Forensic Science Career Page for folks interested in Biology/Chemistry/Health Professions
What is forensic science?
Forensic science is the application of scientific methods and processes to matters that involve crime or the public. This is a field with such a wide variety of specialties that there are any number of ways for interested people to enter the field. However, these are the branches of forensic science that might appeal to biology, chemistry, biochemistry or natural science majors:
What does a forensic scientist do?
A forensic scientist usually works in a lab setting analyzing types of evidence, writing reports and testifying in court as an expert witness. This is a very detail-oriented profession, so if you like keeping meticulous lab notebooks and doing extensive quality control, this profession may be for you. Forensic scientists may attend crime or other incident scenes to help reconstruct the crime or collect or preserve evidence, however this is usually a relatively minor part of the duties, specially trained crime scene examiners generally do this. Forensic scientists may work for federal, state and local governments, forensic labs, police departments, hospitals, universities or as independent forensic science consultants. Some specialties in forensic science are:
A forensic scientist generally specializes in one area of forensics, DNA forensics or toxicology for example. A bachelors degree is sufficient to enter the field, masters degrees in forensic science are also available.
A forensic pathologist is an M.D. who determines cause of death in cases of a suspicious death (also called a coroner or medical examiner).
A forensic anthropologist is someone with a Ph.D. in anthropology who most often examines skeletal remains. Most of these are university or college professors who consult with the criminal justice system.
A forensic entomologist is usually a Ph.D. in entomology. Most of these are university or college professors who consult with the criminal justice system.
Dentistry/odontology is performed by someone with a D.D.S. degree. Most of these are practicing dentists who consult with the criminal justice system.
What training does a person need to enter these fields?
You must have a thorough grounding in basic science, which nearly always means you must have an undergraduate degree in a natural science. After this you may want to specialize in the area of forensic science in which you are most interested. For example, you may go on to medical school to become a forensic pathologist or obtain a Ph.D. in entomology to become a forensic entomologist. To be a forensic scientist in a crime lab, you may want to pursue a masters degree in forensic science.
What courses should I take to prepare for a forensic science job or graduate school if I am a Biology, Chemistry, or Biochemistry major at CSB/SJU?
Majoring in one of the natural sciences is usually required for this kind of work. The requirements for graduate schools are not nearly as standardized as are those of medical or other allied health professional schools. The following words are a general guide only. You should examine graduate programs for course requirements and other admissions requirements (such as the GRE exam). In addition to the coursework suggested below, a lab research experience or internship at a crime lab is of great benefit.
Forensic Biology: Your coursework should include Introductory Biology (Biol 121,221), Genetics (Biol 316), Biochemistry (Biol 317 or Bchm 321,322), Molecular Genetics (Biol 318), General Chemisty (Chem 123,234), Organic Chemistry (Chem 235, 236), and Statistics (Math 124).
Forensic Chemistry: Your coursework should include General Chemisty (Chem 123,234), Organic Chemistry (Chem 235, 236), Biochemistry (Biol 317 or Bchm 321,322), Physical chemistry (Chem 333) and Analytical Chemistry (Chem 335,336).
How can I intern at a crime lab?
The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension has an internship program in forensic sciences.
Here is a list of various internship opportunities, including the program at the FBI.
How do I find out more about graduate programs for forensic science?
The American Academy of Forensic Scientists maintains a list of education opportunities in forensic sciences at this page. There are only 13 of these programs in the United States, so admission is quite competitive. One should examine the programs carefully, as many programs only offer training in one or a few forensic science specialties.
The American Academy of Forensic Scientists web page. The job openings page gives a snapshot of the kinds of work that forensic scientists do, the places they work, and the salaries they make.
Dale Nute is a professor at Florida State University who offers his irreverent and very unofficial comments on his web page.
The Human Genome Project has a fascinating page about how DNA forensics works, some interesting applications (like identifying the Ice Maiden Peruvian mummy girl), and ethical, legal and social implications of the technology.
The Forensic Education and Consulting web page is somewhat helpful, although its contents are scattered and very hit-and-miss.
This page is maintained by Dr. Michael Reagan
This page was last updated 12/02/2005