Forensic scientists use various techniques and practices to assist in the investigation of crimes and provide input in legal cases. If you have an interest in science, law or both, you may be wondering what kind of degree you need to pursue a career in forensic science.
Types of Forensic Scientists
What degree you pursue may depend on what kind of forensic science you’re interested in. Despite what you may have seen on television, the field is a wide one with different types of forensic jobs requiring differing skill sets.
Just a few of the kinds of jobs you may want to explore in this field include toxicology, odontology, pathology, digital science, engineering or documentation science. In each of these fields, forensic scientists study different types of evidence that may be important in criminal and legal cases, but the types of evidence studied require different skills. Toxicologists, for example, investigate physical substances such as alcohol or drugs. Pathologists study diseases, odontologists study dental records or dental remains, engineers might be called upon to look into building or road design at a criminal site, while document experts might be called upon to look into hand-writing or the authenticity of important legal documents.
Starting With the Basics
All of these types of jobs and more can be classified under the heading of forensic science, so clearly making a decision about an area of specialization can affect the types of courses you will most likely take. With all that said, even if you’re not yet sure of the specific direction you want your career to take, the general place to start will probably be a Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science. Getting that degree under your belt will be an important first step, and once you have general skills in place and have learned more about the field, you can choose a more specialized area, likely at the Master’s degree level.
A bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science will typically include general science classes along with studies in pharmacology, computer science and statistics, biochemistry and some work in criminal justice. It is also recommended that students take at least some English classes since a forensic scientist needs the ability to communicate clearly, in written reports and also while speaking during a court case.
A master’s degree in the field will not only help you hone in on more specialized skills in a given field, but give you more field experience and a better opportunity for higher level jobs, such as laboratory management. If you plan to pursue certain high profile jobs, be aware that the amount of training you will need will subsequently increase. Some of the jobs mentioned above require special licensure and years of study. For instance, a pathologist needs to hold a medical degree and a dental degree is required to work as an ondontologist. Forensic nurses need to be registered nurses. Other types of forensic science will not require that level of training, but even in lower profile jobs, you may find certification requirements for certain skills, such as forensic accounting or photography.
Where to Find Out More Information
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) offers a comprehensive listing of all accredited graduate and undergraduate forensic programs within the U.S., as well as information on programs outside the U.S. It’s a great place to start if you’re interested in finding out more about the field and contacting schools that will be glad to answer your questions.