Shows like Law and Order and CSI have helped drive more people towards a career in forensic investigation. A lot of us used to play “detective” when we were younger, so the thought of making an actual career of investigating crime scenes and helping to solve real crimes brings the Sherlock Holmes out of you.

The excitement and interest generated by TV dramas — combined with the unfortunate lack of peace in the world — have helped generate a projected job  growth of 19% through 2020.

RelatedWhat are the Career Options for Criminal Justice and Criminology Majors?

What Do Forensic Scientists Do?

Forensic scientists play a huge role in the criminal justice system. They’re in charge of collecting, analyzing, and interpreting evidence of crime scenes. Even though TV shows and movies do a good job of dramatizing forensic scientists, they’re actually not that far off in terms of the duties the characters perform.

They collect finger prints and DNA samples left at crime scenes, examine dead bodies, and analyze crime scenes. What the shows miss out on, however, are all the behind-the-scene things that forensic scientists deal with, such as paperwork and data analysis. But you’ll get plenty of that in class.

What Career Can Your Degree Get You?

When you think about what you can do with a degree in forensic science, you probably automatically think about collecting DNA samples at a crime scene, and working with Olivia Benson to find suspects. But you can actually do a lot more than that.

Forensic science is a lot broader than what you might think. Forensic science is really just an umbrella term that encompasses several different fields, such as:

  • Forensic toxicology
  • Forensic pathology
  • Forensic botany
  • Forensic dentistry
  • Forensic psychology

As you can imagine, depending on what specific area of focus you want to pursue, you’ll need coursework in other fields as well, like biology, chemistry, and engineering.

You can use your degree to get your foot in the door of any of these five careers.

1. Medical Examiner

This career is not for the squeamish. If the thought of cutting up a dead body and basically working around corpses all day doesn’t seem appealing to you, then this might not be for you.  On the up side, it does pay well!

As a medical examiner, you can expect to be faced with a lot of odd or puzzling scenarios. You’ll have to figure out how people died, when they died, and look for clues that will help detectives solve their case. From time to time, you might also be called to testify in court on your findings.

As far as educational requirements, medical examiners also have to go to medical school. So it’s not a job that you’re going to get with just a four-year degree. Be ready to spend around seven or more years in college if you want this title.

2. Fingerprint Technician

Don’t want to spend seven or more years in college to be a medical examiner? Then a career as a fingerprint technician may be more your style. Also known as latent print examiners, these are the people that collect fingerprints at crime scenes and then take them back to the lab to be analyzed.

A nice part about being a fingerprint technician is that you don’t spend all of your time in the lab like DNA analysts. You get to actually go out and work in the field every now and then.

There’s more than just analyzing fingerprints from crime scenes though. You could also help to identify bodies of military personnel or missing people.

3. Forensic Engineer

The emphasis is on engineer for this career path. Having a degree in forensic science is helpful, but you’ll also need some type of background in engineering. This position involves analyzing physical environments, that don’t necessarily always have to do with a crime.

For instance, you could be called to look over a traffic accident or a building that caught on fire. Police departments rely on forensic engineers to help determine exactly what happened to the environment, and to see if any evidence was left to suggest that a crime had been committed or if negligence played a role.

You might have to determine if a building burnt down due to faulty wiring, or if a car accident was caused by a defect in one of the cars. You definitely won’t have to worry about getting bored or dealing with repetitiveness in this career.

4. Crime Scene Examiner

Unlike forensic engineers, crime scene examiners usually deal with a lot more of the messier parts of a crime scene. That means looking at dead bodies, blood and other things that aren’t really suited for people with a weak stomach.

Being a crime scene examiner requires a big commitment. Since crimes are committed at all times of the day, you’re going to be expected to be reachable whenever you’re on call, and that could mean late at night or early in the morning on a cold winter day.

While it’s definitely a taxing career, it’s also rewarding, as you could work your way up to a top position with one of many government agencies. If you really want to get in the front lines and down and dirty, use your forensic science degree to become a crime scene examiner.

5. DNA Analyst

If you’d prefer to spend most of your time in the lab and not have to deal with a bunch of dead bodies, then you should think about becoming a DNA analyst.

Advances in DNA analysis over the years have made this position extremely important. The role of an analyst is to catalog and process DNA samples (typically brought from a crime scene), and then develop a profile from the sample.

The reason the DNA analyst is so important is because DNA could mean the difference between spending your life in jail for a crime you didn’t commit, and being exonerated.

Because the stakes are so high, there are a lot of regulations and rules you have to follow as a DNA analyst. It’s a great job for highly-organized and detail-oriented people.

These are just a few of the career opportunities for forensic science graduates. The field is extremely broad, with a ton of potential paths. And until we have world peace, you won’t have to worry about being out of a job.


Looking for more career information? HackCollege’s Career Guide Library is a great resource for discovering new and exciting fields.


Image: West Midlands Police