The word forensic originates from Latin meaning market place, forum, or the public. The English adoption refers to the courts, a public discussion, or debate. In modern times, forensic relates to the use of scientific methods to solve a crime or suspicion of a crime. As most readers know, television glorified the forensics profession through a handful of CSI weekly series. There, crime scene investigators and laboratory technicians hunched over test tubes, microscopes, and sophisticated equipment to solve murders within one hour-including commercials!
Of course, the science of forensics is more involved than portrayed on TV. It requires a background in chemistry, biology, computer science, engineering, and physics. It is also beneficial to understand the criminal justice system. There are several branches and specialties in this field. For example, forensics applies to anthropology, psychology, toxicology, pathology, biology, and accounting. This article focuses on forensic science as it pertains to the gathering and analysis of evidence from a person or crime scene.
There are numerous online and campus programs devoted to a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science. This choice is an excellent place to start for students interested in a career in forensics. During your research into prospective colleges, you may want to look at those that have FEPAC accreditation. The Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission administers standards to promote academic excellence in forensic science programs.
Another important consideration is your aptitude for science. If you received top grades in biology, physics, and chemistry in high, then forensics could be the right fit. Forensic science primarily involves these three subjects.
Most college four-year degrees begin with the obligatory General Education (GE) Requirements. Their purpose is to create a well-rounded education and produce students who have knowledge and skills beyond their major. Typically, the GE classes include mathematics, psychology, sociology, U.S. history, communications, literature, and many more. The GE subjects can differ dramatically from school to school.
Here are examples of courses you can expect to have at the undergraduate level.
Crime Scene Investigation
The scene of the crime is crucial to forensics. You learn the importance of documenting, collecting, and securing physical evidence. Sloppy crime scene investigative techniques can destroy a case in court. Without the proper and unimpeachable collection of evidence, law enforcement may not solve the crime, or a killer could go free. Conversely, you do don’t want to incriminate an innocent person.
Most programs emphasize forensic biology. Since the introduction of DNA testing in 1985, it is a staple of most crime investigations. DNA or deoxyribonucleic acid is the most accurate marker to identify a person genetically. The first person convicted based on DNA testing occurred in 1987. The scientific analysis has also exonerated numerous people wrongly found guilty of a crime he/she did not commit. A class in the titled subject examines cellular and molecular biology.
You will have classes in general and organic chemistry. Knowledge of this science is integral to forensic science. You learn how to use various instruments to identify unknown substances at a crime scene. Chromatography is a lab technique to determine the components of a compound. One piece of equipment is the high-performance liquid chromatography device. This apparatus separates and identifies a mixture.
The class may also have a physics lab in conjunction with general physics. You will study motion, fluids, heat, thermodynamics, principles of sound waves, electricity, and more.
Your courses in biology and chemistry will complement the study of toxicology. This science typically involves the testing of blood for drugs, alcohol, or other chemical substances a person may have injected or ingested. The analysis can determine a person’s state of mind and physical condition.
Forensic science may not suit those who are squeamish handling small insects. Some curricula include a class in forensic entomology that focuses on the particular insects that flourish in human tissue after death. Insects such as blowflies and maggots can help ascertain the time of death and identify sites of physical trauma.
You could specialize in this field at the master’s level. However, you could gain a head start while taking your bachelor’s degree. There are programs offering concentrations in anthropology, in addition to biology, chemistry, or toxicology. Forensic anthropology is part archaeology and part taphonomy. The latter refers to the study of how organisms decay. This science can be vital to a forensic investigation for the identification and cause of death from bones, mutilation, and badly decomposed individuals.
With the variance in curricula comes the diversity of classes. Some of the other subjects may include pharmacology, biotechnology, firearm ballistics, crime scene photography, anatomy, and explosives.
Whichever school and courses you choose, you will graduate into a competitive market in forensic science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports 15,400 worked as Forensic Science Technicians as of May 2017. The average salary was $57,850 with a Bachelor’s degree. Job growth looks promising at 17%. However, this is over ten years – through 2026. Consequently, the BLS predicts a change in only 2,600 positions.