Are you looking for a rewarding career where what you do can make a real difference? Do you want to be the one who finds the evidence that puts a criminal behind bars? You may be looking to find out how to become a forensic DNA Analyst. For most positions in this field you will need to have a minimum bachelor degree to get your forensic science career started, although there are some other options as you will see.
Forensic Analyst Job Description
So you may be wondering what does a forensic DNA analyst do? You will most likely work in a laboratory preparing, examining and analysing DNA samples. This DNA can include blood, skin cells, hair follicles or body fluids like mucus, saliva, feces, semen and sweat. You will probably find yourself working in a crime lab and the DNA you analyse will be evidence from a crime scene. You will need to isolate DNA strands within samples then cross-reference that DNA to other samples in a database to help identify suspects. This will place them at the crime scene and help build a case against them, or clear them of the crime.
You will need to follow strict protocols when it comes to the handling and storing of the DNA samples, the chain of evidence, and the testing procedures and reporting guidelines. You may also be responsible for maintaining lab equipment and performing quality control checks. You may also be required to appear in court to give expert testimony about your findings.
Not all DNA analysts work in crime labs, you may also find yourself working in the private sector, in research labs, healthcare facilities or hospitals, for biotech companies, or in academic institutions as researchers. Work in research and development positions is important work that will help validate new technology and tools that can be used to further improve DNA analysis techniques.
Forensic Scientist Salary
The Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the mean annual wage for a forensic science salary at $57,340.
Forensic Science Technician Careers
|Occupation||Mean hourly wage||Mean annual wage||Lowest 10% earn less than:||Top 10% earn more than:|
|Detectives and Criminal Investigators||$38.00||$79,030||$40,110||$125,320|
|Forensic Science Technicians||$27.57||$57,340||$32,570||$88,880|
*This data was compiled from bls.gov.
A forensic scientist salary will vary depending on who you work for, whether it be a local, state or federal crime lab, or a private research lab. Your education level and experience in lab work will also factor in to your potential income. You can improve your salary potential with further study and forensic certifications.
Your location will also play a part in how much you can earn. Some states, like Illinois, California and Washington DC have the highest salaries for forensic science technicians. While others, like Georgia, Arkansas and Alabama, are among the lowest paying states.
Forensic Science Education Requirements
To become a forensic technician you will need to have a minimum bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a bachelor in natural science with coursework that includes biochemistry, biology, genetics and molecular biology. If your undergraduate degree is in natural sciences then you can improve your chances of getting a job by getting a master’s degree in forensic science as well.
You do not necessarily need a degree to get a start in the field however. There are some rural police departments who will accept applicants with a high school diploma and some related work experience and then provide on-the-job police training and forensics education.
Other requirements you should consider are related more to your skills and personal qualities. If you believe that you have good communication skills, problem solving skills and maths and science skills then you may be suited to this type of work. You will need to have good composure, great attention to detail and good problem solving and analytical skills. If this sounds like you then this could be a good career choice.
Forensic Analyst Education and Training Path
The most common path for DNA analysts is to get a bachelor’s degree in forensic science and then enter the workforce and gain experience in the position. Your bachelor degree will give you a great foundation in the subjects necessary to succeed in your forensic science career. Your undergraduate degree should be a cross-disciplinary course with subjects in both the criminal justice and science areas. You will need to focus on coursework that includes physical evidence, trace evidence, the criminal justice system, cell and molecular biology, forensic biology and genetics.
You have another option if you already hold an undergraduate degree, particularly if it is in natural sciences. You can get a master’s degree in forensic science that will give you the knowledge that you may have missed out on. Here you can pick up courses on forensic chemistry, forensic anthropology, forensic DNA analysis, and how to provide expert testimony.
As you will be working in a career that is constantly changing and improving, it will also benefit you to consistently upgrade your knowledge and skills in latest methods, techniques, and procedures used in the field of forensic science and DNA analysis. After getting a few years experience under your belt you can get a certification from an association like the American Board of Criminalistics. You can also attend seminars, lectures and courses to improve your knowledge and stay current. The more you continue to learn and improve the better you will be at your job and the more rewarding your career will be.
Forensic Science Colleges
If you are here you probably want to know how to get into your forensics education. If you don’t already have a bachelor degree then you will most likely want to look for a school where you can get a forensic degree. There are quite a few forensic science colleges across the country and you may be limited by location, so doing a bit of research based on where you live will help you out. Here are a few of the better forensic science schools for your undergraduate program.
- Pennsylvania State University has a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science boasting a faculty of experts in their fields with decades of real-world experience.
- University of Mississippi in Oxford, MI has a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Chemistry that is accredited by the American Association of Forensic Science
- Loyola University In Chicago offers a Bachelor of Science degree in Forensic Science that provides a good combination of natural science and criminal justice coursework.
If you are looking for a master’s degree or other graduate programs you can try these highly rated schools.
- Boston University School of Medicine offers a Master of Science Degree in Biomedical Forensic Science that trains aspiring forensic scientists in a variety of disciplines related to crime scene investigation and evidence analysis. It is one of the only programs you can do that is taught at a major medical center.
- University of California at Davis has a Master of Science in Forensic Science Degree that provides an exemplary education in Criminalistics and DNA identification analysis.
- The George Washington University offers a Master of Forensic Science Degree, with concentrations in Forensic Chemistry, Molecular Biology, Forensic Toxicology.
Forensic Science Jobs
Careers in forensic science are diverse and you don’t have to limit yourself to being a DNA analyst. You may get part way through your degree and decide to specialize in another area and that is ok because your degree will give you a good foundation in a variety of careers in forensics and criminal justice.
Many forensic science careers will lead you to a specialization in a specific type of evidence analysis other than working with DNA. You could focus your work on forensic ballistics analysis where you will examine guns and bullets to help determine the who and how of a crime scene. You could become a latent print examiner where you will work with prints taken from a crime scene and match them to persons at the scene.
You could focus on forensic toxicology where you will concentrate on the effects, treatment, and detection of poisonous substances and their connection to forensic evidence. You can also work with forensic drug chemistry and analysis which emphasizes pharmacology and chemistry to help gather, process, and interpret evidence collected from a crime scene.
You also may be interested in doing more with your degree than working in a lab. You could find out how to become a forensic investigator which will get you out of the lab for some of the time and allow you to go to crime scenes to collect evidence and help with investigating the crime rather than just working on the evidence in the lab. A forensic science investigator will work all aspects of a crime and give you more variety in your job. If you want to know how to become a criminal investigator you can do that with your forensics degree as well.
Digital forensics is an area of specialization that examines computers, gaming devices, mobile phones and tablets and digital media storage to collect and analyse evidence related to crimes.
You could also become a forensic pathologist where you will examine a body so that you can determine the cause of death. This may involve performing autopsies and gathering evidence from the body, analysing this evidence and writing a report on your analysis.
Whatever you decide to do with your degree you will discover a variety of forensic careers to choose from. You will be excited and challenged no matter which path you choose, and you can be happy with the knowledge that you are making a difference in peoples lives. Take a look here for further research into criminal justice careers.