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What does a Forensic Science Technician do?

Forensic science technicians help investigators solve crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence from crime scenes. Popular criminal detection series like NCIS and CSI have helped bring this very important job field to the forefront of public consciousness. In forensic labs, trained technicians use measuring and testing instruments, incorporating the latest computer technology to thoroughly analyze trace evidence from crime scenes. Forensic science technicians can:
  • Examine hair, blood and tissue samples
  • Test firearms and ballistic evidence
  • Analyze fibers, pieces of glass, wood and other physical substances
  • Identify drugs and chemical substances
  • Recognize impressions left by fingerprints, shoes, tires
  • Ensure proper handling and storage of evidence
Most work for local or state public law enforcement agencies, but there are also job possibilities with the federal government and with private medical or diagnostic labs. Forensic science technicians may also reconstruct crime scenes and testify as expert witnesses at criminal trials.

Forensic science technician training

Most employers of forensic science technicians require a bachelor's degree, either in chemistry, biology, physical anthropology or forensic science. There are also two-year forensic science programs that combine classroom education in the principles of science with practical hands-on lab experience.

For an entry-level forensic science technician, most labs will provide a training period under the direct supervision of an experienced technician or forensic scientist. A new technician will also have the opportunity to observe court testimony and legal procedure before testifying in court.

A prospective forensic scientist should take a full program of science and math courses, starting in high school. College coursework should concentrate on lab sciences and computer skills, such as:
  • Biology, physical anthropology
  • Chemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics
  • Quantitative analysis, statistics
  • Forensic science techniques
  • Computer science
Some forensic science technician students will take advanced course work to train as specialists in DNA typing, fingerprint, blood, or handwriting analysis or firearm identification. Others will chalk up several years of work experience and then pursue a master's degree in order to advance to the level of supervisor or forensic scientist.

Related skills and qualifications

Forensic science technicians have many skills and qualifications in common with other applied scientists; they must be analytical, precise, accurate and observant. They are expected to:
  • Keep detailed scientific logs as they monitor experiments
  • Interpret results and communicate their findings clearly
  • Operate and maintain sophisticated equipment and computer systems
  • Follow security precautions to avoid contamination
Career outlook for forensic science technicians

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for forensic science technicians to grow by a healthy 20 percent, driven by increased use of scientific analysis like DNA testing in solving crimes. Forensic science technicians working for the federal government reported above-average wages.

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