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Because forensic scientists prepare reports and may be called as expert witnesses, they must have good oral and written communication skills. Lab experience, either in an academic laboratory or through an internship or co-op program, also is useful. Beginning forensic scientists usually must have at least a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology, physics, or physical anthropology. Thirty-one colleges and universities offer a bachelor’s degree in forensic science; most also offer advanced degrees in specialized areas of forensic science. Whatever the major, required college courses include sciences such as biology, physics, chemistry, and pharmacology; also frequently required is a course in quantitative analysis and statistics.
Laboratory experience involving analytical instruments or blood sample analysis is helpful. Computer courses are also recommended, as employers prefer job applicants with computer skills for modeling and simulation tasks and to operate computerized laboratory equipment.
Students do not need to specialize at the undergraduate level. In fact, broad training allows bachelor’s degree holders more flexibility for job hunting or changing jobs. Students who pursue study beyond a bachelor’s degree often specialize in a subfield of forensic science, such as firearms examination, depending on their interests. A Ph.D. is usually preferred for advancement to many administrative positions such as lab director. Those with a Ph.D. also may teach forensic science at the college or university level.
Forensic scientists must be acquainted with the methods that are usually accepted in their specialty. For example, controlled substances examiners and toxicologists should be able to select appropriate procedures and equipment for reliable analyses of controlled substances; develop a valid procedure, if necessary; and evaluate the significance of test results.
Most employers provide additional education or training for new employees with bachelor’s degrees. Many crime lab professionals attend postgraduate training on subjects such as biochemistry, population genetics, and molecular biology. In addition, they may attend conferences or workshops on topics such as specific analytical techniques, exhibit handling, and court testimony. Forensic scientists often receive training prior to their appearance as an expert witness. This training may include moot court practice, actual court observation, and appropriate reading material.
The FBI Forensic Science Research and Training Center offers forensic science courses for FBI special agents and laboratory examiners and technicians. The forensic science training program also is open to forensic scientists of other Federal agencies and State and local agencies. The program includes hands-on training and introduces new or advanced techniques for examining physical evidence.
American Academy of Forensic Sciences
P.O. Box 669
Colorado Springs, CO 80901-0669
Information on Federal job opportunities is available from local offices of State employment services and through a telephone based system of the U.S. Office of Personnel Management. Consult your local directory under U.S. Government for a local number or call (912) 757-3000 (TDD: (912) 744-2299). Information
also is available on the Internet: http://www.usajobs.opm.gov.