The emphasis on the definition of forensic differs from one dictionary to another. The word forensis comes from Latin meaning forum or the public. The inference is that the word relates to issues debated in a public setting. The word also applies to a characteristic of a court of law or legal matters. The latter definition reflects the current application of forensics. It is the study of evidence used to determine justice in the criminal justice system.
Forensic science is multidisciplinary. It involved the sciences of physics, chemistry, biology, pathology, toxicology, behavioral science, anthropology, and more.
A degree in any one of these disciplines would provide the qualifications to work as a forensic scientist. The diverse areas of study allow students to specialize in a particular realm of the investigation. For example, by focusing on toxicology, you become proficient at testing human tissue and blood for drugs or alcohol. The analysis can be critical to a criminal investigation or accidental death.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) recommends that future scientists in this field have at least a bachelor’s degree. A Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science is an excellent place to start. At this level, there are degrees with different names according to the respective structure of the curriculum. Many are also available online if that suits your needs and lifestyle.
The following are examples of undergraduate degrees:
Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice-Investigative Forensics
The program covers criminal justice, as well as several topics related to investigative methods. Examples of the latter are courses in microscopy, fingerprint and firearm identification, and DNA evidence.
Bachelor of Arts in Criminal Justice-Criminalistics
Criminalistics is another word referring to the collection, documentation, preservation, and examination of physical evidence from a crime scene. Therefore, it is forensics. The titled degree studies the criminal justice system, administration, and courses in forensics. In this program, you explore the importance of bodily fluids as evidence.
Bachelor of Science in Forensic Chemistry
As the name suggests, this degree concentrates on the methods used in crime labs to analyze, interpret, and report on physical evidence. As expected, the curriculum is weighted towards chemistry in your junior and senior years. There are 37 credit hours devoted to chemistry in your third and fourth year.
This degree appears to be the logical choice, judging from its title. The curricula in these programs typically have courses in chemistry, biology, and physics. All of the essential ingredients comprise the coursework. If evidence collection or lab work is in your career plans, you may want a program that emphasizes biology and chemistry. A college that highlights forensic microscopy, spectroscopy, forensic biology, and organic chemistry could be advantageous for your career.
The AAFS states that you may need a master’s degree. The job market, being competitive in forensic science, makes the argument for pursuing a graduate degree. An advanced degree allows specializing. Some colleges offer a concentration in Crime Scene Investigation, Forensic Biology Analysis, Forensic Chemistry Analysis, Biometric Identity Analysis, and Forensic Anthropology.
A master’s concentration in forensic biology analysis examines all aspects of the investigative process. You have classes in crime scene documentation, DNA analysis, microscope and instrumental methods, forensic photography, toxicology, pharmacology, biometrics, and more.
A master’s degree may have an internship where you gain work experience in an investigative setting and laboratory. You maintain a journal of your findings from observation and theoretical research.
Another graduate specialization is a Master of Science in Forensic Medicine. The degree may interest those with a passion for a curriculum that includes pathology, autopsy, neuropathology, postmortem radiology, and odontology. The program intends to satisfy students who want to specialize in pathology. Graduates will be eligible for jobs as assistants to medical examiners, research pathologists, autopsy assistants, and laboratory forensic pathologists.
Regardless of your degree, you should consider certifications. They offer a means to enhance your credentials in the profession. Examples are:
Comprised of the regional and national association of forensic scientists, ABC has a voluntary certification in different disciplines of criminalistics. Some of which are in the specialties of molecular biology, drug chemistry, trace evidence, and fire analysis, as well as comprehensive criminalistics. Applicants need a minimum of a baccalaureate degree and two years experience in forensics.
Founded in 1915, the IAI offers certifications in several fields of investigation. There are four Crime Scene Certifications:
- Certified Crime Scene Investigator
- Certified Crime Scene Analyst
- Certified Crime Scene Reconstructionist
- Certified Crime Senior Crime Scene Analyst
Additional certifications are in footwear, forensic art, photography, latent print, video, bloodstain pattern analysis, and fingerprinting. Each has its own set of requirements.
This organization also has certifications for those with a bachelor’s degree. You can obtain a Diplomat or Analyst certification, depending on years of experience. The Diplomat requires three years in this field.
The AAFS has a student affiliate membership for $55. The organization is a valuable source of information with the Student Career Resources directory and the Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF). Once a member of the AAFS, you will have access to the YFSF newsletter.