Forensics is the study and use of science and technology to resolve criminal, civic and regulatory matters. A background in the biological sciences, medicine, chemistry and DNA analysis prepares you for a career in forensic science. Most jobs require a four-year science degree, and some also require a knowledge of police work.
Forensic physicians, or forensic pathologists, are also known as medical examiners. These professionals perform autopsies to find out how and why a person died; examine the body’s organs and fluids; and do tissue studies for use in body-identification and sexual-assault cases. A medical degree in pathology is required to be a forensic physician. Education starts with premedical undergraduate coursework in biology, organic or inorganic chemistry, mathematics and physics in a four-year-degree program. Four years of medical training follows and includes anatomy and pathology courses, such as medicolegal investigation, homicide investigation, forensic firearms, forensic anthropology and biological evidence.
Crime Scene Investigator
Crime scene investigators, or examiners, comb sites where crimes occurred looking for clues that might lead to what happened and how. They photograph crime scenes and gather fingerprints, and look for weapons and other physical clues, such as blood and other fluids. CSIs collect items to send to crime labs for further investigation. Many are sworn police officers with law-enforcement training. A bachelor’s degree and study in the sciences, especially chemistry, are the usual requirements. Schools offer undergraduate and certification courses in fingerprint collection, crime scene management, evidence analysis and blood stain patterns. Courses also include biological evidence, criminal law procedures and crime scene photography.
Crime Laboratory Analyst
Crime scene investigators bring evidence collected at crime scenes to crime laboratory analysts for testing. Analysts evaluate blood and fibers, looking for DNA and other clues to identify crime suspects. They submit their findings to law-enforcement agencies and criminal courts as requested. A four-year degree and undergraduate coursework in DNA analysis and the biological sciences are required. Courses include genetics, molecular biology and biochemistry. Physics, pharmacology and toxicology also are required. Students learn laboratory skills by studying laboratory terminology, ethics and etiquette.
Forensic psychology combines the study of human behavior with law. Forensic psychologists assist with investigations by evaluating the mental states of people involved in these cases. They assess witnesses to determine their credibility and test their competency. Undergraduate courses include an introduction to psychology, adult human development, child and adolescent development, and social psychology. Psychological testing, theories of personality and experimental psychology also are required courses. Undergraduates study criminology and an introduction to criminal justice as forensic requirements.
A master’s degree typically is required to work in the field. Graduate-level courses include introduction to forensic psychology, forensic psychology practice and professionalism, criminal behavior and methods of research. Graduate study also includes substance abuse treatment, conflict resolution, crisis intervention and ethics . States require a doctoral degree for licensing. [Ref. 3]
Forensic engineers investigate why items, devices, substances and their components fail. Their work doesn’t always relate to criminology unless the failure appears to have criminal intent. For example, a pajama maker might seek a forensic engineer’s help to find out why its flame-retardant pajamas have been catching fire and harming consumers. A civil court might call her in to give evidence in customers’ product-liability claims. A four-year degree is required in forensic engineering. Coursework might be civil, electrical, mechanical, chemical or computer engineering. Common courses for most engineering students include introduction to engineering, design, advanced mathematics and control theory. Specialized courses include structural analysis, digital forensics and network forensics.