The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the largest forensic science organization in the world, has more than 6,600 members. Forensic scientists are typically employed by large police departments or state law enforcement agencies nationwide. However, individuals in certain disciplines are often self-employed or work in the private sector. For example, forensic engineers—who use mathematical principles to reconstruct accident scenes, determine the origins of explosions and fires, or review the design of chemical or molecular structures—may be employed by large corporations, small firms, or government agencies. Forensic anthropologists—who identify skeletal remains—may work within a university or college, teaching related courses, conducting research, and consulting on cases submitted by law enforcement agencies. They may also be employed by the military or a medical examiner's office. Many forensic science specialties also offer part-time or consulting opportunities, depending on your level of education and experience.
Crime labs are maintained by the federal government and by state and local governments. Applications should be made directly to the personnel department of the government agency supporting the lab. Civil service appointments usually require applicants to take an examination. Such appointments are usually widely advertised well in advance of the application date. Those working for the FBI or other law enforcement agencies usually undergo background checks, which examine their character, history, previous employers, and family and friends.
In a large crime laboratory, forensic experts usually advance from a technician's position to working independently at one or more special types of analysis. From there they may advance to a position as project leader or being in charge of all aspects of one particular investigation. In smaller labs, one forensic expert may have to fill many roles. With experience, such an expert may progress to more responsible work but receive no advancement in title. Fingerprint classifiers who work for police departments may pursue advancement with a different government agency or apply for positions with the FBI.
Further education is crucial to advancement. Forensic experts need to be familiar with scientific procedures such as gas chromatography, ultraviolet and infrared spectrophotometry, mass spectroscopy, electrophoresis, polarizing microscopy, light microscopy, and conventional and isoelectric focusing. Knowledge of these analytical techniques and procedures is taught or more fully explored at the master's and doctorate levels. Other, more specific areas of forensics, such as DNA analysis, require advanced degrees in molecular biology and genetics.
Tips for Entry
Many professional organizations, such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS, https://webdata.aafs.org/public/jobs/postings.aspx) and the International Crime Scene Investigators Association (https://www.icsia.org/csi-job-postings), post job openings on their Web sites.
Read publications such as the Journal of Forensic Sciences (http://www.aafs.org/resources/journal-of-forensic-sciences) to learn more about the field.
Join professional associations such as the AAFS to access training and networking resources, industry publications, and employment opportunities.
Conduct information interviews with forensic experts and ask them for advice on preparing for and entering the field.