Forensic science is a growing discipline where professionals use science to analyze the physical evidence at a crime scene. The evidence then is collected and presented in court to determine if a certain suspect is guilty or innocent.
To determine if the evidence that was collected is relevant, forensic scientists use many mathematical and scientific techniques. Forensic scientists need to have a high level of skill in various aspects of science to come up with a conclusion that will stand up as evidence in court.
There are many work opportunities in forensic science in local, state and federal government, most often in labs, law enforcement offices and medical examiner offices. Most of these positions are available to professionals with a master’s degree in forensic science.
Earning your degree in this field can result in a rewarding career in these areas:
- Forensic science technician: These are criminal investigators who collect and analyze evidence. Many of these professionals may specialize in laboratory analytics or in crime scene investigation.
- Police officer: Those with an advanced degree such as in forensic science may specialize in a certain type of police work, such as drug and homicide investigation.
- State police officer: These officers have many of the same duties as a regular police officer but may spend more of their time enforcing traffic laws. State troopers can work anywhere in the state and can be called in to help regular police officers during emergencies.
- Detectives and criminal investigator: These are often plainclothes police who gather facts and gather evidence for crime cases. They will usually do interviews, examine records and observe suspects. Many investigators and detectives will focus on a particular type of crime, such as homicide.
- Federal law enforcement: With a master’s in forensic science, you may work for many federal agencies, such as the FBI, DEA, Secret Service or Federal Air Marshals.
Why Earn a Master’s Degree in Forensic Science?
Earning a master’s degree in forensic science will prepare you for an advanced position in the field of forensic science. Many graduates in forensic science can work in crime labs, police departments, the DEA, medical examiner offices, labs, and even pharmaceutical companies.
Many professionals decide to earn their master’s degree in this field because of growing job opportunities. For example, the growth of jobs for forensic science technicians will be an astonishing 27% by 2024, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
This growth is happening because of the scientific and technological advances that are occurring in the criminal investigation field. This is increasing the availability, usefulness and reliability of forensic information for criminal investigations and trials. Forensic science technicians will be able to offer much greater value than years ago.
Also, juries are more sophisticated today, and they have been exposed to forensic science in the media. This provides prosecutors with more opportunities to convict criminals with forensic evidence.
It is important to note that there is strong interest in this career field because of various crime television programs. Those with a master’s degree and a high level of achievement in the field will have the best career prospects.
The admission criteria for these programs tend to be quite rigorous. For example, George Washington University offers a Master of Science in Digital Forensics with these standards:
- Bachelor’s with a 3.0 or higher GPA
- GRE test results
- Two letters of recommendation
- Writing sample
- Personal interview
Curriculum and Courses
Penn State offers an excellent Master of Professional Studies in Forensic Science. This program offers an exciting and very rigorous curriculum where you will get hands on crime scene training and crime lab methodologies that will put you at the forefront of the field.
The university offers state of the art training facilities and crime labs that train students in cutting edge forensics.
This program is strongly rooted in concepts and scientific methodology. You can choose a focus area, as well from biology, chemistry or criminalistics. All of these programs will offer you a high level of hands on training at state of the art laboratories.
To be admitted into this program, you have to have classes in biochemistry, molecular biology, statistics and genetics.
Required courses include the following:
- Courtroom Proceedings and Testimony
- Science Approach to CSI
- Laboratory in Crime Scene Investigation
- Forensic Chemistry
- Forensic Science Seminar
- Chromatography and Electrochemistry
Career Outcomes and Job Titles
Below are the most common job titles you may have with this master’s degree:
- Forensic science technician
- Forensic ballistics expert
- Forensic DNA analyst
- Forensic documents examiner
- Digital forensics expert
- Police officer
- Detective or criminal investigator
Job and Salary Outlook
- Forensic Science Technician — Employment in this field will increase 27% in the coming years. While this is a relatively small occupation, it is likely that there will be many more jobs available as technology improves, and more juries are familiar with forensic evidence. Prosecutors understand that good forensic evidence can lead to a higher conviction rate. Thus, job demand in this field should trend upward. The median salary is $56,300.
- Detective — The job outlook in this field is average, with 4% increase in demand expected by 2024. However, there has been a spike in crime in recent years, and it is possible that many cities will demand more resources for police and detective work. The larger cities with serious problems in crime may be good opportunities for jobs. Median pay is $60,200.
- Police Officer – Job demand in this field will increase by 5% by 2024. As with detectives, experts think that there will be a push towards more aggressive law enforcement in many cities, as the crime rate has been increasing in the last several years. The median salary is $60,000.
Scholarships and Grants
- Penn State: Students of the forensic science program at Penn State have several scholarship options to choose from. The university also has links to several other scholarships that are offered by other organizations, such as a scholarship offered by the Association of Firearm and Toolmark Examiners for $2000.
- Southwestern Association of Forensic Scientists: This organization offers the Floyd E. McDonald Scholarship every year to aspiring forensic scientists.
- American Academy of Forensic Scientists: This is a multi-disciplinary organization that provides education and leadership to advance the science and how it applies to the US legal system. This organization is strongly committed to promoting education in the field, and elevating accuracy, precision and specificity in the field of forensic science.
- Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences: This is a highly regarded professional body of forensic scientists who represent the interests of the profession around the world. It currently has 3000 members in 60 countries.