Forensic science uses scientific methods and principles to resolve legal issues. The career has gained recognition because of popular television dramas, but the day-to-day work of forensic science is more than merely TV-worthy. Forensic scientists play an important role in crime solving. They analyze physical evidence, prepare reports for law enforcement officials, and serve as expert witnesses in conviction hearings. Contrary to the glamour the television portrays of the profession, much of what the forensic scientist does is purely technical. But this does not mean the work is not interesting.
Forensic science is made up of many subdivisions, including:
- Criminalistics: examining evidence in a crime lab, using science to explain
- Digital forensics: recovering evidence from electronic/digital media
- Forensic anthropology: usually involving examining skeletal human remains
- Forensic archeology: using archeological techniques in seeking evidence
- Forensic DNA analysis: examining individuals' DNA
- Forensic entomology: inspecting insects on or near human remains
- Forensic geology: looking at soils, minerals, and petroleum
- Forensic meteorology: analyzing past weather conditions
- Forensic odontology: studying teeth
- Forensic pathology: combining principles of medicine and pathology
- Forensic psychology: studying the minds of suspected criminals
- Forensic toxicology: measuring the effect of drugs/poisons in the body
- Forensic document examination: examining elements of disputed documents, such as handwriting
Forensic Science Degree Programs
Forensic programs accredited by the American Academy of Forensic Science are available online at all degree levels. Depending on your educational goals, you might choose an associate's degree in forensic science, a bachelor's in forensic science or forensics and toxicology, or a bachelor's in biology, chemistry, biochemistry, natural science, or genetic engineering with a specialty in forensic science. You can go on for a master's or a PhD in forensic science. Certificates in forensic science are also available.
Although coursework varies depending on the chosen degree, expect to gain a foundation in math and science with courses in calculus, chemistry, biology, and physics. You'll learn quantitative analysis and statistics, and you can take courses specific to forensics: forensic microscopy, criminal evidence, and courtroom testimony.
Forensic Science Career Options
As a forensic scientist, you can work as a generalist or as an expert in any of the subtopics listed above. If you would like to specialize in a particular area of forensic science, make sure to seek a degree program with sufficient courses offered in that sub-field. For instance, if you would like to specialize in forensic geology, in addition to fulfilling forensic courses, courses in geology, earth science, and/or geography should be taken.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians will face exceptional job growth in the next decade, a 31 percent increase from 2006 through 2016. Median salary for forensic scientists was 47,680 in 2007, according to the BLS.