What are the Different Forensic Scientist Jobs?

Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

People who watch television shows with the terms CSI (Crime Scene Investigation) or CIS (Criminal Investigative Service) may have a glimmer of the breadth of forensic scientist jobs. Forensic science refers to the application of the methods and knowledge of science to criminal investigations and legal problems. Although people may feel that they have a good sense of the forensic field based on television, a number of characters on these shows do a wide range of jobs, whereas in real life, the specialties tend to be more focused.

A crime scene investigator examines a crime scene and gathers evidence.
A crime scene investigator examines a crime scene and gathers evidence.

One whole set of forensic scientist jobs is in the field of teaching. Lecturers, instructors, professors, and readers all contribute to the education of forensic scientists, sharing their specialties in the classroom. Besides this area, jobs can be roughly broken down into management jobs and specialty technical jobs, including analysts, engineers, criminalists, scientists, technicians, pathologists, and various examiners. Some forensic scientists are employed as consultants or advisors, and some forensic scientist jobs combine managerial and technical elements. Another way to categorize forensic scientist jobs is into the areas of medical practice, laboratory practice, and field service.

A forensic scientist might examine samples from a crime scene.
A forensic scientist might examine samples from a crime scene.

Combining these two ways of looking at the field, we might begin by designating crime scene investigators as the field agents. We might then group forensic laboratory directors and managers, forensic account managers, and forensic science commanders, for example, as managers. The medical group would include medical examiners, forensic pathologists, forensic odontologists or dentists, psychologists including profilers, and other medical specialties. And the laboratory group would include experts in ballistics, biology, botany, chemistry, DNA, entomology, fingerprints, firearms and toolmarks, and toxicology, for example.

Forensic pathologists conduct autopsies on corpses to determine cause of death.
Forensic pathologists conduct autopsies on corpses to determine cause of death.

Forensic scientist jobs are available at a variety of organizations. Probably the first organizations that will come to mind are the local, state, and regional forensic laboratories which are seen so often on television. NCIS may bring to mind federal agencies, which include the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Postal Service, Customs, and the Drug Enforcement Administration. Forensic scientists are also employed by district attorneys’ offices, and the military.

A crime lab analyst inspects material evidence from crime scenes.
A crime lab analyst inspects material evidence from crime scenes.

Obviously, the instructional jobs are often at educational institutions. This may be at a college, a university, or a community college. In addition, the National Forensic Academy, for example, offers ten-week intensive courses for currently employed law enforcement crime scene technicians. Another employment opportunity is at museums, like the Jeffersonian Institution in Bones at which Dr. Temperance Brennan, a forensic anthropologist, works. There are also forensic archaeologists.

Medical examiners and other forensic scientists may be charged with determining the cause of death of someone who died decades before.
Medical examiners and other forensic scientists may be charged with determining the cause of death of someone who died decades before.
Forensic scientists may specialize in biology, chemistry, DNA, toxicology, or many other fields.
Forensic scientists may specialize in biology, chemistry, DNA, toxicology, or many other fields.
A forensic chemist may study samples of fibers from clothing to determine whether an individual was present at a crime scene.
A forensic chemist may study samples of fibers from clothing to determine whether an individual was present at a crime scene.
Mary Elizabeth
Mary Elizabeth

Mary Elizabeth is passionate about reading, writing, and research, and has a penchant for correcting misinformation on the Internet. In addition to contributing articles to wiseGEEK about art, literature, and music, Mary Elizabeth is a teacher, composer, and author. She has a B.A. from the University of Chicago’s writing program and an M.A. from the University of Vermont, and she has written books, study guides, and teacher materials on language and literature, as well as music composition content for Sibelius Software.

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