Crime scene examiners, also known as crime scene investigators or CSIs, are trained forensic technicians who collect and analyze evidence from locations where illegal activities occurred. These examiners are usually employed by federal, state or local police agencies and must undergo special training before being qualified to work as a CSI. There are several specialties within the field of forensics, each requiring a different educational background and training. Many of the more technical jobs usually require a four-year degree in a related scientific discipline along with post-graduate studies in forensics. Other CSI careers may only require the completion of a technical certification program.
The most common way to become a crime scene examiner in the United States is to first become a police officer and then apply for CSI training within the department. While most police jurisdictions do not hire civilians for crime scene work, larger cities may have some civilian forensic positions within their departments. Education requirements for CSI employees vary by municipality, but most offices will require at least a high school degree and some forensic training for entry-level positions. Many community and for-profit colleges around the U.S. offer coursework and certificate training to people seeking to become a crime scene examiner.
Another method that a person may pursue to become a crime scene examiner is to complete a two- or four-year degree in chemistry, biology or physics, and then seek either a post-graduate degree or certificate training in forensics. Some students also may consider a criminal justice degree along with a minor or concentration in forensic sciences. The limited number of open CSI positions has some professionals recommending completion of a regular science degree that will have more value in the overall job market.
Specialized field and lab work involving scientific forensic testing and evaluation usually require a higher level of education than the specialties that deal with fingerprint and evidence gathering. While this type of education and training may take a greater investment of time and resources early in a person's career, it can pay dividends in the long run as opportunities arise for advancement within the forensics office. Many of the managerial level positions require either a Bachelor of Science (B.S.) or Master of Science (M.S.) degree in a relevant subject.
Anyone seeking to become a crime scene examiner should carefully research the career field before embarking on an education or training program. CSIs often work long hours with relatively low pay and may always be on call to deal with evidence gathering. Many forensic specialists burn out after a few years of dealing with poor working conditions and horrific crime scenes.