Forensic Science Technicians

Career, Salary and Education Information

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What Forensic Science Technicians Do[About this section] [To Top]

Forensic science technicians aid criminal investigations by collecting and analyzing evidence. Many technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis. Most forensic science technicians spend some time writing reports.

Duties of Forensic Science Technicians

At crime scenes, forensic science technicians typically do the following:

  • Analyze crime scenes to determine what and how evidence should be collected
  • Take photographs of the crime scene and evidence
  • Make sketches of the crime scene
  • Record observations and findings, such as the location and position of evidence
  • Collect evidence, including weapons, fingerprints, and bodily fluids
  • Catalog and preserve evidence for transfer to crime labs

In laboratories, forensic science technicians typically do the following:

  • Perform chemical, biological, and microscopic analyses on evidence taken from crime scenes
  • Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity, using the results of DNA or other scientific analyses
  • Examine digital media for pertinent information
  • Consult with experts in specialized fields, such as toxicology (the study of poisons and their effect on the body) and odontology (a branch of forensic medicine that concentrates on teeth)
  • Reconstruct crime scenes

Forensic science technicians may be generalists who perform many or all of the duties listed above or they may specialize in certain techniques and sciences. Generalist forensic science technicians, sometimes called criminalists or crime scene investigators, collect evidence at the scene of a crime and perform scientific and technical analysis in laboratories or offices.

Forensic science technicians who work primarily in laboratories may specialize in the natural sciences or engineering. These workers, such as forensic pathologists and latent print examiners, typically use chemicals and laboratory equipment such as microscopes when analyzing evidence. They also may use computers to examine fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence collected at crime scenes. They often work to match evidence to people or other known elements, such as vehicles or weapons. Most forensic science technicians who perform laboratory analysis specialize in a specific type of evidence, such as DNA or ballistics.

Some forensic science technicians, called forensic computer examiners or digital forensics analysts, specialize in computer-based crimes. They collect and analyze data to uncover and prosecute electronic fraud, scams, and identity theft. The abundance of digital data helps them solve crimes in the physical world as well. Computer forensics technicians must adhere to the same strict standards of evidence gathering found in general forensic science because legal cases depend on the integrity of evidence.

All forensic science technicians prepare written reports that detail their findings and investigative methods. They must be able to explain their reports to lawyers, detectives, and other law enforcement officials. In addition, forensic science technicians may be called to testify in court about their findings and methods.

Work Environment for Forensic Science Technicians[About this section] [To Top]

Forensic science technicians hold about 14,400 jobs. About 88 percent forensic science technicians work in state and local government in the following workplaces:

  • Police departments and offices
  • Crime laboratories
  • Morgues
  • Medical examiner/coroner offices

Forensic science technicians may have to work outside in all types of weather, spend many hours in laboratories and offices, or do some combination of both. They often work in groups or teams with specialists and other law enforcement personnel. Many specialist forensic science technicians work only in laboratories.

Crime scene investigators travel throughout their jurisdictions, which may be cities, counties, or states. Crimes can happen anywhere, so crime scene investigators and criminalists, especially at the state level, may experience a considerable amount of travel.

Crime scene investigators regularly see the results of violent crime.

Forensic Science Technician Work Schedules

Most laboratory forensic science technicians work full time during standard hours. Crime scene investigators may work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect or analyze evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a case. Small police departments may have to rely on part-time forensic science technicians.

How to Become a Forensic Science Technician[About this section] [To Top]

Get the education you need: Find schools for Forensic Science Technicians near you!

Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. On-the-job training is usually required both for those who investigate crime scenes and for those who work in labs.

Forensic Science Technician Education

Forensic science technicians typically need at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science, such as chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. Forensic science programs may specialize in a specific area of study, such as toxicology, pathology, or DNA. Students who attend general natural science programs should make an effort to take classes related to forensic science. A list of schools that offer degrees in forensic science is available from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Many of those who seek to become forensic science technicians will have an undergraduate degree in the natural sciences and a master’s degree in forensic science.

Many crime scene investigators are sworn police officers and have met educational requirements necessary for admittance into a police academy. Applicants for nonuniformed crime scene investigator jobs should have a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science, with a strong basic science background, or the natural sciences, but some agencies hire applicants with a high school diploma and years of related work experience. For more information on police officers, see the profile on police and detectives.

Forensic Science Technician Training

Forensic science technicians receive on-the-job training before they are ready to work on cases independently.

Newly hired crime scene investigators typically assist experienced investigators. New investigators often learn proper procedures and methods for collecting and documenting evidence while working under supervision.

Forensic science technicians learn laboratory specialties on the job. The length of this training varies by specialty. Technicians may need to pass a proficiency exam or otherwise be approved by a laboratory or accrediting body before they are allowed to perform independent casework or testify in court.

Throughout their careers, forensic science technicians need to keep up with advances in technology and science that improve the collection or analysis of evidence.

Licenses, Certifications, and Registrations

A range of licenses and certifications is available to help credential, and aid in the professional development of, many types of forensic science technicians. Certifications and licenses are not typically necessary for entry into the occupation. Credentials can vary widely because standards and regulations vary considerably from one jurisdiction to another.

Important Qualities for Forensic Science Technicians

Communication skills. Forensic science technicians write reports and testify in court. They often work with other law enforcement officials and specialists.

Composure. Forensic science technicians must maintain their objectivity and professionalism, even while viewing the results of violence and destruction.

Critical-thinking skills. Forensic science technicians use their best judgment when matching physical evidence, such as fingerprints and DNA, to suspects.

Detail oriented. Forensic science technicians must be able to notice small changes in mundane objects to be good at collecting and analyzing evidence.

Math and science skills. Forensic science technicians need a solid understanding of statistics and natural sciences to be able to analyze evidence at a crime scene.

Physical stamina. Forensic science technicians may need to spend much of their day at a crime scene either standing or kneeling.

Problem-solving skills. Forensic science technicians use scientific tests and methods to help law enforcement officials solve crimes.

Forensic Science Technician Salaries[About this section] [More salary/earnings info] [To Top]

The median annual wage for forensic science technicians is $56,320. The median wage is the wage at which half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount and half earned less. The lowest 10 percent earned less than $34,000, and the highest 10 percent earned more than $94,410.

Most laboratory forensic science technicians work full time during standard hours. Crime scene investigators may work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect or analyze evidence. Technicians working in laboratories usually work a standard workweek, although they may have to be on call outside of normal business hours if they are needed to work immediately on a case. Small police departments may have to rely on part-time forensic science technicians.

Job Outlook for Forensic Science Technicians[About this section] [To Top]

Employment of forensic science technicians is projected to grow 27 percent through 2024, much faster than the average for all occupations. However, because it is a small occupation, the fast growth will result in only about 3,800 new jobs over the 10-year period.

Scientific and technological advances are expected to increase the availability, reliability, and usefulness of objective forensic information used as evidence in trials. As a result, forensic science technicians will be able to provide even greater value than before. Popular media have increased the awareness of forensic evidence among potential jurors, and there is now an expectation that forensic evidence should contribute to many trials. More forensic science technicians will be needed to provide timely forensics information to law enforcement agencies and courts.

However, federal, state, and local budgets will have a large effect on the number of jobs that exist for forensic science technicians. Larger police departments will be more able to staff full-time forensic science technicians, but they, too, may face budget constraints.

Forensic Science Technicians Job Prospects

Competition for jobs may be strong because of the substantial interest in forensic science and crime scene investigation that has been generated by popular media. Applicants who have both a bachelor’s degree in a natural science and a master’s degree in forensic science should have the best opportunities.

Employment projections data for Forensic Science Technicians, 2014-24
Occupational Title Employment, 2014 Projected Employment, 2024 Change, 2014-24
Percent Numeric
Forensic science technicians 14,400 18,200 27 3,800


*Some content used by permission of the Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor.

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