How Much Does a Forensic Science Technician Earn Yearly?
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A forensic science technician works with law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes. These professionals are trained in methods that enable them to collect evidence, analyze it, and draw conclusions about what might have occurred in the course of the crime.
Workers in this field may or may not actually investigate crime scenes. Instead, many forensic science technicians work strictly in laboratory settings.
In whatever setting they work, forensic science technicians are an integral component of the investigative team, helping detectives and other officials to better understand the circumstances of the crime and build a case against the perpetrator.
The simplest definition of what a forensic science technician does is that they collect and analyze physical evidence at a crime scene in order to assist detectives and other law enforcement in their investigation of the crime. If you've ever seen a police drama on television, the chances are good that you've seen a forensic science technician, or crime scene investigator.
Unfortunately, many of the TV and movie representations of this career are highly dramatized and inaccurate. For example, forensic science technicians don't carry guns nor do they "work the beat" with police and detectives. Instead, they often work at crime scenes and in laboratories conducting highly scientific work. Among the most common job duties of a forensic science technician are:
As noted above, one of the primary tasks of a forensic science technician is to collect evidence at crime scenes. This goes beyond merely bagging important physical evidence, and instead includes planning how evidence should be collected, ensuring that the crime scene remains undisturbed and uncontaminated, photographing evidence, and drawing conclusions about what might have happened based on the physical evidence at the scene.
Evidence collected at a crime scene must be meticulously cataloged to ensure that nothing gets lost in transport from the scene to the crime lab. Additionally, it's important to properly bag and store all evidence such that the chain of evidence remains unbroken and all evidence maintains its integrity for future testing.
Much of a forensic sciences technician's time is spent in a laboratory where they put items collected at the crime scene through rigorous testing. For example, to determine if a suspect was present at the crime scene, a forensic science technician would take blood, tissue, or other samples from the suspect and compare them with DNA collected at the scene.
Forensic science technicians often bring in experts to do specific analyses on physical evidence. For example, if evidence was collected that suggests that a person was poisoned, a forensic science technician would likely ask a toxicologist to perform tests on the victim to determine if they were drugged.
Using the physical evidence, photos of the crime scene, and their analysis of physical evidence at the scene, forensic science technicians will reconstruct the crime scene. This is often done in an effort to better understand what happened, such as trying to determine where a perpetrator might have been standing when they attacked a victim.
Additionally, these models often prove important for the trial phase in which they can be used to help the jury visualize what might have occurred.
If a case goes to trial, forensic science technicians often serve as expert witnesses to testify regarding what might have occurred based on the evidence that was collected and the analysis of that evidence in the lab.
The following is a list of the most common careers within the field of forensic science:
The working environment of a forensic science technician depends on the specific type of work they do. As noted earlier, many workers in this field are crime scene investigators. As such, they are usually employed by a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency and conduct their work in the field.
For example, an investigator would travel to the scene of the crime and analyze the scene, collect evidence, and begin to hypothesize what might have occurred based on the forensic evidence.
Other forensic science technicians work in a laboratory setting where they analyze evidence collected at the scene of a crime. Again, these technicians are usually employed by law enforcement agencies, though some private companies also employ lab workers with a forensic science background.
Forensic science technicians that specialize in crime scene sketching might be employed by law enforcement, a state agency like the Department of Criminal Investigations, or could be employed by a private firm or self-employed. Regardless of their employer, these technicians most often work in a law enforcement or lab setting.
To prepare students for a career in forensic science, degree programs focus on a number of different, yet equally important areas. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
To become a forensic science technician, one must complete at least a bachelor's degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology, or a closely related field.
A bachelor's degree aims to prepare students for entry-level careers in their major area of study with introductory courses. In this case, typical courses would include forensic science, criminal justice, criminology, psychology, and chemistry, just to name a few.
For most students, a bachelor's degree, which typically requires around 120 credit hours to complete, takes four years to complete. The first two years of studies are almost exclusively in general studies courses, like science, math, and social sciences, and the second two years are almost exclusively in the major area of study.
Admissions requirements for bachelor's degree programs vary from one institution to the next, but often include similar features. A high school diploma and a satisfactory GPA are almost always part of any college or university's admissions requirements for undergraduate programs.
More advanced studies in this field are done in a master's degree program. Master's degrees are much less common in forensic science, and are usually reserved for more senior-level technicians that have specialized in a certain area of forensic science. For example, a worker that has specialized in blood spatter analysis might study forensic DNA and serology.
The length of time it takes to complete a master's degree varies widely depending on a number of factors, including both the area of specialization and the institution at which a student pursues their degree.
A short-term master's degree might require 30 or so credit hours which can be completed in as little as a year. Longer-term master's degrees might have 60 or more required credits, which could take three or more years to complete.
Workers in this field receive a lot of training, mostly in the form of on-the-job training during a probationary period. During this period, new technicians work under the watchful eye of a more tenured forensic scientist. They learn how to utilize laboratory equipment, collection and analysis procedures for evidence, reporting requirements, and so forth. These training periods might last as many as five or six years.
Typically, certification and licensure for forensic science technicians are done on a volunteer basis. This is due in part to the fact that the credentialing requirements from state to state and even law enforcement agency to law enforcement agency can vary significantly.
Nonetheless, pursuing a certification or licensure is a good way for workers in this field to demonstrate their knowledge and skills, advance their professional development, and learn new techniques that can help them complete the duties of their job with greater competence.
Like on-campus degrees in forensic science, online studies prepare students for employment through skill-building and knowledge acquisition in the procedures of forensic science.
Online degree programs give students more flexibility than traditional on-campus degrees because online studies can be done at any time of day from virtually any location, provided that the student has internet access. This kind of flexibility of studies is advantageous for students that have work or family obligations and who need to be able to pace their studies according to their own schedule.
Online programs in forensic science have very similar requirements as on-campus programs. For example, the admissions process, admissions requirements, and course requirements would be virtually identical, if not exactly the same. Many colleges and universities also have their faculty teach online courses, so in many cases, online students have the same teachers as students on campus.
Typically, online studies can also be less expensive. Without the need to pay for gas and parking to commute to campus, and with the ability to study from home, students can save money on housing expenses as well.
There are a long list of tools and techniques that a forensic science technician must use in the course of their work. Just a few of these include:
Forensic science technicians are highly trained and have to develop many hard skills throughout their education in order to execute their duties properly. However, there are also many soft skills, personal qualities, and personality traits that are helpful in this line of work. These include, but are not limited to, the following:
Forensic science technicians enjoy many benefits of working in this field. Among some of the most desirable benefits include:
With specialized training in forensic science, on can work as a crime scene investigator, a fingerprint analyst, a lab technician, or one of many other important roles.
Forensic science technicians often have ample opportunities to learn new skills, expand their knowledge, and advance into other positions within the field.
With many positions in forensic science requiring just a bachelor's degree, one can enter the workforce after completing just four years of a college education.
Forensic science technicians can make or break a criminal case with their findings. Being able to help solve crimes and bring peace to families is one of the top benefits of this position.
With evidence collected, processed, and interpreted by forensic science technicians, dangerous criminals can be put behind bars.
Forensics is an interesting area of study, and no two days working as a forensic science technician will be the same.
As reported in 2021 by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the average annual income for forensic science technicians was $66,850. These positions also often have good benefits like retirement and insurance.
The job outlook for forensic science technicians is predicted to be very strong over the course of the next decade. According to a 2021 report by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), this line of work is predicted to grow at a rate of 11 percent through 2031. That is much faster than average, which is around 6 percent for the same time frame.
The primary reason why this field is expected to grow so rapidly is twofold. First, many jurisdictions have extremely high caseloads, which means that additional workers are sorely needed to process the backlog of evidence. Secondly, as technology changes and new forensic science techniques are established, there will be a need for a new generation of technicians to enter the workforce.
Though the job outlook numbers are great, it’s important to note that this is a very small career area. Only 2,600 new jobs are predicted to be available through 2026, so competition for employment will be fierce.
Forensic science is a broad-based field, and shares many similarities with other science-based occupations. Some of the professions that are similar to forensic science include:
Biological technicians are usually responsible for working in a lab where the conduct scientific tests, analyses and experiments. In addition to using scientific equipment like microscopes, biological technicians also often use computers and even robots to collect and analyze biological material for study.
Often, materials scientists are trained in chemistry and use that training to carry out research that involves developing new products or devising testing methods to ensure new products are safe. This includes analyzing substances to determine their chemical makeup, conducting tests on product materials, and writing details reports on their findings.
Environmental science technicians monitor the environment to determine its health. This includes activities like monitoring sea levels or investigating melting polar ice caps. Likewise, these workers seek to understand environmental pollutants, how they are released into the environment, and the negative impacts they have on environmental systems.
Police detectives are usually seasoned police officers whose primary job is to investigate serious crimes like murder. Detectives gather evidence to build a case against the accused, including physical evidence as well as eyewitness testimony. Typically, detectives work a case until it is resolved in court, the charges are dropped, or the case goes cold.