Forensics Degree: An Inside Look at the Field and More


DNA, fingerprints and crime scene photos – oh my! Today we are going to tell you about the interesting and sometimes super gross forensic degree! This is a very multilateral degree path that can take you down many different study paths and even more potential careers. If you’re interested in learning more about the world of forensics that goes well beyond what is seen on TV, then keep reading because we’ve got loads to share!

Forensics Degree

Forensic-ScienceIf you’re interested in how to use scientific methods an various techniques to investigate and help solve crimes, then a degree in forensics just may be the thing for you. Having a forensics degree will help you move towards getting a job in many fields relating to the studies of forensic science, crime scene investigation and forensic science technology. Let’s get right into the different degree levels and take a look at some of the course options. Hold on to your seats because we have a lot to cover!

Forensic Degrees By Level

Most people that decide to earn a degree in forensics start at an associate’s degree and work up towards a master’s. We’re going to run through each level and fill you in on some of the key areas of importance.

Associate’s Degree in Forensics

Community colleges and technical schools offer associate’s degrees that typically encompass two years of schooling. An associate’s degree will provide the initial foundation and fundamentals that are required to continue on to the next phase of schooling. During an associate’s degree, students are able to gain introductory knowledge in areas of crime scene investigation, forensic science and criminal procedures.

To give you an idea of some of the courses available at the associate’s degree level we did some digging and found some interesting courses that may be available at a community college or technical school near you. Here’s what we found:

  • Forensic Science: This is a course that examines the basics of how to recognize, identify and evaluate different pieces of physical forensic evidence. The use of natural science such as biology and chemistry take the drivers seat here and are used to demonstrate the role they play in the forensic science field.
  • Forensic Photography: Digital photography is a big part of the forensic field and can play a big part in the investigation of crimes. In this course, students will get the chance to gain some solid footing in the proper techniques required to properly document evidence and crime scenes in photographic form.
  • Introduction to Criminal: The history, philosophy and development at a social level of the criminal justice field is reviewed in this course. An emphasis is placed on the areas of police departments, court systems and corrections. There will also be a detailed look at how local, state and federal agencies operate.

Bachelor’s Degree in Forensics

Next up on the docket, we have a bachelor’s in forensics that will enable you to gain the experience needed to snag a job with private, state or federal agencies that need forensic skills in a number of areas. The skills that you will pick up during your bachelor’s degree will be useful in the judicial system, insurance companies, law enforcement agencies and in laboratories where forensic evidence is examined.

You will be able to decide which specific area of forensics you are interested in pursuing during your days as a bachelor’s degree student. Let’s take a look at some courses available at this level:

  • Forensic Chemistry – Arson, Explosives and DNA: This chemistry course covers areas of law enforcement where it is used to aid in the investigation and solving of crimes. Topics covered will be arson, explosives and how to properly extract DNA evidence properly if necessary. There will also be some ground covering how to properly analyze DNA evidence on a chemistry level in order to gather the necessary evidence.
  • Introduction to Toxicology: Toxicology information is often a large part of forensics and have knowledge in that area can be very important depending on the forensic field you enter into. This is an introduction to the complete picture of toxicology and covers the science from the perspectives of chemical, clinical, environmental and forensics. There will be some discussion of poisons, how poisons act, treatment of poisoning and how to control poisonous substances.
  • Forensic Anthropology: In this course, the study of human remains is examined and broken down into sections like recovery, analysis and what the conclusion of the results when it leads to court and testimonies.

Master’s Degree in Forensic Science

A master’s degree is the final frontier for most forensic degree majors and it’s the last stop to give you the concluding information that is needed to land a job in the upper levels of forensics. Earning a master’s degree usually takes about 2 additional years, so by the time all is said and done, you will have spent roughly 6 years in school slaving away for chemistry, biology and physics course notes.

When you’re not working on you thesis project and pulling all night study sessions, you will end up spending some time in a classroom still. We lucked out and found some of the cool course options that are available at this stage. Here’s a little preview for you:

  • Personal Identification Methods in Forensic Science: Identification is sometimes a difficult thing to accomplish in the forensic field and methods to do so are important. The methods of obtaining the identification of victims or suspects will be discussed in this course and covered at length. Students an expect to learn about the proper methods of gathering identification evidence, evaluating it and ensuring that the data collected is correct.
  • Homicide Crime Scene Investigation: The processing and proper evaluation of homicide crime scenes is covered in this course as is the proper means of recognizing, identifying, collecting, analyzing and documenting evidence that is collected. This course will also cover the proper sequence of investigation that is to follow such as the reconstruction of events, evidence collections, preservation of evidence, writing reports properly and effectively as well as how to properly present evidence to the court.
  • Forensic Biology: A forensic approach to biology is taken in this course and covers the relationship between chemistry, molecular biology of evidence, evidence deterioration and how all of it ties into the investigative process.

5 Colleges for Forensics Degrees in the USA

We can all thank pop culture and the popularity of shows like CSI, Criminal Minds and The Killing. With the growing popularity and interest in the forensics, we have seen a growth in degree programs to fill the growing employment opportunities as well. The guys and galls at Forensic Outreach have compiled a list of some of the best colleges and universities to earn a forensic degree. We aren’t experts in the forensic field, but these schools do have forensic programs and they may be worth checking out!

University of California (Davis)

The University of California offers a Master’s of Science degree in Forensic Science. Students that attend this degree program also have the ability to specialize in criminalistic or DNA analysis. Either of these specialization are helpful to have in the forensic field and it will also help you prepare for any required court cases testimonies that may come up. A major plus for this degree program at the University of California is the nice employment rating that comes with being a new graduate. According to the Forensic Outreach website, 85% of UCAL grads are gainfully employed in the forensic field.

Boston State University

Boston State University is one of the few medical center universities that offers forensic courses and super intensive research opportunities. Some of the forensic courses offered at Boston State University are bloodstain pattern analysis, forensic pathology and toxicology.

Syracuse University

If you’re looking for a school to go to with several forensics degrees, then Syracuse University may just be the one for you. They offer a Master of Science in Forensics and a Masters of Science in Forensic Science and Law degree programs. Internship programs are an important part of a forensics degree and the ones offered at Syracuse University are pretty exciting and we can imagine the learning potential is amazing. Students may secure internship slots with the CIA, FBI and New York State Police just to name a few. This university is also on the list of the “Best Northwestern College” that was released by the Princeton Review.

George Washington University

The forensic studies program at George Washington University was founded in 1968 and offers 3 main areas of forensic studies. Degree programs available are in forensic molecular biology, forensic chemistry and forensic toxicology. There is also an added option for students to enter into a crime scene investigation degree as well, but it is supposed to be quite the doozy, so able and eager participants are sought out.

Ohio University

Ohio University is said to be one of the best and longest running forensic program in the country. Students definitely get their money’s worth at Ohio University and not only in the form of what seems to be a solid education. The university claims that a whopping 96% of graduating students are employed either at some point during the degree process or shortly after. That’s not too bad at all!

Different Fields in Forensics

2100There are eleven different fields that fall under the the forensic umbrella and each is quite different from another. When you are considering a degree program, it is probably a good idea to know the specific field you’d like to go into or at very least know what your options are. Here are some of the fields in forensic science! What areas are you interested in?

Criminalistics

This area of forensics focuses on analyzing, comparing, identifying and interpreting the physical evidence that is collected. The evidence is then used to form a link between the victims, suspects and crime scenes. There is a heavy focus on chemistry, biology, physics and other related natural sciences in this field.

Digital and Multimedia Sciences

The documentation of crime scenes and evidence falls under the digital and media sciences field. This area of forensic relies heavily on photography, computer science, technology and engineering.

Forensic Odontology

This is just a fancy term for a forensic scientist that specializes in teeth. Teeth are much like bones in composition, so they hang around a lot longer than other tissues. Forensic odontologists use teeth and/or the DNA extracted from them to confirm identity.

Forensic Pathologist

The specialty of a forensic pathologist lies mostly in the investigation of diseases in deceased individuals. These forensic specialists are frequently referred to as medical examiners or coroners as well.

Physical Anthropology

The field of physical anthropology is used when someone is killed and the body is not left intact. Specialists in this field are able to identify the remains of victims by examining portions of the body that is able to be recovered. This specialization is used most often in natural disasters as well as major catastrophes like airplane crashes, train wrecks or terrorist attacks.

Psychiatry and Behavioral Science

Forensics is used quite a lot in the psychology field and is rather handy in criminal cases at times. The physical evidence is not the area of focus here, but the evidence that lies inside the mind of suspects and sometimes even the victims.

Toxicology

The toxicology field deals specifically with drugs and other substances that may become harmful if ingested incorrectly. There is a heavy focus in the areas of chemistry, pharmacology and physical science in this field.

Forensic Science Scholarships

Earning a forensics degree is expensive and there’s really no other way to slice it. To ease the financial burdens that some of you may have during your education, we have found a list of scholarships that are meant specifically for students going into the forensic degree field. Grab a pen and paper because this is something that you are really going to want to pay close attention to! Click on each of the scholarship names to be routed to the corresponding website for more detailed information!

Most Influential Forensic

There have been many great forensic specialists over the history of the field and each of them has played an important role along the way. Let’s get to know some of these ground breaking ladies and gentlemen now!

Dr. William Bass

If you have ever heard of the super cool Forensic Anthropology Center that is located at the University of Tennessee, then you likely have heard of Dr. William Bass. He is one of the most highly respected forensic experts ever and is responsible for not only the way we solve cases using forensic science, but also for the actual resolution of many cases. A little known fact about Dr. Bass is that he is also a fiction writer under the pen name of Jefferson Bass.

Dr. Porntip Rojanasunan

Dr. Rojanasunan is lovingly known as “Dr. Death” in the forensic world. She works as a human rights activists and Director of the Central Institute of Forensic Science, Ministry of Justice in Bangkok. She was an instrumental part of the identification of the victims of the Phang Nga tsunami.

Wilton Marion Krogman (1903 to 1997)

Krogman was an anthropologist and teacher of some of the foremost anthropologists in the forensic field. He was quite well-known for his three major books that were published during his professional career. The Growth of Man was published in 1941, Child Growth was published in 1972 and his most famous work, The Human Skeleton in Forensic Medicine was published in 1986. Krogman was such an integral part of the forensic world that he has had buildings named after him and received many awards for his anthropological work.

Clea Koff

Clea Koff has been nicknamed the “Bone Woman” for a reason. She has spent her career studying the bones of those that have long been deceased as well as those that were victims of the war in Rwanda, Bosnia, Croatia and Kosovo. She has aided in the exhumation and examination of bones that have required an investigation by the UN War Crimes Tribunal.

Most Surprising Facts About Forensic Science

Forensics is definitely an interesting and exciting field to enter into, but did you know that there is more to it than the lab coats and cool gadgets that you get to use to study evidence? Here are some super interesting facts about forensics that we think you should know about!

  • Maggots are little detectives: Ok, so maggots aren’t really miniature detectives, but they can be an integral part of solving crimes. Forensic entomologists use science to determine what the presence of different bugs may mean at a crime scene. One of the ways they do this is by examining what these gross little critters has recently digested. The contents of their stomachs may tell a forensic entomologist when the maggot’s snack was last alive.
  • Forensic science is old as dirt: So, maybe forensics isn’t quite as old as dirt, but it’s been around since at least 1235 A.D. Crime scene investigation was a big deal even in 13th century China and goodness knows that they didn’t have any of the fancy equipment that the dudes on CSI do, so the methods of investigation were likely pretty creative compared to today’s standards.
  • Results not guaranteed: Forensics has certainly come a long way, but the advancements in the field certainly doesn’t mean that the system is full proof and that results are produced each time. This is especially true when we are talking about DNA, fingerprints and bullet ballistics as there is a margin of error in those areas, even as small as it may seem.
  • The details are in the teeth: Teeth, however, don’t lie! Well, they don’t lie the vast majority of the time anyhow. Teeth are very similar to bone and the tissues that reside within last a very long time, therefore that tissue can lead to a closer DNA match that most other forensic evidence.
  • Testing takes longer than is shows on TV: You can’t believe everything you see on TV these days, folks! Forensic testing take a lot longer than the microsecond that TV leads views to believe. It’s actually quite common for testing to take two to three weeks in some cases.
  • Fingerprints are a pain in the butt: Matching up fingerprints isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be and it’s definitely not the cake walk the TV and movies make it out to be. The Automated Fingerprint Identification System is definitely a helpful tool that has changed the entire process of matching up fingerprints. Before AFIS was created, those in the forensic field had to do all the matching up by eye, which was less accurate and way more time consuming
  • Measure up: A long time ago, forensic specialists used to measure the bodies of the deceased in order to find out who they were. Who needs fingerprints and DNA confirmation when you can identify someone by the length of their arms, legs or torso!
  • Root of the issue: Did you know that the roots of your hair can tell scientifists what your gender is? Yep, a forensic scientist can totally tell the gender and DNA sequence of a person by a simply little hair with the root still attached.
  • Fiber: There are only four types of fibers tested in the forensic field and they are the only four types of fiber that exists in the world. They are: vegetable, mineral, animal and man made in case you are wondering.
  • Recreational decomposition: Sometimes scientists intentionally leave a body exposed to the elements to decompose. The point of this is all in the name of science and to see what happens to a body as it goes through the various stages of decomposition. It’s really quite interesting really and there is a lot that can be gained from this interested and unconventional means of researching.

Sources and Recommended Reading

One comment
  1. Melissa

    May 20, 2015 at 5:15 am

    Hi! This is going to be a weird question, but may I use one of your pictures for my homework? I’m writing a career article about a Forensic Scientist.

    Reply

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