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Technician, Forensic Science

ActivitiesCollect, identify, classify, and analyze physical evidence related to criminal investigations. Perform tests on weapons or substances, such as fiber, hair, and tissue to determine significance to investigation. May testify as expert witnesses on evidence or crime laboratory techniques. May serve as specialists in area of expertise, such as ballistics, fingerprinting, handwriting, or biochemistry.

OutlookAverage job growth

Median Income$51,570 per year in 2011

Work Context & ConditionsScience technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments that can not be completed during regular working hours. For forensic science technicians, collecting evidence from crime scenes can be distressing and unpleasant.

Minimum Education RequirementsAssociate's Degree
Technical Program

SkillsCritical Thinking, Quality Control Analysis, Active Listening, Writing, Equipment Selection, Active Learning, Reading Comprehension, Speaking, Science

AbilitiesOral Expression, Deductive Reasoning, Problem Sensitivity, Near Vision, Speech Clarity, Information Ordering, Inductive Reasoning, Written Expression, Oral Comprehension

InterviewsAngi M. ChristensenVideo Icon

Job Description
Job CategoryLife, Physical, & Social Science

Job DescriptionForensic science technicians help investigate crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Most technicians specialize in either crime scene investigation or laboratory analysis.

At crime scenes, forensic science technicians, also known as crime scene investigators, typically do the following:
Walk through the scene to determine what and how evidence should be collected
Take photographs of the crime scene and evidence
Make sketches of the crime scene
Keep written notes of their observations and findings, such as the location and position of evidence as it is found
Collect all relevant physical evidence, including weapons, fingerprints, and bodily fluids
Catalog and preserve evidence before transferring it to a crime lab

Crime scene investigators may use tweezers, black lights, and specialized kits to identify and collect evidence. In addition to processing crime scenes, they may also attend autopsies.

In laboratories, forensic science technicians typically do the following:
Identify and classify crime scene evidence through scientific analysis
Explore possible links between suspects and criminal activity using the results of chemical and physical analyses
Consult with experts in related or specialized fields, such as toxicology, about the evidence and their findings
Reconstruct crime scenes based on scientific findings

Forensic science technicians reconstruct crime scenes by carefully studying information gathered by investigators and conducting scientific tests on physical evidence. For example, lab technicians may look at photographs of blood splatter patterns and conduct ballistics tests on bullets found at the crime scene to determine the direction from which a shot was fired.

Forensic science technicians who work in laboratories use chemicals and laboratory equipment such as microscopes when analyzing evidence. They also use computer databases to examine fingerprints, DNA, and other evidence collected at crime scenes in order to match them to people and things that have already been identified. Most forensic science technicians who perform laboratory analysis specialize in a specific type of evidence analysis, such as DNA or ballistics.

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

Working ConditionsScience technicians work under a wide variety of conditions. Most work indoors, usually in laboratories, and have regular hours. Some occasionally work irregular hours to monitor experiments that can not be completed during regular working hours. Some science technicians may be exposed to hazards from equipment, chemicals, or toxic materials.

Forensic science technicians often are exposed to human body fluids and firearms. However, these working conditions pose little risk, if proper safety procedures are followed. For forensic science technicians, collecting evidence from crime scenes can be distressing and unpleasant.

Forensic technicians work indoors, sitting and standing during the day. They also work outdoors, exposed to the weather. Wearing protective clothing, they must use their hands to investigate crime scenes. These technicians must be accurate and exact as they draw conclusions, being careful to avoid errors.

Salary RangeThe median annual wage of forensic science technicians was $51,570 in May 2010. 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 $32,900, and the top 10 percent earned more than $82,990.

Crime scene investigators work staggered day, evening, or night shifts and may have to work overtime because they must always be available to collect 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 crime scene.  

Education RequiredThe educational requirements for crime scene investigators vary by employer. Forensic science technicians need a bachelor’s degree to work in crime labs. Extensive amounts of on-the-job training are required for both those who investigate crime scenes and those who work in labs.

Many crime scene investigators are sworn police officers and have met educational requirements necessary for admittance to the police academy. Applicants for non-uniform crime scene investigator jobs at larger law enforcement agencies should have a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science or a natural science, but many rural agencies hire applicants with a high school diploma. For more information on police officers, see the profile on police and detectives.

Technicians who work in crime laboratories typically need a bachelor’s degree in either forensic science or a natural science such as biology or chemistry. Students who major in forensic science should ensure that their program includes extensive course work in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. A list of schools that offer degrees in forensic science is available from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Recommended High School CoursesComputers and Electronics, Mathematics, English, Chemistry

Postsecondary Instructional ProgramsLaw, Government and Jurisprudence, English Language, Public Safety and Security, Mathematics, Chemistry, Computers and Electronics

Certification and Licensing

Skills, Abilities, & Interests
Interest Area
InvestigativeInvolves working with ideas and requires an extensive amount of thinking.

Work Values
AchievementGet a feeling of accomplishment.
Ability UtilizationMake use of individual abilities.
AutonomyPlan work with little supervision.

Critical ThinkingUse logic and analysis to identify the strengths and weaknesses of different approaches.
Quality Control AnalysisConduct tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.
Active ListeningListen to what other people are saying and ask questions as appropriate.
WritingCommunicate effectively with others in writing as indicated by the needs of the audience.
Equipment SelectionDetermine the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
Active LearningWork with new material or information to grasp its implications.
Reading ComprehensionUnderstand written sentences and paragraphs in work-related documents.
SpeakingTalk to others to effectively convey information.
ScienceUse scientific methods to solve problems.

Oral ExpressionAble to convey information and ideas through speech in ways that others will understand.
Deductive ReasoningAble to apply general rules to specific problems to come up with logical answers, including deciding whether an answer makes sense.
Problem SensitivityAble to tell when something is wrong or likely to go wrong. This doesn't involve solving the problem, just recognizing that there is a problem.
Near VisionAble to see details of objects at a close range (within a few feet of the observer).
Speech ClarityAble to speak clearly so listeners understand.
Information OrderingAble to correctly follow rules for arranging things or actions in a certain order, including numbers, words, pictures, procedures, and logical operations.
Inductive ReasoningAble to combine separate pieces of information, or specific answers to problems, to form general rules or conclusions. This includes coming up with a logical explanation for why seemingly unrelated events occur together.
Written ExpressionAble to communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.
Oral ComprehensionAble to listen to and understand information and ideas presented through spoken words and sentences.

More Information
Related JobsTechnologist, Medical and Clinical Laboratory, Technologist, Radiologic, Technician, Radiologic, Sonographer, Diagnostic Medical, Occupational Health and Safety Specialist, Technician, Environmental Science and Protection, Including Health

Job OutlookEmployment of forensic science technicians is projected to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, about as fast as the average for all occupations. Technological advances and the growing awareness of forensic evidence among potential jurors are expected to increase the use of forensic evidence in criminal proceedings. More forensic science technicians will be needed to provide timely forensics information to law enforcement agencies and courts.

Job Prospects
Competition for jobs should be stiff because of the substantial interest in forensic science and crime scene investigation spurred by its portrayal in popular media. Applicants with experience or a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or a related field should have the best opportunities.

Year to year, the number of job openings available will vary based on federal, state, and local law enforcement budgets.

More InformationAmerican Academy of Forensic Sciences

ReferencesBureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2012-13 Edition, Forensic Science Technicians,
on the Internet at