Forensic science is one of the highest-profile scientific disciplines, partly because of its prevalence in popular crime television entertainment which has often led to convictions in many real, high-profile criminal proceedings. For those interested in pursuing a career in forensic science, there are several ways to become a forensic science technician, and all these paths can lead to a rewarding career administering one of the justice system's most critical tools. While there are jobs in forensic science outside law enforcement, criminal investigation is the most popular application.
If analyzing and investigating criminal investigations sounds interesting to you, pursuing a bachelor's in forensic science is one of the best learning options to start with. Students in online forensic science classes learn skills that pertain to chemical analysis, fingerprinting and DNA amplification and sequencing, and they often go on to work in hands-on professions that allow them to apply these particular scientific skills.
What does a forensic scientist do?
A forensic science technician takes responsibility for the integrity and analysis of physical evidence in criminal investigations. This is done in three ways.
First, forensic science technicians are responsible for collecting crime-scene evidence in a clean and traceable way. Whether the task at hand involves collecting fingerprints or sources of DNA, making casts of footprints or taking photographs of evidence for later review, newly discovered crime scenes almost always require a forensic science technician's services. This means there are times when a technician may be required to attend the scene of a violent crime. However, this is just one of many settings in which their skills are needed.
Second, forensic science technicians analyze collected evidence. Investigators often have questions they need answered, such as if a sample of DNA matches a specific suspect's DNA sequence. Other times, technicians are looking for whatever they can find, such as identifiable substances in stains or mixtures. Forensic science technicians may also be asked to determine the probable time of an event or whether an event happened in a particular place.
Third, forensic science technicians create and deliver reports on their analyses. This is perhaps the most important part of the job, because without clear, well-organized reporting, it would be impossible for investigators to make effective use of the data that forensic technicians produce. A properly formatted list of findings can make it easy to spot an inconsistency in a suspect's story, for instance, while one with haphazard organization could obscure key facts.
Types of forensic science technicians
The field of forensic science has numerous avenues of specialization. Candidates for specialized positions in forensic science typically have either previous experience in the specialty or academic training. Some emerging areas of forensics require specific skills and experience, such as experience in forensic analysis of documents and software. However, the traditional disciplines of criminal investigation and physical science still provide the most valuable experience for most applicants.
While many fields of physical inquiry can apply to forensic investigation, the most important specializations tend to be those that are relevant to the greatest number of criminal investigations.
Here are three of the main areas of specialization for forensic science technicians.
- Forensic toxicologist
Forensic toxicology focuses on analysis of blood and other matter to determine potentially harmful substances in the tested material. This is one of the most widely used techniques in cases involving a death or an injury and can help to identify whether poisons or intoxicating substances are present. Toxicology is often handled by hospital doctors, coroners and other medical school graduates, but the responsibility for running toxicology reports routinely falls to forensic science technicians as well.
- Forensic odontologist
Forensic odontology uses dental records to determine a person's identity. The dental print is typically from a deceased person or a person who is unable to provide that information. Forensic odontology is often used by dentists who work with law enforcement, but it can also be used by forensic science technicians who have built a base of experience with the relevant techniques.
- Forensic entomology
Forensic entomology focuses on the use of insects to make forensic determinations. This often entails gauging how long bugs have contributed to a body's decomposition to determine how long a body (or some other object of investigation) has been in a particular place. As with bacterial decomposition, bugs have very predictable schedules under certain conditions, and these schedules can be used to create rough timelines of events, especially following a death. Forensic entomologists often have backgrounds in the dedicated scientific study of insects or in forensic science.
Forensic science career outlook
Forensic science is a crucial aspect to criminal investigations and forensic science technicians have some of the most important roles in modern law enforcement due to their specialized scientific skill set . Jobs in this field show strong growth and are projected to increase 11% from 2021 to 2031, a much faster growth rate than the average for all other professions, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Earn your online bachelor’s in forensic science from Arizona State University
ASU Online’s Bachelor of Science in forensic science prepares you for a career in forensic investigations with courses in natural science, math and more, such as the Sacred Crimes: Religion and Violence course. Specialization becomes the focus later in your studies, when you can choose from various forensic science electives and gain work experience with an internship.
Additionally, this online program allows you to earn valuable hands-on research experience. You’ll take two organic chemistry labs which must be completed in person in an accelerated one-week format over the summer at ASU’s Tempe campus. You can also take these lab courses in person at a local college and transfer the credits.