and forgery
- Fingerprinting: Analyzing fingerprints from a crime scene
- Psychology: Detecting deception and mental capacity to determine if a witness, suspect, or victim is fit for a criminal trial
If you want to work in all those areas, you may want to find a job as a generalist. That will give you greater flexibility in terms of where you can work, but it may limit your pay potential in the future.
Salary Levels for Forensic Scientists
While it is hard to identify the exact forensic scientist salary you may make in the future, you can look over the average earnings across the country to determine how much you could possibly earn. Here are a few charts to show you different salary possibilities in this field.
Salary Range for a Forensic Science Technician
- Lowest 10% made less than $32,900
- Median Wage was $51,570 (May 2010)1, $55,660 (May 2011)2
- Top 10% earned more than $82,990
Industries with the Highest Employment and Wages3
- Local Government: Median Income: $54,990
- State Government: Median Income: $54,550
- Psychiatric and Substance Abuse Hospitals: Median Income: $67,310
- Federal Executive Branch (OES Designation): Median Income: $95,240
- Architectural, Engineering, and Related Services: Median Income: $62,710
Salary by Similar Job Occupations4
- Biochemists and Biophysicists: Median Income: $79,390
- Chemists and Materials Scientists: Median Income: $69,790
- Medical Scientists: Median Income: $76,700
- Police and Detectives: Median Income: $55,010
- Private Detectives and Investigators: Median Income: $42,870
Forensic Science Salary by Location3
- Washington, D.C.: Annual Mean Wage – $74,050
- Illinois: $44,020 – $102,280
- Washington: $36,280 – $72,100
- California: $42,530 – $104,930
- Virginia: $37,320 – $103,870
- Connecticut: $47,930 – $87,080
- Michigan: $38,220 – $76,800
As you can see, this is certainly a career you can make a good living in. You just have to be committed to it from the start. If you get the education you need to become a forensic scientist, you should have no trouble enjoying your work day in and day out. Do some more investigation to see if forensic science is the right career path for you.
- United States Department of Labor, “Citing Websites.” Forensic Science Technicians. Reviewed January 29th, 2013. U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm#tab-5
- United States Department of Labor, “Citing Websites.” May 2011 National Occupational Employment and Wage Estimates United States . Reviewed February 1, 2013. U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes_nat.htm
- United States Department of Labor, “Citing Websites.” Occupational Employment and Wages, May 2011 . Reviewed February 1, 2013. U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194092.htm
- United States Department of Labor, “Citing Websites.” Forensic Science Technicians. Reviewed January 29th, 2013. U.S. Federal Government, U.S. Department of Justice. http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm#tab-7
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