Forensic Science Careers - Real Life CSI

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Advances in scientific technology in examining crimes scenes have turned forensic science into a high demand and rapidly growing career field. Adding to the popularity of forensic science jobs are TV shows like CSI - Crime Scene Investigators. This article will serve as an overview for a career in forensic science that includes many subcategories like forensic science consultants, fingerprint technicians, fingerprint examiners, forensic investigators and evidence technicians.
Forensic Scientist Job Description

Forensic scientists investigate crimes by collecting crime scene evidence and using the natural sciences to analyze the data they recover. They generally work 40 hours each week in a forensic science laboratory. Forensic science technicians are often required to go to the crime scene and collect the physical evidence that can be found. They work closely with government officials and police detectives in order to help solve crimes.

Additional tasks forensic scientists have include:

Reconstructing crime scenes

Collecting and analyzing DNA samples

Reporting investigative findings

Examining firearms and bullets

Analyzing textual evidence

Taking fingerprints

Interpreting laboratory findings

Keeping logs and records

Operating all laboratory equipment

Most forensic scientists specialize in certain types of evidence such as DNA analysis, firearm research and weapons testing, examining fiber, hair, tissue, or body fluid substances. They often work with chemicals, fluid samples and firearms that demand safety precautions. However, the risk of harm or contamination within these working conditions is minimal.

Salary Ranges / Job Outlook for a Forensic Scientist

Of all science technicians, forensic scientists currently earn the second highest annual salary. In 2002 the average pay rate for a forensic scientist was $19.) 73 per hour, or approximately $41,000. The low ten percent of this scale earned around $12.) 06 per hour - $25,100 yearly. The highest ten percent earned around $31.) 49 per hour - $65,500 yearly. However, the pay range depends upon factors like type of specialty, years of experience, type of employment and location.

In the United States, the employment rate for forensic scientists is expected to grow steadily over the next decade. Current Nationwide trends estimate that job openings for forensic scientists will rise approximately 19 percent by 2012.) These numbers indicate more than 360 job positions opening up each year. In 2002, forensic scientists held approximately 8,400 job positions. These scientists work mainly for State and local governments, but keep close professional relationships with police investigators and other crime experts.

Employment rates are dependent upon field development, government spending abilities, local population growth and the locality's crime rate. Job growth for forensic scientists can be attributed to rapid scientific and technological advances. Researchers are developing and perfecting new experimental methods every day. This will cause forensic science departments to fill the technician positions this research will create. Currently, the number of skilled, experienced applicants is low. These low numbers mean that forensic scientists working for State and government departments are highly likely to receive positive employment prospects and benefits.

Education / Getting Started

Although organizations seek applicants with bachelor's degrees, many employers will hire candidates who have completed specific training programs, obtained certification or possess an associate's degree. Training and certification programs generally take only two years to complete and will earn graduates the opportunity for a career in forensic science. Programs with a focus in criminal investigations and criminal justice can help prospective applicants specialize as forensic consultants, fingerprint technicians, forensic investigators, laboratory technicians and fingerprint examiners.

There are various courses that must be taken to qualify as a forensic science technician. Some important courses include chemistry, computers and electronics, law and government, public safety, mathematics, writing and communications. Prospective scientists must have good decision making skills as well as written and oral expression. Additional skills include inductive reasoning, information ordering, critical thinking and the ability to identify patterns and details. Because forensic scientists work in crime scenes that may be stressful and emotionally draining, they must be able to control their emotions and handle situations that can be distressful.

Employers usually look for people with previous forensic experience. Many forensic science technicians begin in entry level trainee positions that help them gain job experience. Another good way to get experience is through internship programs that are offered by numerous schools. Forensic scientists also start out as forensic laboratory technicians and after developing those skills, advance to crime scene technicians.

Advancements in science and technology continue to improve the accuracy and importance of crime scene evidence in prosecuting criminals and defending the accused. Training to be a forensic scientist will put you on the front line of this interesting and necessary analysis.

More Details at:

About the Author

Lindsay Jaroch is a freelance writer who writes about education topics.


iheart2sing 21.11.2008. 04:11

Could someone please answer my questions about careers in criminal justice/forensic science? Hey, i am a freshman in college and i am currently a double major in criminal justice and theatre. i plan on transferring to another school and changing my criminal justice major to a forensic science major.
I was just wondering which career, and major, would be right for me?
First of all let me say that i am completely one-hundred percent aware that what i see on television is not anything like real life. Now that ive got that clarified (=]) lol i loooove to solve things. I love puzzles and riddles and all that stuff. I am very observant. I always, ALWAYS want to know "why" and will keep digging until i fully satisfy the question. I am not squeemish and could probably handle dealing with dead bodies. My fathers a surgeon and im always up for watching an operation (although i know its not the same at all)... though i have begged him countless times to take me to the hospital morgue... not something a typical teenager would do, i know lol. I obviously am obsessed with the CSI shows and would looove to pursue a career in their definition of the word "crime scene investigator". Unfortunately, I know i cant do it all... =/... I would like to work in the field and carry a gun ( i am a certified marksman) and collect evidence but i would also like to take it to the lab and process it myself. I am also interested in the FBI and would like some information on that field aswell. I want to catch the bad guys and want that element of danger present aswell. Please point me in the right direction! Also, I currently live in south Florida but do not want to live here my entire life... which state would be a good choice for me? (Im an actress/singer aswell with headshots and a resume and currently recording a CD and looking for an agent so I was thinking California would be a good choice?)
I know this is a lengthy question in need of a lengthy answer but it would be greatly appreciated! =]
also, i looove chemistry =]
i dont waste my time capitalizing letters on this site.... i dont really care... as long as i get my point across and my questions answered. BUT THANKS?


Admin 21.11.2008. 04:11

No one does all three.

The Crime Scene Techs respond to a scene, collect evidence and document what they found. They are police officers, but do no investigation.

The Forensic Scientists are not cops. No guns, they stay in the lab all day and run scientific tests.

Detectives take the evidence, results from the lab, interview witnesses, and "solve the case."

You need to decide which of the three you really want to do, and go from there.


Valerie 19.02.2013. 03:26

How do I know if I want to become a forensic scientist? First off, I live in Cali. I am in my first year of high school. I am in this program called AVID which focuses us on knowing what career path we want to follow and getting into college. I want to become a forensic scientist, but I have 3 more years left and I don't want to change because I really love science and I want to something that involves putting criminals away. Is there any way that my parents can sign a waiver or something so I can shadow a forensic scientist? Is there something similar to an internship that a freshman can do? I need to know to know if this is something I really want to do.


Admin 19.02.2013. 03:26

"Forensics" encompasses many professional and occupational positions. "Criminalist" is a title commonly used in California, and they are normally not peace officers, and are more likely to be crime scene technicians. If you are interested in forensics (as opposed to crime scene processing as done by technicians), hard sciences like biology, chemistry, and physics are required (and a graduate degree may be required); and there are forensic programs available, wherein these sciences are applied to evidence. There are also crime scene technician courses available in some Community Colleges. I did enough crime scene processing in NIS (now known as NCIS) to know that it is tedious and boring.
The FBI "forensic" experts are limited to their laboratory. Regular agents receive training for assignment to the Evidence Response Team, and they are responsible for collection of evidence, not analysis or evaluation. Other police agencies have various methods of employing crime scene people (sworn or non-sworn).
A forensic scientist must be educated (a graduate degree may be required) in chemistry, physics, or other ?hard? sciences. A high school student would not be likely to find an internship, but it can't hurt to ask. Check with local LE agencies.
Forensic education programs:
Am Acad of Forensic Sciences forensic links:
John Jay Col of CJ, Forensic Psych:
Zeno forensic site:
Am Soc of Questioned Document Examiners:

Is 'CSI' for Real?
by Paul D. Rosevear
From: 06/13/06

There's no doubt about it: Between the contagiously spreading viewership of 'CSI,' similar spin-offs ruling the remote and exploding enrollments in forensics programs at many colleges and universities, the current crop of on-screen case-crackers are certainly proving inspiring. The field of forensics is certainly entertaining a multitude of people approximately 50 million each week.

But is the line between entertainment and education getting blurred? Read on to explore the difference between forensics and "faux-rensics." ?

Data analysis often takes weeks and months. "It's the speed and the specificity more than anything," says Dr. Stephen Theberge, assistant professor of chemistry at Merrimack College (North Andover, Mass.). Theberge teaches a forensic analysis course and offers a forensics concentration for chemistry majors.

"You don't just stick something into a machine and immediately find out it's got Maybelline lipstick on it. ? Characters on forensic TV shows often possess the skills of many different kinds of specialists -- it's much more exciting to see the countless aspects of the field crammed into one supercharged investigator. "The investigator position on TV is an amalgam of a police officer/detective and lab scientist. In reality, this position doesn't exist." ?

While the forensics you see on television may be enhanced to keep things action-packed, there is plenty of real-life action happening every single day. ? A recent graduate of the master's program in forensic science at Nebraska Wesleyan University (Lincoln, Neb.), was called out to Iraq as part of a team ? assembled to exhume and analyze human remains from mass graves. The evidence culled will most likely be used in Saddam Hussein's trial.

Another commenter:
Shoyourite (Yahoo)
"another one suckered by the television! haha!

you wanna know what the "crime scene investigators" used to do where i worked sweetheart?

first! they got paid like crap. LESS than the crappy $18/hr that i was making as a deputy. they were on call. when a crime would occur that required the "lab" (theyre a mobile lab, i dont care what hollyood says) then these folks (who were always grumpier than hell) would come out with a little tacklebox that was their kit and do their thing.

taking pictures. running a piece of tape across an ENTIRE ROOM FLOOR looking for hairs and crap. spraying stuff so footprints illuminate. dusting for fingerprints (and dusting for prints is a messy pain in the *** lemme tell you.) bagging stuff all over the damn place! real meticulous dirty work.

i never watched CSI but i can just about guarantee you it is nothing like what a real crime scene investigator does. theyre glorified janitors. they dont even carry guns!"


bcreed025 05.05.2010. 14:08

Pros and Cons to the forensic science career as being portrayed on television? I'm curious on what you guys think about this..Thanks!


Admin 05.05.2010. 14:08

The CSI tv show isn't entirely accurate re: forensic science careers. In general, in real life, I'd split CSI work into two main jobs: crime scene technician, and forensic scientist. The crime scene tech is often, but not always, a police officer. They go to a crime scene and gather evidence. The forensic scientist works in a lab, analyzing evidence. They do not go to crime scenes, and they absolutely do not do police work such as interviewing suspects.

To become a forensic scientist - the lab guys - you need a bachelors degree from a good university in a lab science. The type of science you pick should be based on the type of forensics you'd like to practice. So for DNA, pick Biology. For toxicology, chemistry. For ballistics, physics.

Most forensic scientists also hold a masters degree in a lab science. The head of the lab would hold a PhD.


Anita B 03.05.2011. 00:12

what are the job specifications, or job titles of the people on the sitcom CSI.What would you like to ask? I am interested in a career working to solve a crime, and I am currently a college student, and would like to know what is the job title of the lady who works in the Laboratory on CSI sitcom. I would enjoy working in that sort of field. Please help!

Anita B

Admin 03.05.2011. 00:12

Sitcom = Situational Comedy, although I find CSI to be hilariously horrible, it lacks schtick.

Some colleges offer generic "forensic science" majors or classes, but they are usually quite worthless. Criminalistics is a field that is glamorized on tv and in real life is shockingly different.
Do not investigate crime, interview witnesses or interrogate suspects, they don't have any powers of arrest, unless they are licensed by the state they cannot carry a firearm.
The cool tech they have on CSI are usually not present in most crime labs due to budget cuts, and some of it doesn't even exist and is used for creative purposes in the show (for instance, the CSI where a confession was recorded onto a ceramic pot similar to a vinyl record is 100% bunk). Criminalists operate within their specialty, they usually do not cross over into other fields (such as Grissom doing blood spatter analysis and being an expert in everything else).
It's also important to note that in most departments criminalists never see field time. Fingerprints are taken by detectives, as well as photos, scene documentation and evidence collection. Criminalists rarely are even aware of the crime they're working on outside of what evidence they handle.
Basically you'll be egregiously underpaid, overworked and will have to deal with atrocious budget cuts.
If you want to pursue that field, major in biochemistry, or something that is math and science heavy. Take a course in basic criminal justice along with that.


student 20.01.2007. 23:28

What is the path i should take to become a forensic scientist like on CSI? I am a college student, I just started and i am majoring in chemistry for my Associates degree, am i on the right path, have i chosen the right major and where do i go from there? I am not sure if i want to remain working in the lab or go out on the field or is it a job that you have to move up in? I am not really a fan of the coroner role is that required in this field or is that a specilaized area? Please help i have wasted a lot of time in my life working at goals and going in the wrong direction. Thank you.


Admin 20.01.2007. 23:28

Forensic science is the application of science to law. Any science can be applied into a legal situation, but some of the commonest forensic sciences include forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and forensic toxicology.
In order to be a forensic scientist you must first be a scientist. You must have a strong grounding in the science you are interested in, before you can apply that science into a legal setting and become a forensic scientist.

Although on television we see supposed ?forensic scientists? doing a multitude of jobs forensic science in real life is quite different. There are several career options in the general area of forensic science including
- Criminalistics
- Engineering Sciences
- General
- Odontology
- Pathology/Biology
- Physical Anthropology
- Psychiatry & Behavioral Science
- Questioned Documents
- Toxicology

Here's the information on found on becoming a CSI or Crime Scene Investigator.

CSI's are both sworn police officers and civilians. Most CSI's are sworn officers, but there is a large number of civilians doing the same job. The difference between the two is economics and arrest powers. Police Officers are generally paid at a higher level then the civilian counter parts, they usually have better benefits and have an available career ladder. Civilian CSI's have little career opportunities, less benefits and work in the same dangerous environment as their sworn counterpart.

As far as the degree required, the applicant must meet the requirements of the employing law enforcement agency. Some agencies requirements are higher then others. A smaller rural agency may not require any degree while larger agencies will most definitely require a degree. That degree may be a two or four year degree and may be specific. In order to receive accurate and current information on the requirements contact your local police department, the sheriff's department and the state police in the area your are looking for employment and ask them what their requirements are for a CSI position with them.

There are degrees and certificate programs available in CSI. There are also Criminal Justice Degrees, Forensic Science Degrees and these are both in BS and MS. Check with your local community colleges and universities with academic courses in forensic science or criminal justice.

The few police agencies that do hire civilian CSI's usually require a college degree and some knowledge of processing crime scenes, but not all agencies have that requirement. To become a CSI you need to be hired by a police agency. The hard part is finding what their requirements are for that position. They are not all the same. To find the best answer for you, the best thing to do is to contact your local police department, your sheriff's department and the state police to find out what THEIR requirements are to be hired as a CSI.

Crime Scene work is very demanding, most CSI's do not process crime scenes all their careers. They will at some point "burn out" and change their career to perhaps working in the crime lab as a forensic scientist. So plan now for not only the current job you are looking for but also getting a well rounded education that will allow you to expand into other possibilities.
I would strongly suggest talking to an advisor or counselor at the school you are going to and talking to them about your interests. Then they can steer you in the right direction as far as what are the best courses for you to take and which colleges are the best in your area to go to.

I hope this is helpful for you. :)


binaumbay 24.02.2010. 01:54

Can you describe the different branches of medical examining? And also, what do anthropologists do in museums?
I have been interested in forensics lately (and yes, it has sparked from watching too many crime shows). I want to consider every perspective before I decide which is worth taking up as a career.

Even though I am still a high school freshman. Ha ha.


Admin 24.02.2010. 01:54

anthro study how society lived in those good old days, relationships, community life, religious practices. leadership political structure and culture.
forensic science is not as exciting as CSi portrayed it. they dont go to the scene to do everything. those in Criminal Investigation is more true in real life. u go to scene, collect evidene and analyse and pass it to investigators to put the pieces together. no confrontation with criminals.
ask school to arrange visit to forensic lab


Taylor Patterson 07.01.2013. 23:38

I need help with my major and career choices? So I am planning on attending Auburn University in the fall, I am in a community college right now. So I love the idea of being a corporate lawyer, the show Suits kind of began my interest! Haha! I also like the idea of forensic accounting but I am not sure of a career field in it. I want after college to have a job I love and these spark my interest. Also, I would love to work and live in New York City, I have to get out of this small town in Alabama. I want to become somebody and be successful. I had thought about majoring in international business, because Auburn doesn't offer forensic accounting then go into the two year program at Florida Atlantic or another school for forensic accounting, then go to law school?? That is lots of money and schooling! I understand the undergrad degree schooling and law, but the extra 2 is a lot! I have also thought about Marketing Analyst, but I'm not quite sure about that one. So if there is a major or career that is similar to these I would love to major and do it! Please give me some advice. I want to work in a huge city, make money, and be only responsible for me! I can't ask my parents because they didn't go to college and they have their own opinions of what I should do!I NEED advice! Thanks in advance!

Taylor Patterson

Admin 07.01.2013. 23:38

It's good that you got some ambition here. But a few words of wisdom and warning. Law school is 3 years, not 2. Also, what you see on TV does not translate well to the real world. What you see on CSI is not what actually goes on with Forensic Sciences where they mostly analyze samples in the lab. Same with Suits where there's that much drama. It's really a lot more paperwork especially in corporate and intellectual property law. Another thing about law. The law job market is somewhat saturated here. You have to get into a Tier 1 law school (Like Harvard, Georgetown, etc) to get a private sector job and make 6 digits. If you research the numbers, 70,000 new jobs will be created in the next decade that require a J.D. (law degree). But there will be 400,000 new law graduates by then. Law is an extremely saturated field, and this is a huge topic of debate and discussion here on my campus. However, if you want to live the "corporate big city" life and have greatest chance of 6 digits, Finance or some other business major would be right for you. Otherwise, don't base careers on dramas. Do your research, look at what they actually do by reading interviews of such professionals, how they got there, what major/classes you have to take, and good luck to ya.


Bebegrl 25.02.2008. 04:14

I want to get into forensic science? I have always been interested in forensic science. I want to do the part where you cut open the body. Does anyone know how much they make or how much schooling do you have to go through? I want to take some classes this summer since i am going into my junior year. Please let me know anything about forensics that you know. Very much appreciated.


Admin 25.02.2008. 04:14

Hi! It's called a Medical Examiner. You will have to go through the same amount of schooling as any other doctor-- the pay is pretty equal as well. However, you will most likely be employed by the state. That is a pretty amazing career choice to be interested in! Keep in mind that "real life" isn't like the CSI shows in the fact that one person doesn't do everything...the people in a real forensics lab are specialists and focus on one "subject." For example, in the show, one person might be the person who goes and collects the evidence and who processes it; whereas in reality, the person who inspects the finger prints will not (most likely) be the same person who does soil analysis. I hope this helps! I took a forensics class my Junior year in high school-- it was pretty awesome! We actually took a field trip to the Dallas County Medical Examiner's Office!


Happy Henry 27.03.2008. 14:49

What is the best way of going about becoming a Forenzic Investigator? I need to know what to major in, minor in, in college. I also need to know what kind of training im going to need to get into and how soon I can start on it. Also where should I start off at with a job to get me there.

Happy Henry

Admin 27.03.2008. 14:49

It depends on what you mean by forensic investigator. The profession as glamorized on shows like CSI and Law & Order clump a number of professions into one. Forensic science just means literally "legal science," so you'd have to determine what areas of the science interest you and than implement that into a legal career. Anthropology? Psychology? The harder sciences such as genetics or the evidentiary aspect of it?

Obviously the majority of these jobs are specialized and require backgrounds in hard sciences, soft sciences and possibly further study in a Masters or PhD program.

I think the advice above is best. Speak with you guidance or career counselor. You may also want to contact your local law enforcement office. They might be able to give you insight into the actual real-life day-to-day functions of a forensic science team member.


Gabbie 22.10.2011. 05:02

Are real forensic science jobs like those on tv? I love watching criminal type shows like NCIS, Criminal Minds, CSI, Bones, etc, I was wondering if forensic scientists in reality are closely similar to those on tv, because I am interested in becoming a forensic scientist. So are television's representations of forensic scientists the same as reality's?


Admin 22.10.2011. 05:02

Bones is somewhat realistic, but don't plan on being partnered with the FBI or any other crime fighting entity as a forensic anthropologist. If you are, it would probably be with an older person as opposed to a sexy piece of eye-candy.

Abby's job is realistic, other than being kissed regularly as a reward in addition to the red-tinted caffinated beverage. She's a forensic analyst but would work several other teams like Gibbs'. It takes forever for forensic processing for this reason and it really isnt realistic for her to et everything done so quickly.

The Mentalist is a good depiction of real life. If Jane wasn't on the team and it took an average of 12-14 months to solve a crime it would be spot on.

Criminal Mind's also does a good job. I watch occasionally and the cramped quarters the blonde forensic researcher lady works in are perfect for the circumstances. But you will never see the FBI hire that many psychology-based investigators. Nor will you see them work in an office, fly in their private jet to the crime scene, and pull out their guns to arrest the offender. Jets cost too much, and gun-pulling and desk duty are two different jobs completely.

CSI is stupid. They collect evidence, process evidence, put their lab coats on, work on a computer, interview suspects, investigate further, arrest the prime suspect, and show up in court. I count seven different careers in one hour. Not realistic at all.

Forensic Science is a broad field. If you are interested in persuing a career in forensics, I suggest looking at the complete list of forensic careers and finding out which best defines your interests.


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