While pop culture has only recently romanticized it, forensics has always been a major part of society. In a criminal case, the role of the forensic scientist is crucial from the beginning to end: they are called on to analyze the very first pieces of evidence, run lab tests and... investigative research, then present their findings in court as expert witnesses. The average day on the forensic scientists' job is typically split three ways: laboratory testing, report writing, and testimony on trial.
Forensic scientists apply scientific principles to analyze physical evidence that has been collected during investigation. This could include testing blood for traces of drugs or poisons, comparing DNA of a victim to that of a suspect, matching fingerprints, identifying firearms or tool marks, determining the exact angles of blood splatters, and even administering a polygraph (lie detector) test.
All this sounds exciting, but how does one land this kind of job? The vast majority of jobs in forensic crime labs require a Bachelor's degree, which usually takes a full-time student four years to complete. Interdisciplinary study is also a great background—such as mathematics, written composition, and legal studies.
Higher-level positions in a crime lab, whether executive administration or more concentrated on a specific area of forensic science, may require advanced study. There are many forensic scientists who hold master's in science or even Ph.D. degrees, and their salaries usually correlate with their level of education. The median annual pay can vary greatly by geographical location and employer type, with the Federal Government (through agencies such as the FBI) offering the highest pay.
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