Forensic science combines knowledge of the physical and natural sciences with criminal justice and the legal system. It can be a very rewarding career for those who thrive on solving problems, collecting and analyzing data and contributing to public safety and the greater good. Forensic scientists are highly educated, well-trained professionals who assist investigators at a crime scene by collecting evidence through photography, sketches and taking actual samples that could be related to the crime. These samples can range from clothing items to bodily fluids and pieces of hair to tire marks to the actual marks or evidence found on a victim’s body. Once the physical evidence has been collected, reported and evaluated, forensic scientists also consult with lawyers and detectives and give their testimony in court. Forensic scientists need to be alert, extremely detail-oriented and patient, good communicators in writing and speaking, and able to give their professional opinion without showing bias. Working conditions for forensic scientists vary, as their job takes them to the lab, the courtroom, the medical examiner’s office, and around the city to various crime scenes, which can be stressful, hazardous and upsetting. Most forensic scientists maintain a regular working schedule, but they must periodically take on-call shifts during nighttime hours, holidays and weekends.
The salary range for forensic scientists fluctuates, depending on many factors. Those who work for small law enforcement agencies will earn less, while those who work for the federal government and who often serve as expert witnesses can earn more. Also, those who work in large cities where crime is high and the job requires longer hour and/or more experienced professionals can earn more too. Benefits packages are usually given to full-time professionals, especially to those working for government agencies. Benefits range from paid time off to health insurance to life insurance.
An undergraduate degree in forensic science is incredibly useful but not necessary if you plan to earn a master’s degree in the field. Academic training in chemistry, biology and other science fields, as well as criminal justice should also suffice for an undergraduate degree. A combination of these courses would be especially useful. Master’s degrees in criminal justice and forensic science specifically prepare students to use their knowledge of science in a way that allows them to analyze crime scenes and figure out how ordinary materials relate to a crime. A higher degree increases your understanding of these concepts while also positioning you for a chance at the best jobs in the industry and a higher salary range.