What is Forensic Science?
Despite common belief, virtually every position in the forensic sciences field can be considered a “forensic scientist”. The good news is that this means the forensic sciences field offers a variety of career options.
Forensic science has a few main sectors: crime scene investigation, biological/life sciences, and behavior sciences. There are also many specializations in the field such as forensic entomology, forensic anthropology, medicolegal, blood stain splatter analysis, forensic odontology, and many more. Regardless of the forensic sciences position, these professionals use scientific principles to view evidence and make reports of what they find.
Students who are reviewing colleges that offer forensic science programs should check for ranking information as well as institutional and programmatic accreditation. Alabama schools offer local students degrees that will help them move into the field within state law enforcement agencies or even federal agencies who send evidence to local labs.
Forensic Science Education in Alabama
Associate Forensic Science Degree (AS)
Obtaining an associate degree in forensic science provides an extremely basic foundation of key criminal justice areas and it’s highly recommended for anyone who would like to get into the field quickly. An associate degree can lead to a position as a crime scene technician, which ultimately offers these professionals a glimpse into crime scene investigation.
Many people choose to become a police officer before pursuing a career as a criminal investigator, making earning an associate degree in forensic science an extremely great idea. When they pursue an associate degree in forensic science, students will explore topics such as fingerprint science, criminal evidence, and constitutional law. After graduating with this degree, graduates will have the necessary skills to gather evidence and perform criminal investigations. An associate’s degree in Alabama typically takes about a couple of years to complete.
Bachelor’s Forensic Science Degree (BS)
For those who would like an entry-level position in the forensic science field, a bachelor’s degree is absolutely necessary. During this program, students will learn more advanced forensic science topics, from homicide investigations to criminalistics. In addition, students who pursue this program will be able to gain even more exposure in the forensic science field through internship opportunities.
A bachelor’s degree in forensic science can usually be completed in four years with full-time study. When students earn this degree, they will be able to become a criminal investigator who conducts investigations, a forensic scientist who works with samples, or gain a similar entry-level job.
Master’s Forensic Science Degree/MBA (MS or MC)
A master’s in forensic science is the perfect degree for those who would like an advanced position, such as a forensic psychologist. Before pursuing this degree, you generally need to have a strong background in the natural sciences, such as chemistry and biology. A master’s in forensic science generally has a heavy emphasis on forensic drug analysis, biological methods in forensic science, the appropriate gathering of physical evidence, and much more. The master’s in forensic science degree will also prepare students for doctoral studies.
At some prominent universities in Alabama, students who want to serve in a managerial position can pursue a five-year MBA program if they are majoring in a STEM area like forensic science. The MBA program is specifically designed to provide students with effective management knowledge in a science or technology career. Graduates of this program will definitely be ready for management positions in the forensic science field.
PhD/Doctorate Degree (PhD)
When it comes to a PhD or doctorate degree in forensic science, Alabama doesn’t have many options. Unless you plan on pursuing a career as a forensic science professor, a doctoral degree really isn’t necessary. A PhD or doctorate degree may be necessary if you would like to become a medical examiner or forensic odontologist. These exceptional career paths require several years of highly specialized training.
Become a Forensic Science Tech in Alabama
- Obtain a High School Diploma:
Very few forensic science workers make their way into the field without a high school diploma. That’s why the first step to becoming a forensic science professional in Alabama is to graduate high school or gain your GED. During high school, make sure to gain a strong foundation in math and the sciences.
- Earn a College Degree:
Regardless of the position in this field, most employers require some kind of forensic science college degree. While securing a position with an associate degree is certainly possible, those who have bachelor’s degrees will have a big competitive edge. The reality is that many employers hire those with a bachelor’s degree for entry-level positions with an attractive salary.
For even more employment prospects, consider getting a master’s in forensic science. A master’s degree in one of these forensic science specializations could lead to an advanced position: anthropology, ballistics, latent prints, or serology.
- Get an Internship:
When it comes to becoming a forensic science professional in Alabama, securing an internship should definitely be part of the plan. There are many benefits that go along with completing an internship. For starters, an internship provides students with hands-on experience in the forensic science field. An internship can also help forensic science students choose a specialization, determining whether or not they need to attend graduate school. Lastly, it can offer networking opportunities with forensic experts.
- Receive A Professional Certification:
Becoming professionally certified is an absolute must for those interested in career advancement. Many professionals choose to become certified in areas such as crime scene reconstruction, forensic photography, hairs and fibers, drug chemistry, and many more. Check out organizations such as The American Board of Criminalistics and The American College of Forensic Examiners for exceptional certification options.
Professionals in the forensic science field can also become certified at educational institutions across Alabama. At the University of Alabama-Birmingham, students can pursue a graduate certificate in computer forensics. After earning this certificate, graduates will be able to perform many types of forensic work that will let them review the contents of a computer in order to help investigators solve crimes.
- Acquire On-The-Job Training:
Many people mistakenly believe that forensic science can only be learned through a book. The truth of the matter is that knowing the ins and outs of forensic science often requires practical experience like on-the-job training. Depending on the particular employer, professionals often receive on-the-job training after being hired, though an internship experience will more easily prepare you for a position. Still, formal training programs offered by law enforcement organizations throughout the state will help employees learn their job responsibilities and the ins and outs of the forensic sciences field.
After the formal training, the organization may require employees to pass an exam. At many organizations, on-the-job training is generally an on-going process that could last several years. Generally speaking, on-the-job training is more in depth that training offered by an institution.
Top College Programs in Alabama for Forensic Science
- University of Alabama-Birmingham:
The University of Alabama-Birmingham is ranked number one for offering top programs in forensic science. Students should definitely consider this college if they want to receive the best forensic science education in the state.
Students can enroll in a Master of Science in Forensic Science program, where they will learn all about the basics of forensics, forensic toxicology, forensic drug analysis, and much more. The program has been accredited by the Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission or FSEPAC.
- Alabama State University:
Alabama State University takes pride in offering some of the best forensic science programs in the state. They offer a Master of Science in Forensic Science program for students who would like to obtain a leadership position in the field. Students will complete coursework in forensic biology, forensic chemistry, and forensic toxicology.
- Faulkner University:
Students who wish to earn a Bachelor of Science in Forensic Science online should consider attending Faulkner University. The program covers several psychology and criminal justice courses, equipping students with the necessary knowledge to begin a career in the forensic science field.
- Jacksonville State University:
Based in Jacksonville, Alabama, Jacksonville State University offers a prominent program focused on forensic science. This is the Bachelor of Science in Forensic Investigation. The program also offers two tracks that students can choose from: criminal investigation and forensic laboratory/technician. Students may also choose to obtain a minor in forensic investigation.
- University of South Alabama:
At the University of South Alabama, students can obtain a minor in forensic science. This program features coursework such as forensic anthropology, introduction to criminal justice, mental health and law, and much more. Students who pursue this program will be prepared to work in a wide variety of areas including crime scene investigation and laboratory analysis.
Careers for Forensic Science Graduates
- Crime Scene Technician:
A crime scene technician is usually one of the first professionals to respond to a crime scene. This expert is responsible for identifying which evidence must be obtained and making sure that it is stored in a way that it can be analyzed when it reaches a lab. Crime scene technicians can also work in laboratories, conducting assessments on evidence gathered.
- Crime Scene Investigator:
Crime scene investigators also specialize in locating and collecting key evidence from a crime scene. These experts often work closely with law enforcement agencies and forensic science technicians.
- Forensic Science Professor:
The main role of a forensic science professor is to teach forensic science courses, though they may also perform some research. These professionals are usually knowledgeable in the criminal justice system, qualitative and quantitative analysis methods, crime scene investigation, drugs/toxicology, and much more. A forensic science professor can be employed at a community college or university.
- Lab Analysis for Ballistics-DNA:
Lab analysis for ballistics-DNAs use their expertise to analyze firearm evidence at or from a crime scene.
- Forensic Documents Examiner:
A forensic documents examiner is a professional who uses a wide variety of scientific processes to carefully review questionable documents, from medical records to checks. A forensic documents examiner may provide observations based on the examination of the documents.
- Digital and Computer Forensics Investigator:
A digital/computer forensics investigator typically collaborates with police officers and detectives to review digital forensics from a wide variety of storage devices. The specific role of these professionals often includes preserving evidence, identifying hacks, going over investigation reports, and much more.
A toxicologist conducts laboratory studies to access the impact of toxins on humans or animals, and a pathologist conducts autopsies to identify a person’s cause of death. Both of these professionals are often involved in solving criminal cases.
- Forensic Accountants:
A forensic accountant is primarily responsible for investigating questionable financial activity. The main goal of these professionals is to identify exactly what happened to missing money and sort through complicated transaction records.
- Fingerprint Analyst:
A fingerprint analyst examines and preserves fingerprints in criminal cases. The professional may also be responsible for scanning the fingerprints into a national database.
- Forensic Scientist:
The primary role of a forensic scientist is to review evidence collected by crime scene technicians. These professionals may specialize in toxicology, ballistics, computer forensics, and much more.
- Forensic Anthropologist:
A forensic anthropologist carefully studies human remains to identify the exact cause and time of death. Most forensic anthropologists work closely with law enforcement agencies.
- Forensic Chemist:
A forensic chemist is typically expected to examine key evidence from a crime scene. These professionals mostly complete their work in labs, using innovative methods such as microscopy, x-rays, and more.
Education Career Paths