What do forensic scientists do?
Forensic scientists work in government or law enforcement laboratories examining material obtained from crime scenes or from victims of crimes. They also may be called as expert witnesses in court cases. Genetics graduates are particularly involved in DNA fingerprinting.
What training is required?
Entry level positions may be open to students with a Bachelor degree in one of the life sciences areas or in chemistry. There are also Master degree programs in general forensics or in forensic genetics which prepare individuals for jobs in this field. Each agency has very specific protocols in place which must be followed precisely so that evidence can hold up in court, so even those who hold an advanced degree will need additional training specific to that agency. Ongoing training is also required.
How do I best prepare for admission to a graduate forensics program or a job in forensics?
If you are interested in general forensics which could include testing for toxins or illegal drugs, you should consider taking additional courses in Chemistry such as CHEM 211 & L or other 300+ level Chemistry courses. These can be used as advanced science electives or to complete a minor in Chemistry. You might also choose courses in Anthropology including ANTHR 307 (Biological Anthropology), 319 (Skeletal Biology), and 424 (Forensic Anthropology) or courses in Criminal Justice Studies such as CJ ST 220 (Introduction to Forensic Science). If you are interested in DNA analysis you should consider additional coursework in Bioinformatics and Computational Biology beyond what is required for the Genetics major.
Education: BS, Genetics, Minors Statistics, Anthropology, ISU, 2012; MS, Forensic Genetics, University of North Texas Health Sciences, 2015
Current Position: Criminalist, DNA Section, Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation Crime Lab, Ankeny
In my career as a forensic scientist I have worked in several state agencies across the country. I am currently employed for the Iowa crime lab where I perform serological and DNA testing to help investigate a variety of crimes. My undergraduate degree at ISU set a foundation for this career and prepared me for graduate school. Specifically the intro to genetics course (BIOL/GEN 313 ) but even more so the lab component attached to that course (BIOL/GEN 313L) dives into many of the theories the forensic biology community uses today. Also, obtaining a statistics minor at ISU has truly helped me in my career.
Education: BS, Genetics, ISU, 2011; MS, Forensic Biology, Michigan State University
Current Position: Forensic Scientist, St Paul Bureau of Criminal Apprehension, Minnesota
I am currently a forensic scientist performing DNA testing for the state of Minnesota. I would not have been able to make this career choice or have the scientific background necessary for further education without the Genetics program at ISU. The labs were interactive and the variety of class subjects allowed me to explore different possible career fields, while the research on campus gave me real world experience both with lab work and scientific documentation.