Forensic Analyst : Everything You Wanted To Know About Careers in Forensics

forensic analystChances are, you don’t know anyone personally who is a forensic analyst.  However, if you like to watch television dramas, you have probably seen one in action at one time or another.  Just about any show involving crime scenes will involve forensic analysts, such as CSI, Dexter, Bones, and Cold Case.  This is mostly due to the fact that people like watching shows that involve criminal investigations.  Keep in mind though that since it’s television, they may not be portraying the actual forensic analysis involved in crime scenes as realistically as they could. Though it’s still exciting and dramatic, there are many deeper levels involved with this industry.

If you want to become a forensic analyst or are just simply interested in what they do, you’ve come to the right place.  It’s important to note though that there are different types of analysts within the field with different duties.  For example, a computer forensic analyst is responsible for investigating crimes such as intellectual property theft, corporate fraud, hacking, and threats.  This type of analyst differs from say a DNA analyst, who is mostly involved with murders and other violent incidents.

Types of Forensic Analysts

DNA – These types of analysts are mainly responsible for matching DNA samples found at crime scenes with the DNA of a suspect.  DNA is a genetic material unique to every human.  To complete a forensic analysis of DNA, an analyst isolates the unknown DNA sample, processes it, determines the specifics and type, finds a possible source and compares the test result to determine if there is a match to the sample or not.

Bloodstain Pattern – Bloodstain pattern analysts are present at the crime scene, determining facts about how the crime was committed and any other details that might be useful for the investigation.  Just from the way the blood was splattered, analysts can understand how the victim was killed, the type of weapon used, the number of wounds a missing victim could have, or how the body was taken away.  They may also be in charge of matching blood types at different crime scenes.

Computer – Their job is to solve criminal activities that include hacking, fraud, terrorist communications, and espionage..  They do this by recovering information from hard drives of computers to recover emails, videos, documents, and other content.

Handwriting – It’s a fact that most people have different writing strokes, pressure areas and sizes.  Handwriting analysts are able to identify the author of a document, even when the writer is trying to disguise his or her writing.  These analysts are used for behavioral profiling and matching any type of handwritten evidence left a crime scenes.

Purpose and Responsibilities

Regardless of the forensic analysts specialty, all of them have the same general purpose.  Their goal is to examine evidence from a crime scene using scientific knowledge and principles in order to find facts to help solve the case.  The evidence obtain can range from anything including hair, blood, notes, tissue, or firearms.  Each piece of evidence must be handled and tested properly according to established procedures.

Forensic science is considered to be one of the most important parts of a criminal case.  The findings from these analysts can make the difference between finding a suspect innocent or guilty.  Courtroom verdicts are not usually based on witnesses or circumstantial evidence, but on solid scientific facts.

Salary And Job Market

Forensic science technicians in federal agencies reported the highest earned salaries in the profession.  The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that the average salary of a forensic analyst is around $70,000 per year.  The high-end average for an experienced analyst is around $95,000, while the low-end salary is around $50,000.  The number of jobs in this particular field is expected to increase by at least 20% in the next 5 years, according to the BLS.  The biggest area of growth will be in the use of DNA analysis.  This is mostly due to the fact that forensic science is being used more often to solve crimes and the rise of crime rates throughout the country.

The job market for forensic analysts is very competitive, and it can be difficult to land a job within the field right out of school.  Most candidates apply for internships or entry-level positions while still studying in school in order to get their foot in the door.

About 30% of forensic analysts are self-employed, while 34% work in investigation and security services.  The rest work mostly in state and local government, legal service firms, insurance agencies, employment service companies and banks.

Education Needed

The first thing you want to do is figure out what type of field you want to work in.  Do you want to work with crime scenes?  Do you want to work in the science field or computer field?   Once you have this decided, you can plan out what type of classes to take.

In high school, try to take as many math and science classes as you are allowed to.  You should enjoy learning about both of those subjects, especially chemistry.  If you want to be a computer forensic analyst, focus on computer classes.

Most forensic analyst positions require a bachelor’s degree in either mathematics, criminal justice, chemistry, or a related natural science field.  Therefore, you should try to pick a college that has a good program for one of those majors.  Some classes you should expect to take are DNA Analaysis, Forensic Crime Scene Processing, Theories of Crime, Victimology, and Statistical Analysis.

You will also want to consider continuing your education beyond a bachelor’s degree as most jobs in this field will require further education throughout your tenure.  One option is to earn a Master of Science in Forensic Science (MSFS) degree, which is a two year program offered at certain universities.  This will make yourself more attractive when applying for an entry-level job within the field.