Pursue a Career in Forensic Science

What Is a Forensic Scientist?

Forensic scientists serve a crucial role in the investigation of a crime. Often, they work as partners with law enforcement to analyze physical evidence collected at a crime scene, determining as objectively as possible what evidence is available and how this may inform a timeline of events related to a crime. While the particular role of a forensic scientist varies between time spent at crime scenes gathering materials and working in a lab performing tests on collected evidence, most have a strong background in the sciences and understand how the criminal justice system is structured. Some forensic scientists may even have experience serving in law enforcement.

The role of a forensic scientist in the justice system is very important. Their analysis of evidence can help victims of crimes get justice and ensure physical evidence is used in an ethical way. Having an interest in recording information and identifying patterns might mean you’re ready to learn more about online forensic science courses! By pursuing an online forensic science master’s degree, you may gain the necessary background in the physical sciences while earning your degree at your own pace.

Forensic Science Programs

Given the advancement in technology and the increasing storage and organization of data online, many forensic scientists have ample training in computer technology and how these relate to bettering laboratory processes. In addition to these technical abilities, many of the tools used to analyze evidence and store relevant information also requires significant training. Being able to communicate how forensic processes work and how the equipment operates is essential to the role of a forensic scientists. When they are called upon in criminal trials to explain to the court how evidence was analyzed and what the findings mean, such as how certain DNA evidence is or how they came to the conclusion of a ballistics test, supports the criminal justice system to better serve citizens.

What courses might I take during my online forensic science master’s degree program?

Because of the breath of speciality available in this field and the various scientific and legal fluencies forensic scientists are expected to have, many online forensic science courses ask for applicants to have some mathematics and science background or experience working in the criminal justice field while others offer more foundational coursework that they will waive for applicants who are already qualified. Again, there are often distinct tracts or specialities within forensic science degree programs so it is important for you to get a sense of which field of forensic science is most appealing when you apply to programs and be sure they offer you the proper training. From a Master of Science in Economic Crime Forensics where you study corporate fraud or cybercrime to a Master of Forensics with a speciality in Forensic Drug Chemistry, there are many possible paths towards a career in forensic science.

Some of the classes you could take during your online master’s program could be:

  • The Crime Laboratory: Structure and Operations
  • Serology & Immunology
  • Forensic DNA Computer Apps
  • Trace Analysis
  • Drug Analysis
  • Criminal Justice and Legal Concepts
  • Cybercrime, Cyber Warfare, Cyber Espionage
  • Occupational Fraud and Abuse
  • Computer Digital Forensics
  • Forensic Toxicology
  • Forensic Death Investigation

Depending on the institution in which you enroll, there may be opportunities for field experience, such as shadowing police officers, witnessing the process of a criminal trial, working in a crime lab, or collecting evidence directly from a scene. There are some programs that may offer online or virtual experiential learning experiences for those students who have life commitments that may affect their schedule.

How Long Does It Take to Become a Forensic Scientist?

Since online master’s degree programs in forensic science are held virtually, most of your coursework and learning will occur in a digital space. Students typically finish each week’s assignments at their own pace so these programs are compatible with those who are working full-time or have other life constraints or commitments they need to have a flexible schedule for. Depending on the degree program, they may further accommodate students by offering courses at a part-time rate so the timeline for graduating may vary depend on the policies of your program. Often, a master’s degree at full-time enrollment takes between 2 to 3 years to finish but there are also online certificate options for forensic science that could take under a year to complete.

If you don’t have relevant undergraduate experience in biology, criminal justice, chemistry, or another related discipline, you may need to take additional courses before applying to a master’s degree program. This could add extra time to the completion of a master’s degree.

Forensic Science Careers

Forensic scientists have varying roles and specialties within the field that you can pursue as you earn your online forensic science master’s degree.While most forensic scientists have a broad understanding of the skills and methodologies of toxicology, drug analysis, genetics, biochemistry, and legal code, other online master’s degree programs concentrate in economic and digital forensics, biology, chemistry, or forensic DNA. You could specialize in working with physical evidence or how to best provide expert testimony in court. Forensic scientists who spend more time working on criminal cases are sometimes referred to as “criminalists.”

By earning a master’s degree in forensic science, you may oversee the processing of physical evidence, collect important information from a crime scene, serve as an expert in the criminal justice system, or ensure important legal information is valid and protected in the civil sector. Below, you will find a list of some job titles typically held by those with a master’s in forensic science, which is a field growing at a rate much faster than other industries at 17%. All salary information is based on the median annual salary data offered by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for 2017.

FORENSIC SCIENCE TECHNICIAN

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in various types of laboratory analysis.

  • Median Salary: $57,850 per year  (i)
  • Job growth through 2026: 17%  (Much faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor's Degree

Chemical Technicians 

Chemical technicians use special instruments and techniques to help chemists and chemical engineers research, develop, produce, and test chemical products and processes.

  • Median Salary: $47,280 per year (ii)
  • Job growth through 2026: 4%  (Slower than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Associate's degree

Biological Technicians 

Biological technicians, sometimes called laboratory assistants, typically are responsible for doing scientific tests, experiments, and analyses under the supervision of biologists (such as microbiologists) or medical scientists who direct and evaluate their work. 

  • Median Salary: $43,800 per year (iii)
  • Job growth through 2026: 10%  (Faster than average)
  • Typical Entry-level education: Bachelor's Degree

(i) bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm  | (ii) bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/chemical-technicians.htm | (iii) bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/biological-technicians.htm