Job Expectations and Salaries for Forensic Scientists

Criminal Justice Articles

Job Expectations and Salaries for Forensic Scientists

Forensic science may not be all the 'glamour' that television and books has portrayed it to be, but it is an exciting field. Forensic scientists operate behind the scenes of criminal investigations and their work often makes a huge impact on the outcome of many cases. If what you see and read about forensic science for entertainment is tantalizing enough to have you contemplate it as a course of study, you should get an idea if the job expectations and the pay for a person in this field is what you desire.

Defining the Role of a Forensic Scientist

A forensic scientist collects, studies, and evaluates evidence from the scenes of crimes as well as victims themselves. Using a variety of scientific methods, they analyze data and what they discover may prove the innocence or guilt of a person accused of or charged with a crime. Other names for a forensic scientist include crime lab technician or analyst or even criminalist. The majority of people in this forensic field work for some government agency at the state, local or federal levels, although a small percentage may work for private investigation firms, independent laboratories, or the military.

During the course of the job, a forensic scientist may test for minute traces of DNA in a drop of blood found at a crime scene. They may be required to try and match retrieved slugs to certain firearms or test clothing for traces of gunpowder residue or even drugs. Footprints, tire tracks, fingerprints, and more may be analyzed. Exposure to decaying bodies, poisons, disease, and other potential dangers is expected, too. Anywhere a potential crime has been committed and evidence can be collected for testing, a forensic scientist will likely handle it.

A lot of lab work is involved in forensic science. Generated forensic reports may be used in criminal as well as civil cases and the scientist may also be called to testify in court. Hard science is what makes or breaks a case so the role of a forensic scientist can be crucial.

Education and Training

Most positions for a forensic scientist require a heavy background in science and at the very least a four year bachelor's degree. Optimally, a degree in forensic science is best, although other science disciplines such as physical science, chemistry, biology, or earth science may be acceptable. Some crime labs will hire entry-level forensic scientists with a four year degree and provide on-the-job training while others prefer candidates with graduate degrees and lab experience. Having excellent computer skills and even a law enforcement background is beneficial to landing a job as a forensic scientist.

Promotion Possibilities and Job Outlook

With years of experience and hands-on training, forensic scientists may advance the career ladder and become managers or supervisors, leading their own forensics team or laboratory. They may advance to train new forensic talent or even work independently as a contractor or consultant.

The employment rate for forensic scientists holds steady, although in some areas with higher crime, the need is higher than average. There are approximately 7,000 to 10,000 forensic scientists working in the United States. Most work a five day, 40 hour week, but it will not always be a traditional Monday through Friday as crime doesn't stop for holidays or weekends. In special circumstances, overtime may occur, depending on the nature of a crime.

The average starting salary for a forensic scientist new on the job with a four year bachelor's degree is $30,000 to $35,000 a year while the median is about $45,000. With an advanced degree and experience, some forensic scientists can earn $65,000 to $80,000 a year. Because most positions are found within the local, state, or federal governments, benefits such as pension, medical insurance, vacation, and sick time are the norm.

Schools Offering Forensic Science Courses: