Forensic Analyst: Using Science as Evidence
Forensic analysts work within the justice system providing key evidence to criminal investigations. Within the field of forensics there are six general areas of study including, crime laboratory analyst, medical examiner, crime scene examiner, forensic engineer, technical assistance and academic assistance. The main job of all forensic analysts is to help investigators solve crimes.
The responsibilities of a forensic analyst include classifying and performing tests on specific pieces of evidence lifted from a crime scene. This evidence may include hair, fibers, tissue, and firearms. Each piece of evidence must be handled and stored with care according to established procedures. Each test that is run on a particular piece of evidence must be carefully recorded. After analyzing the data, a forensic analyst will then prepare a detailed report that documents the work that was performed and the findings of the procedures. The integrity of the investigation must be maintained at all times.
Forensic analysts need to have a strong background in all areas of science and math. Communication skills are also extremely important, as information must be reported both in writing and in person. When choosing a college it is important to find a program that is accredited and offers a criminal justice program that has an emphasis on forensics. Some of the classes that you may be required to take include, Criminology, Theories of Crime, Research Methods, Statistical Analysis, DNA Analysis, Forensic Processing, Victimology, Laboratory Methods, Trace Evidence Evaluation, and other science based classes.
Most of the forensic analyst's time will be spent inside a laboratory conducting tests on key pieces of evidence. However, at times a forensic analyst will also be required to visit crime scenes in order to collect and secure evidence. Handling bodily fluids and firearms are part of the job as well, so safety procedures must be carefully followed in order to avoid injury and infections. The schedule of a forensic analyst will vary depending on the specific needs of criminal investigations that are taking place. During high profile cases, a forensic analyst can expect to put in long hours.
Salary and Job Prospects
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the average salary for a forensic analyst was $51,480 in 2008. As of 2008, there were around 12,800 forensic analyst jobs held in the United States. The number of jobs in the field is expected to increase by 20% in the next seven years, according to the BLS. This growth is expected due to the increased use of forensic science as a method to solve crimes. One of the largest areas of growth will be in the use of DNA analysis. Having a broad range of technical skills will increase an individual's chance of becoming employed within the field.
Forensic analyst's jobs are fiercely competitive and in order to obtain a job in the field it will be important to land an internship early in your education. It will also be important to consider education beyond a bachelor's degree, as many jobs within the field will require continuing education throughout your career.