What is a Forensic Science Technician?

Career Information About Crime Scene Investigators

Scientist examining bullet in lab
A forensic scientist examines evidence in a laboratory. Cultura/Jason Butcher/Riser/Getty Images

A forensic science technician is a member of the team that investigates crimes. He or she gathers and documents, or analyzes, physical evidence from crime scenes. This evidence may include fingerprints, blood, hair, and bullets. Also called a crime scene investigator (CSI), crime scene technician, criminalist, or forensic scientist, a forensic science technician may specialize in crime scene investigation which entails the collection and cataloging of evidence.

Alternatively, he or she may specialize in laboratory analysis which involves using scientific methods to identify and classify evidence.

Quick Facts

  • In 2015, median annual earnings were $56,320.
  • Just over 14,000 people worked in this occupation in 2014.
  • Most forensic science technicians work full time.
  • Those who want to work in this field can look forward to an excellent job outlook. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that employment will grow much faster than the average for all occupations through 2024.

A Day in a Forensic Science Technician's Life

We looked at job listings on Indeed.com to learn about the job duties of forensic science technicians. We found out they:

  • "Perform manual and automated testing on biological samples including urine, blood, vitreous fluid and other tissues"
  • "Collect fingerprints/palm prints, tire and shoe prints, tool mark impressions, firearms, wound imprints of the deceased person(s) to facilitate positive identification and/or elimination of hair, clothing, fibers, and biological evidence"
  • "Receive and return evidence items and complete proper forms according to strict transfer procedures to guarantee and maintain the integrity of accepted chain of evidence for each item"
  • "Testify in court as an expert witness associated with laboratory analysis; Must be able to provide sworn credible testimony in criminal or civil proceedings arising from the performance of duties"
  • "Assist in the maintenance of laboratory instruments and reagent preparation"
  • "Write examination reports to document test results and maintain examination documentation according to laboratory standard operating procedures"
  • "Maintain security and safety of laboratory and keep current with regard to research and technology"

The Truth About This Occupation

  • Forensic science technicians work around the clock. Expect your shifts to include days, evenings, overnights, weekends, and holidays.
  • Many people find investigating the aftermath of violent crimes upsetting.
  • You may have to work overtime or be on-call to collect evidence.
  • If your job includes collecting evidence from crime scenes, you may have to be outdoors in inclement weather.

How to Become a Forensic Science Technician

If you want to become a forensic science technician, you will have to earn a bachelor's degree in a natural science like chemistry or biology, or in forensic science. If you are studying a natural science, you should take some forensic science courses.

Some crime scene investigators first train to become police officers.

You will need extensive on-the-job training before you can work independently.  Through an apprenticeship with an experienced colleague, you will learn how to properly collect and document evidence. You can continue your training in a laboratory specialty such as DNA or firearms analysis.

What Soft Skills Will You Need?

In addition to very specific technical expertise, forensic science technicians also need certain soft skills. These are strengths or attributes that you are either born with or develop through work or other experience.

  • Communication Skills: Forensic science technicians must have excellent speaking and writing skills in order to share information with colleagues and present findings in court.
  • Problem Solving: You must be able to identify problems and use scientific methods to solve them.
  • Critical Thinking: The ability to identify and compare various solutions to problems is essential. 
  • Detail Oriented: When you are looking at evidence, you must be able to notice minute details and subtle differences.
  • Physical Stamina: You need to be able to withstand spending many hours on your feet as you go about doing your job.

What Will Employers Expect From You?

In addition to skills and experience, what qualities do employers look for when they hire forensic science technicians? Here are some requirements from actual job announcements found on Indeed.com:

  • "Ability to work with frequent interruptions and changes in priorities"
  • "Demonstrated ability to interact and collaborate with diverse partners"
  • "Ability to establish cooperative relationships with other law enforcement agencies"
  • "Must pass intensive background investigation"
  • "Ability to work independently and with minimal supervision"
  • "Proficient using Excel, Word, Record Management Systems, and cameras"

Is This Occupation a Good Fit for You?

Related Occupations

 DescriptionMedian Annual Wage (2015)Minimum Required Education/Training
Special AgentGathers facts and evidence to determine if crimes have been committed

$77,210

At least a HS diploma but often a bachelor's degree
ChemistUses new knowledge about chemicals to improve the way we live$71,260Bachelor's degree
Agricultural TechniciansAnalyzes the quality of agricultural products$36,480

Bachelor's degree

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 (visited November 4, 2016 ).
Employment and Training Administration, U.S. Department of Labor, O*NET Online (visited November 4, 2016).

Continue Reading...