The meticulous processing of crime scene evidence is a science, so it stands to reason that crime scene investigators, or CSIs, must have a strong background in the natural sciences. These college-educated science professionals usually choose a program of study that incorporates plenty of theory and laboratory practice in science. Ideally, they have the opportunity to take at least a couple of courses specializing in forensics, or the application of scientific principles and practices to the detection and solving of a crime. Both biology and chemistry are appropriate programs of study for aspiring CSIs, but certain schools also provide an option to major in forensic science specifically.
The Benefits of the Biology Major for CSIs
Biology, the study of life and of living organisms, provides a strong foundation for success in examining and handling crime scene evidence. Blood and other specimens used to gather DNA information from are biological materials.
In a general biology program, students complete increasingly advanced levels of study into biological organisms, structures, processes and development. Coursework may include different types of biology, including conservation biology, zoology, botany, genetics, physiology, biochemistry and neurobiology. Through a combination of lecture and laboratory coursework, undergraduate students develop the skills to assist in the field of scientific inquiry or prepare for an advanced education in graduate school.
Some biology programs allow students to pursue a concentration or specialization in forensic biology by completing a series of courses. There are also colleges that offer dedicated forensic biology bachelor’s degrees. These programs flesh out the traditional biology curriculum with coursework in introductory forensic science, introductory criminal justice studies, toxicology, forensic medicine, biotechnology, criminal investigation and applied calculus.
In addition to understanding the properties of blood and other bodily materials, studying biology is valuable because it teaches students the scientific method of experimentation and investigation, which is needed to solve crimes accurately.
Considering a Chemistry Degree
The other major branch of natural science that is useful in the investigation of crime scenes is chemistry, or the study of chemical substances and compounds. The principles and practices of chemistry play a crucial role in evidence examination in a laboratory, including identifying toxins and poisons and analyzing trace evidence that can range from stray hairs left on clothing to paint chips transferred in hit and run car crashes.
Students of chemistry typically take classes in general chemistry, organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, physical chemistry, analytical chemistry and advanced chemistry. As in biology programs, chemistry college programs may offer students the opportunity to specialize their education with a track in forensic chemistry. If you choose a specialized forensic chemistry major, you will take courses in instrumental chemical analysis, the criminal justice process, the investigative process, criminal law and the analytical techniques and statistical analysis tools used in forensic chemistry.
Both chemistry and biology are crucial fields within the natural sciences, and students of either program should expect to take a least a couple of courses in the discipline outside of their major.
Majoring in Forensic Science
IMAGE SOURCE: “Day 253 – West Midlands Police – Forensic Science Lab” by West Midlands Police is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0
In addition to established fields of natural science like biology and chemistry, students may choose to major in the multidisciplinary field of forensic science. Forensic science programs typically are based in one of these two natural sciences – and include some level of study in the other science, as well – but feature a more robust curriculum in criminal justice. For example, coursework might include specialized studies in forensic identification, latent fingerprint identification techniques, blood stain pattern analysis and crime scene investigation competencies that you are unlikely to find in a typical biology or chemistry program, even one that offers a forensics specialization.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences recognizes over 100 colleges and universities with undergraduate programs in forensics, whether as a distinct major or a concentration within another major. Because finding a school with a specialized forensic sciences program is challenging, not every aspiring CSI will have the option to major in forensic sciences. Fortunately, having a background in biology or chemistry is the most crucial requirement for this occupation. New crime scene investigators often receive training on the job that helps them further develop their skills in gathering and analyzing specimens and reporting their findings, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). Building a foundation in criminal justice through pursuing a formal minor or strategically using your electives can help you leverage a traditional biology or chemistry degree to get the CSI career you want.
It’s not unusual for CSIs to choose biology or chemistry for their undergraduate major and then go to graduate school for forensic science, the BLS reported.