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You either need a bachelor’s degree in forensic science to land a position as a nonuniformed crime scene investigator, or you need to go through the police academy before entering the field as a uniformed CSI. Advancement occurs within the unit as senior CSIs train and mentor entry-level investigators. Your career path could take you in a number of different directions, from a federal lab to roles in management.
Move Up the Ranks
After putting some time on the job as a member of a police force, you can opt to apply for advancement through the ranks. Move into positions such as captain, lieutenant or sergeant after gaining on-the-job experience and putting your name on the list for a promotion. You must pass an exam in the department to earn a promotion, and typically you can continue working with your crime scene investigative team – but with a higher rank and pay.
Move to the Feds
After a year or so of on-the-job work with a rural or city forensic team, you can apply for a job with a federal agency such as the FBI. You might start out working in a laboratory, identifying samples from crime scenes, operating sophisticated investigative equipment and assisting investigators in major crimes and terrorism. Once you’ve reached management level, you can even apply for a position in the FBI academy and become a field agent with your CSI background.
Move Into a Suit
Leave the actual body fluid and scene sample collection to the crime scene investigators when you become promoted to detective within the police department. The process is similar to becoming an officer and requires a considerable amount of time on the job, successful experience assisting detectives in solving crimes and an application process that includes a state test. Instead of just collecting and analyzing the evidence, you’ll also be involved in interviewing suspects and leading a team to follow leads and make arrests.
Return to School
Whether you continue working as a CSI or take a hiatus to return to school, you can follow a number of different career paths that build on your forensic experience. Go to medical school and become a medical examiner who examines dead bodies for evidence used to determine the cause of death and solve crimes. With a doctorate in anthropology, you could turn your experience into work as a forensic anthropologist and help crime labs learn more about skeletal remains. Take continuing education courses in photography to be a crime scene photographer or courses that provide you with more in-depth information about firearms, tool marks and blood spatters. Specialization through additional school work can provide you with a wide range of paths to follow and keep your career challenging.
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Linda Ray is an award-winning journalist with more than 20 years reporting experience. She's covered business for newspapers and magazines, including the "Greenville News," "Success Magazine" and "American City Business Journals." Ray holds a journalism degree and teaches writing, career development and an FDIC course called "Money Smart."
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