Do you enjoy puzzles and solving problems? Are you detail oriented? The career of a Forensic Science Technician, also known as a Crime Scene Investigator (CSI), includes the collection and analysis of evidence at complex crime scenes, such as homicides, sexual offenses and robberies. The evidence collected is then analyzed and used to reconstruct the sequence of events to help solve the crime.
This is a career that is well suited to individuals who have an ability to maintain concentration and be meticulous and detail-oriented in analysis. Communication skills, written and oral, are important to this job as well. You will need to clearly communicate your findings in written reports and communicate orally when dealing with suspects and other people involved in the case. Deductive reasoning, or the ability to draw conclusions from the collected clues and evidence, is also a quality that will prove helpful in this career. Individuals interested in becoming a CSI should also be able to work well as part of a team. Not only will you be working with a group of CSIs to put the pieces of the puzzle together to solve the crime, you will also be working closely with police officers, detectives, medical examiners, and attorneys.
Most Forensic Science Technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation (CSIs) or laboratory analysis. CSIs investigate the crime scene and collect evidence including weapons, blood samples, substances, clothing or other material, fingerprints and/or footprints, and take photographs of the scene. The lab technicians essentially analyze all of the evidence collected at the scene using various scientific techniques.
CSIs working in the field typically:
- Collect all relevant physical evidence found at a crime scene
- Photograph the crime scene
- Sketch the crime scene
- Take written notes of their observations and findings at the crime scene
- Catalogue and preserve evidence prior to transporting it to the crime lab for analysis
- Reconstruct the scene of the crime in order to establish a relationship between the pieces of evidence
- Consult with CSIs in specialized fields, such as toxicology, DNA and ballistics about the evidence and their findings
- Assist with analysis in the lab
CSIs processing crime scenes use a variety of tools including tweezers, black lights, and specialized kits to identify and collect evidence.
Crime lab technicians typically:
- Identify and classify crime scene evidence through scientific analysis
- Explore and expose links between suspects and the crime using the results of their analysis
- Reconstruct the crime scene based on their scientific findings
- Take written notes of their analysis and findings in the lab
- Consult with other forensic science technicians in specialized fields other than their own about the evidence and findings
These individuals use chemicals and laboratory equipment including microscopes, centrifuges, test tubes, incubators, and DNA sequencers to process and analyze evidence.
Forensic Science Technicians, both field and lab, work whenever a crime has been committed. The schedule of technicians working in the field can be quite erratic, working staggered day, evening or night shifts. Overtime is also a standard as they must always be available to collect evidence from new crime scenes. Technicians working in laboratories typically work a regular work week. However, there will be times when evidence needs to be processed immediately.
The work for both field and lab technicians involves frequent exposure to infectious agents, noxious fumes, and foul odors. For this reason, technicians wear protective clothing including masks, gloves, and boots as part of the standard uniform to protect them from direct contact and contaminating the evidence. A lot of collection and analysis is done with the use of computers and other technical equipment. Having a solid education in the use of these tools is imperative.
Training and Education
The education requirements to become a Forensic Science Technician will vary by employer and range from having a high school diploma or GED to a bachelors degree. If becoming a Forensic Science Technician is truly what you want – then consulting with potential employers in your area is a great way to point you in the right direction with regard to your education. Contact your local police department and tell them that you are interested in becoming a forensic science technician and that you would like to get more information about the career from someone working in that department. They will better be able to shed light on the minimum requirements for positions within their agency. Although not all agencies will require a degree, they may look to hire individuals with exposure to specific lab techniques which can only be obtained by taking courses in biology and chemistry.
Obtaining a certificate or associates degree in most cases will make you more marketable to prospective employers, help you stand out from the competition, and increase your chances for promotion down the road. There are several Florida community colleges that offer certificates in a field of Forensic Science. For instance Hillsborough Community College offers students the ability to earn certificates in Crime Analysis, Fingerprinting, and Crime Scene Technology. The crime analysis certificate requires completion of 6 credits, the fingerprinting certificate requires 4 credits and the crime scene technology certificate requires completion of 28 credits.
Earning your associates degree will take a bit more time and cost more as well since more credit hours will be required. For instance, Palm Beach State College offers an associate’s in Crime Scene Technology which will take two years to complete if you attend full time. The program requires students to complete 64 credits which will cost state residents about $6300. Course content will include crime scene photography, fingerprint classification, crime scene safety and biological evidence.
For those who wish to pursue a career working in the crime lab analyzing evidence a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a natural science such as biology or chemistry is typically required. If you choose a forensic science degree, a program with extensive coursework in math, chemistry and biology will better prepare you to work as a forensic science technician. If you determine that obtaining a bachelors degree is the right option for them, Florida has several options. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences, a professional society dedicated to the application of science to the law, lists six accredited institutions offering various degrees in forensic science within Florida.
Earning a bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science will take four years to complete. The program offered at the University of Tampa requires completion of 87 credit hours and costs $12,886 per semester (this price includes room and board). For comparison, earning a bachelor’s degree in Biology, which will prepare you for a career as a Forensic Science Technician, from St. Petersburg College will require you to successfully complete 120 credit hours at a total cost of $14,244 for Florida residents. Out-of-state residents will pay quite a bit more.
If you have already worked in the criminal justice field as a police officer or if you have served in the military, you will have an advantage on the competition. Experience in the criminal justice field is often a requirement for gaining employment as a forensic science technician with various agencies. However, regardless of your previous experience you will go through a hands-on training program with the agency that you are planning to work for. This may come as on-the-job training or through an internship. You will learn the basics by surveying crime scenes and collecting and analyzing evidence under the supervision of a veteran technician.
The employment of Forensic Science Technicians is expected to grow about as fast as the average for all occupations, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Job opportunities are anticipated to grow by 19 percent through 2020.
With technological advances and the growing use of forensic evidence in criminal proceedings, more technicians will be needed to collect, analyze and provide findings to others within the criminal justice field within a timely manner. This also means that individuals within this field will need to stay on top of changing technology and science that can help in the collection and analysis of evidence.
The media portrayal of careers in forensic science on shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, Law & Order, and NCIS have led to a greater interest in pursuit of these careers. This interest is yielding a greater number of graduates in these fields making for stiff competition when it comes to landing that first job. Applicants with experience or a degree in forensic science or related field will have the best opportunities.