Forensic science technicians use their expertise in science and problem-solving to advance the cause of justice. Because forensic science often appears in the media spotlight, there's strong competition for work. Nevertheless, advances in technology are increasing the demand for scientific evidence and the number of forensic jobs. For those who qualify, a career as a forensic science technician offers a variety of choices and many rewards.
One benefit of a forensic science career is the relatively modest education requirement for entry-level jobs. Most positions require a bachelor's degree, usually in forensic science, biology or chemistry. Your employer typically provides the additional training you'll need, in crime scene detection or lab analysis techniques, for instance. In some rural areas, you only need a high school diploma and relevant work experience to qualify. If you prefer, you can also prepare for a forensic science career by joining a police force and completing police academy.
Variety of Roles
Another plus to a forensic science career is the opportunity to choose among many roles to find the one that best suits your interests and abilities. A general practitioner is called a criminalist and usually works as a crime scene investigator or lab technician. Depending on your talents, you can specialize as a latent fingerprint examiner or a forensic computer examiner, for example. There's something for virtually everyone, because the American Academy of Forensic Science lists 11 different broad sections within forensic science, including toxicology, engineering science and behavioral science. If you wish to specialize even more, many of these areas have their own sub-specialties, such as postmortem toxicology.
Choice of Employers and Environments
Forensic science technicians have the advantage of choosing among a wide variety of employers and industries to find their ideal niche. For example, you can work for local, state or federal police. If you prefer, work for a forensic lab, toxicology lab, medical examiner, university or hospital. In making your selection, you can also find the work environment and schedule best suited to your lifestyle. Become a crime scene investigator if you enjoy working away from an office and don't mind overtime and irregular shifts. Choose a lab analyst job if you'd prefer indoor work and a mostly regular schedule. If you want to travel extensively, find a criminalist job with a state or federal law-enforcement agency.
Personal Fulfillment and Advancement
Forensic science technicians can derive deep personal satisfaction from knowing that their work is crucial to solving crimes and achieving justice. They receive respect from the public for their expert knowledge, for example when testifying in court. Every specialty of forensics is intellectually challenging and offers opportunities for personal development and advancement, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. A master's degree in forensic science qualifies you for the best job opportunities or promotions. If you're even more ambitious, complete a medical degree to qualify as a pathologist.
Forensic science technicians typically receive solid wages. They averaged $57,340 annually as of 2013, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, and the top 10 percent earned $88,880 per year or more. The highest-paying industry was the federal government, where technicians received an average of $93,940 per year. Pay was much higher in some locations. For example, forensic science techs averaged $82,110 annually statewide in Illinois, and those in San Francisco, California, averaged $88,280 per year.
2016 Salary Information for Forensic Science Technicians
Forensic science technicians earned a median annual salary of $56,750 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, forensic science technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $42,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $74,220, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 15,400 people were employed in the U.S. as forensic science technicians.