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Forensic science technician salary & career outlook

Forensic science technician

Thanks to a steady stream of prime-time TV crime shows, the work of forensic science technicians is anything but a mystery. Although the entertainment industry tends to glamorize and fictionalize many aspects of the job, it is true that forensic science technicians help solve crimes by collecting and interpreting evidence from crime scenes. They use sophisticated technology to analyze fiber, hair, weapons and bodily fluids. Also, they may often specialize in a given area, such as DNA analysis, fingerprinting, ballistics or toxicology.

Most forensic science technicians work for local or state government, in police departments, morgues, crime labs or medical examiner offices. Much of their time is spent performing analyses in labs and writing reports, but they must also visit crime scenes to collect and properly store evidence. While they typically don't question witnesses or do similar work generally assigned to investigators, forensic science technicians may reconstruct crime scenes, consult with subject-matter experts and testify in court as expert witnesses in trials.

Forensic science technicians should be detail-oriented, dexterous, and strong in math and science. Because they work with others and report their findings in writing, verbal and written communication skills also are important.

Forensic science technician salary

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), forensic science technicians in the U.S. earned a mean annual wage of $57,340 in May 2013. However, salaries may vary based on location, employer and experience. The top 10 percent of forensic science technicians, for example, earned $88,880 or more for the same time period.

The BLS reports that the top-paying industry employing forensic science technicians is the federal executive branch of government, with a mean annual salary of $93,940, followed by scientific research and development services, at $71,450.

The following states had the highest average annual wages for forensic science technicians in 2013:

  • Illinois: $82,110
  • California: $74,240 (This state also employed the highest number of forensic science technicians in 2013.)
  • Washington, D.C.: $73,660
  • Massachusetts: $69,060
  • Virginia: $66,850

Because of the nature of this job, forensic science technicians may be required to work nights, holidays and weekends if they are required to collect evidence. However, those who work primarily in labs are generally assigned to the standard workday week.

Forensic science technician training

As with most professions, earnings may be dependent on experience, employer or education. A bachelor's degree in forensic science or another natural science, such as chemistry or biology, usually is required to become a forensic science technician. Any forensic science bachelor's degree program should include extensive coursework in chemistry, biology and math, as well as basic training in criminal justice or social sciences.

Forensic science technicians begin working under the supervision of more experienced technicians and scientists and are gradually given more responsibility. After a few years on the job, they may take on supervisory or management roles. Completing online training to become a forensic science technician may allow you to earn your degree without sacrificing on-the-job experience, since online programs usually can be completed at your convenience. And because continuing education is a critical component of this profession, online training assures that you can continue working without interruption while earning this education.

Forensic science technicians wishing to advance to supervisory or forensic scientist roles often pursue master's degrees in the subject. Additionally, there are several licenses and credentials that employers may prefer, though they usually are not a prerequisite to employment.

Forensic science technician career outlook

Because of the popularity of crime scene investigation programs, the profession of forensic science technician has gained considerable interest and there is likely to be competition for jobs. Additionally, technology and advances in techniques have increased the reliability and usefulness of forensic data. These factors have contributed to a decline in employment of forensic science technicians, and the BLS projects slower-than-average growth of 6 percent in these jobs during the 2012-22 time period, though certain states are projected to have higher growth. These include:

  • Utah: 17.4% projected growth
  • Florida: 15.5% projected growth
  • Kansas: 14.8% projected growth

Regardless of their location, applicants with bachelor's degrees and master's degrees in forensic science are likely to have the best prospects. Explore the programs listed here to find the training that's right for you.

Sources:

Long Term Occupational Projections for Forensic Science Technicians, Projections Central,
http://www.projectionscentral.com/Projections/LongTerm

Occupational Employment and Wages: Forensic Science Technicians," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, May 2013,
http://www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes194092.htm

Forensic Science Technicians, "Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition," Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Jan. 8, 2014,
http://www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm