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Crime scene investigators, classified as forensic science technicians by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, specialize in the collection, preservation and analysis of evidence related to criminal acts. They analyze human tissues and fluids, DNA, hair and fibers, as well as weapons and tool marks. Depending on their experience, education and skills, forensic science technicians may advance to supervisory positions, such as criminalistic supervisors and crime lab managers. Others may acquire additional education and teach forensic science at the college level.
Crime scene investigators collect and handle a wide range of physical evidence. Experienced forensic science technicians who pursue advanced education or training may advance from general crime scene investigation or crime lab analysis to a specialized area of forensic science, such as firearms and tool mark examination or DNA analysis. Becoming a specialist in a subfield of forensic science may require an advanced degree or specialized training that leads to certification from a licensing organization, such as the American Board of Criminalistics, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Crime Lab Director
Managers and directors of crime laboratories supervise forensic scientists and lab technicians, prioritize caseloads and ensure that all proper procedures are observed. Crime lab directors should have a combination of professional experience in crime scene investigation or crime lab work and an advanced degree. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that some crime lab director positions may require a Ph.D. in forensic science, chemistry, biology or another scientific discipline. Directors also should have experience in various types of crime lab analysis and know how to safely handle dangerous materials, such as blood, that could carry infectious diseases.
Some forensic scientists with master’s or doctoral degrees find rewarding careers training the next generation of crime scene investigators and crime lab analysts. They may teach in a college or university science department, such as chemistry or biology. They also may teach forensic investigation techniques in a criminal justice or law enforcement program. Most college teaching positions require a Ph.D., according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics; however, a master’s degree may be sufficient for some teaching jobs at two-year community colleges.
Scientific knowledge advances over time as new discoveries, theories and technologies advance individual scientific disciplines. Forensic scientists who wish to advance their careers must be willing to stay abreast of these developments, making lifelong learning an important part of a crime scene investigator's job. Becoming a crime scene investigator requires a bachelor's degree in a scientific field such as chemistry or biology, but the American Academy of Forensic Sciences cautions that future forensic science jobs may require a master's degree.
Shane Hall is a writer and research analyst with more than 20 years of experience. His work has appeared in "Brookings Papers on Education Policy," "Population and Development" and various Texas newspapers. Hall has a Doctor of Philosophy in political economy and is a former college instructor of economics and political science.