Dream Job: Forensic Investigator

Forensic investigator job overview:

  • Forensic investigators can make up to $98,000 per year.
  • You’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree to get into forensic investigation.
  • Your education will focus on science and legal studies.

What do forensic investigators do?

SVU, CSI, NCIS. What do these things have in common (besides being mega-hit prime-time series)? Forensic investigation, that’s what. These jobs, and those shows, surely aren’t for the faint of heart. You’ll need a doctor’s stomach with a scientist’s logic. If you can do it, being a forensic investigator is an incredibly rewarding and well-paying job.

As a forensic science investigator, you’ll be responsible for investigating crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence. Typically you’d specialize in one area, like DNA analysis, or firearm examination, or particular substances such as fiber, glass, hair, tissue and body fluids. You’ve seen it on TV. You’ll have to crack the code for things like footprints, blood spatters and bullet patterns to figure out “who done it.” When criminal cases come to trial, forensic science technicians give testimony as expert witnesses on laboratory findings.

How much do forensic investigators make?

Most forensic investigators make between $45,000 and $81,000 (some earn up to $98,000 a year). Your salary will vary with geographic area and tenure (the amount of time you’ve spent on the job). Another huge factor in earnings is education level. Forensic investigators with a bachelor’s degree start at a higher wage and earn more over their career.

What are the education requirements to be a forensic investigator?

Much like a police officer, forensic science positions almost always require a bachelor’s degree, either in forensic science or another natural science like biology, chemistry or physics. Knowledge and understanding of legal procedures can also be helpful, so a criminal justice degree or law degree will give you a leg up. Most investigators will also need to complete training programs with the federal, state or local agency that they want to work for.

No matter what your degree is in, you’ll have to have to get your hands dirty at some point. It’s up to you (and your prospective employer) whether you do it in school or during job training. If you learn how to use equipment specific to your desired job (microscopes and other brainy things) it could reduce the amount of time you’ll need to spend in training.

If you’re dead set (get it? dead set) on a career in forensic investigation before you even graduate high school, you should get started early with science and math courses to get you ready for your undergraduate degree.  An advisor can point you in the right direction, but coursework in college should be laboratory oriented, with an emphasis on practical lab work to get you familiar with what you’ll be doing on the job (and to toughen you up a little for what you might see down the road). Bone up on chemistry, math and physics while you’re at it.

Career paths for forensic investigators

Forensic investigators usually start from the bottom as a trainee with a supervising scientist or investigator looking after everything you do.  This isn’t your average job, so they won’t be cool with “first day” mistakes. It could mean the difference between a conviction and no conviction.  As you get more experience, you’ll be allowed to take on more responsibility (read: no one breathing down your neck), and even supervise others. If you get an undergraduate degree, it can help you move up the ladder much more quickly.

The future of forensic investigator jobs

According to the BLS (Bureau of Labor Statistics), jobs for forensic science technicians are expected to increase by 20 percent, which is much faster than average. Employment growth at all levels will be influenced by the increased need for DNA analysis and other scientific evidence.  Everyone watches crime shows, even jurors, so they’ll be looking for you in the courtroom and on the stand.

Ready to launch your own forensic investigator career? Get your criminal justice degree.

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