What they do
Before answering the captioned question…a crime lab technician or forensics science technician is a professional involved in technical work inside a forensic laboratory. Much of their work involves preparing and analyzing samples as to support forensic research, although they are also often engaged in quality control and quality assurance checks on laboratory equipment and instruments. They identify the evidence from a crime scene and perform physical and chemical analysis on it. In consultation with other experts, they may help reconstruct the scene of the crime. Technicians use many kinds of equipment, including microscopes, infrared photography, ultraviolet light, X-ray machines, and spectrographs. The machinery enlarges tiny fragments, discovers hidden stains, or reveals the history of victims’ lives—even their dental work.
Crime lab technicians perform laboratory analyses on evidence including bodily fluids, guns, fibers, bullets, and hairs. They may specialize in a particular type of analysis, such as fingerprints, DNA, or handwriting. Job duties involve utilizing scientific equipment, chemicals, and computer databases to study evidence that other professionals collect at crime scenes. Individuals seeking careers as crime lab technicians need a degree plus on-the-job training.
However, you can begin your career with an Associate of Science in Forensic Science. A typical community college program combines a science curriculum with hands-on experience in the collection, processing, and analysis of physical evidence in criminal cases. The incorporation of physical science, criminal investigation, and the law provides a comprehensive understanding of the evidentiary process. Students learn investigative techniques and data analysis coupled with critical-thinking, verbal, and written communication skills that are essential for the constantly evolving forensic science disciplines.
At this level, you can still obtain a broad knowledge of forensics through courses in Drugs and Forensic Toxicology, Firearms, Impressions, and Examination, Bloodstain Analysis, Document Examination, and the Importance of DNA. In addition, you can take these courses online for the convenience of working professionals. Upon graduation from an Associate’s program, you will be able to describe common tools, processes, and evolving technologies in areas such as microscopy, fingerprint development, drug screening, serology, firearms investigations, trace evidence analysis, DNA profiling, and crime scene reconstruction.
For increased job opportunities, you should consider a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or another scientific field, including chemistry, molecular biology, biochemistry, and biology. Forensic science students should choose coursework that helps them attain skills in the area in which they want to specialize. Ballistics technicians examine bullets and match them to guns. Chemical and physical analysis technicians may examine a chip of paint from an automobile or a piece of glass found in a victim’s clothes.
Forensic science bachelor’s degree programs include courses and laboratory work. Programs with a heavy emphasis on math, chemistry, organic chemistry, physics, and biology may provide the best preparation for this career. Students also study topics in toxicology, genetics, physics, physical evidence, and DNA analysis. They learn about the criminal justice system, evidence rules, and professional ethics. Additional classes may include murder investigations, cell biology, forensic microscopy, and bloodstain evidence.
As a graduate of a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science program, you may seek employment in various private or public forensic science and conventional analytical laboratories. Other employment opportunities, depending on your concentration, are in crime scene investigation, DNA analysis, firearms analysis, toxicology, drug analysis, latent fingerprint development and analysis, medical-legal death investigator, autopsy assistant, questioned document examination, or as a lab technician.
To bump your career a notch, you may opt to obtain an online Master of Science in Forensic Science. You can earn your master’s degree in as little as 2 years with convenient online courses. There are 32-credit programs that offer four possible specializations:
Forensic Science: Courses in forensic medicine, forensic anthropology, drug analysis, toxicology, entomology, criminalistics, environmental forensics, biological evidence, blood spatter, and forensic DNA analysis.
Forensic DNA & Serology: Provides a strong foundation in serology, blood spatter interpretation, molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, and the theory of DNA analysis.
Forensic Drug Chemistry: Covers analytical techniques, drug pharmacology, forensic drug chemistry, and organic synthesis.
Forensic Toxicology: Focuses on the principles of toxicology, forensic toxicology, and drug metabolism. Interactive online modules include forensic pharmacology, doping control, postmortem toxicology, expert testimony, and QA/QC procedures.
At the graduate level, there are more programs for you to choose a specialization. Therefore, you can tailor your interests to your career objectives. Keep in mind that a master’s degree in this field may require a bachelor’s degree in chemistry or biology. In addition, distance learning programs may require that students visit campus for some exams, presentations, or laboratory training.
As a forensic technician, you will generally not need licensing. There could be some duties in your job description that would require certification. Certification is available through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC). Their stated mission is to “raise the level of competence in Forensic Science through peer-based certification and promotion of professional development.” The ABC is dedicated to the highest standards and programs for scientists involved in the administration of justice. The ABC offers a certificate in comprehensive criminalistics, as well as in the specialty disciplines of molecular biology, drug chemistry, fire debris analysis, trace evidence – hairs and fibers, and trace evidence – paints and polymers.