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Forensic Sciences

Forensic science is an excellent career for people who are curious, analytical, good with details, interested in the natural sciences and passionate about see- ing justice done. Forensic science professionals play important roles in the legal and regulatory system. In addition to the crime scene investigation work most often portrayed on TV, forensic scientists specialize in such areas as examination of environmental crimes and disasters; analysis of animal, as well as human, remains; and psychological assessment in family law cases.

Most jobs in this field require graduate study or degrees. Forensic science includes such disciplines as criminalistics (often requiring graduate work in forensic science, chemistry or biology), pathology and psychiatry (both requiring a medical degree), forensic anthropology (requiring a Ph.D. in anthro- pology with an emphasis on the study of human osteology and anatomy), toxicology (requiring a bachelor's degree with strong emphasis on chemistry and, increasingly, advanced study or experience in medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, phamacokinetics or clinical chemistry) and ondontology (requiring a D.D.S).

Becoming a skilled scientist is the first step to success in this career field. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) recommends an under- graduate degree in the natural sciences, with coursework in chemistry, biology, math and English composition.

Academic Options

At Hood you can prepare for a number of specializations in forensic sci- ence, as well as careers in related fields, by majoring in biology, chemistry, biochemistry or environmental science and policy with a concentration in environmental chemistry. Any of these majors will provide the neces- sary skills and knowledge for advanced study in an accredited master's or doctoral program in forensic science, graduate programs in the sciences, medical school or dental school.

Hood faculty encourage students to also take courses in physics and sta- tistics. Classes in psychology and criminology are recommended for those who plan to apply to graduate programs in forensic science. Hood offers a major in psychology as well as a minor in criminology and delinquency designed to prepare students for entry-level positions in criminal justice and human services.

Special Resources and Opportunities for Practical Experience

Adding to the hands-on research experience gained in laboratory courses at Hood, many students complete an internship. Faculty members and Hood's Career Center and Office of Service Learning help find oppor- tunities that match student interests. Some of the nation's top research and biotechnology firms and government agencies have laboratories near Hood's campus. Science majors have interned at the National Cancer Institute's Frederick Cancer Research and Development Center, the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

On campus, Hood's health professions adviser offers programs and panels on preparing for a wide range of health-related careers. There are honor society chapters in both biology and chemistry and a student chapter of the American Chemical Society, the Free Radicals.

Success of Hood Graduates

Their close interaction with students enables Hood faculty members to offer academic guidance focusing on individual career goals, as well as to write compelling letters of recommendation to graduate and profes- sional schools—an important factor in admission decisions. Hood alumni working in the forensic sciences include an assistant professor of forensic chemistry at Towson University who earned her doctorate in cell and molecular biology at the University of Alabama; a death investigator in the medical examiner's office in Denver who earned a master's degree in forensic psychology at the University of Denver; and a specialist in foren- sic social work at a Washington, D.C., psychiatric hospital.

Job Outlook

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists information only for forensic science technicians/crime scene investigators, predicting that these jobs will increase 19 percent by 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. According to the BLS, the median annual pay in 2010 for such positions (experienced as well as entry-level) was $51,570. Ninety percent are employed by state or local government at police departments, crime labs, morgues and medical examiner offices.

The Explore Health Careers website provides current salary informa- tion for six career areas in the forensic sciences, ranging from $27,683 to $52,471 for crime scene investigators to $105,000-$500,000 for forensic pathologists. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, which pro- vides detailed descriptions of 11 areas in which forensic scientists spe- cialize, reports that while income varies greatly depending on a person's degree, job, and work setting, "you will have a good income" and "be satis- fied with your job, knowing you are contributing to justice." Employers include law enforcement and legal organizations, hospitals, universities, independent labs, government agencies and consulting firms.

Resources for More Information About Careers

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (www.aafs.org/choosing- career) provides extensive information about the field and careers in forensic science.

ExploreHealthCareers.org provides information about forensic science and other health professions, including education programs, financial aid resources, specialized learning opportunities and current issues in health care.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012- 13 edition (www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic- science-technicians.htm) provides an overview of one career area in this field.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why prepare for a career in forensic science at Hood?

Successful forensics professionals need a solid science background and strong writing, speaking and note-taking skills, according to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. This professional organization advises students interested in forensic science careers to begin their career preparation by earning a bachelor's degree in science and taking courses in chemistry, biology, math and English composition.

Many of the career opportunities in this field require advanced study or degrees related to a student's area of specialization. A Hood College education provides all the preparation needed to enter and succeed in an accredited master's or doctoral program in forensic science, graduate programs in the sciences and medical or dental school.

Hood advises aspiring forensic scientists to major in biology, chemistry, biochemistry or environmental science and policy with a concentration in environmental chemistry. Biology majors study genetics, immunology and biochemistry, all of which are needed to perform DNA analyses; and they learn about botany, microbiology, zoology and human anatomy and physiology, necessary for identifying trace evidence. Chemistry majors focus on analytical courses that will be needed to understand drug or trace evidence. Biochemistry majors develop the knowledge of genetics and immunology needed for DNA analyses.

A particular advantage of a Hood education is that all science classes and laboratory courses are taught by faculty members who have significant experience in their fields, not graduate students. In addition, there are opportunities for hands-on experience in Hood's well-equipped science labs and at nearby national health research centers and pharmaceutical companies―using the same sophisticated equipment encountered in graduate school and the workplace.

Classes in psychology and criminology also may be helpful in preparing for graduate work in forensic science. Hood offers a major in psychology as well as a minor in criminology and delinquency designed to prepare students for entry level positions in criminal justice and human services.

Hood's Health Professions Adviser offers opportunities to learn more about careers in health-related areas of forensic science and related fields, as well as guidance in selecting and applying to graduate and professional programs. Because Hood provides an exceptional level of individual attention, faculty members can prepare compelling letters of recommendation when students apply for graduate study―an important factor in admission decisions.

What kinds of jobs are available in forensic science?

The AAFS lists 11 disciplines within the forensic science field. These include criminalistics (often requiring graduate work in forensic science, chemistry or biology), pathology and psychiatry (both requiring a medical degree), forensic anthropology (requiring a doctorate in anthropology with an emphasis on the study of human osteology and anatomy), toxicology (requiring a bachelor's degree with strong emphasis on chemistry and, increasingly, advanced study or experience in medicinal chemistry, pharmacology, phamacokinetics or clinical chemistry), and ondontology (requiring a D.D.S). Employers include law enforcement and legal organizations, hospitals, universities, independent labs, government agencies and consulting firms.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) lists information only for forensic science technicians/crime scene investigators, 90 percent of whom are employed by state or local government at police departments, crime labs, morgues and medical examiner offices.