Advances in science and technology have given the criminal justice system a new set of tools with which to investigate crimes and prosecute criminals. The professionals who use their scientific and technical knowledge to help solve crimes are broadly referred to as forensic scientists. Those in such positions must complete extensive and specialized training in order to work in the field, and the necessary qualifications to do this kind of work are different for every forensic speciality.
Forensic scientist qualifications for any field generally begin with a bachelor's degree. This is usually the basic qualification to work as a technician in a laboratory that handles scientific testing for crime scenes, or to work as an examiner at the crime scenes themselves. Degrees in biology or the physical sciences offer some of the best preparation for performing tests — such as DNA analysis or particulate identification — as a laboratory technician. Such degrees are also generally required for a lab tech to advance in a scientific field.
Medical degrees are common forensic scientist qualifications for individuals who want to become medical examiners. These are professionals who specialize in examining the bodies of deceased individuals. Medical examiners can both determine the cause of death and gather additional evidence from the body for analysis. In many countries, aspiring medical examiners must complete undergraduate degrees with extensive preparation in biology, mathematics, and the physical sciences to get into medical school. Medical school students can then choose to specialize in forensics for their postgraduate work.
A growing specialty within the field of criminal justice is digital forensics. Professionals in this field examine computers, smart phones, and other digital devices for evidence of criminal activities. These individuals perform work such as examining hard drives for deleted data, like incriminating emails, pictures, or other documents. Forensic scientist qualifications for work in digital forensics generally includes a background in computer science or computer engineering at the graduate or undergraduate level, though some universities offer specific degrees in computer or digital forensics.
Coursework in psychology and criminology are forensic scientist qualifications for those who want to investigate how criminals think as forensic psychologists. These professionals use previous quantitative research and statistical probability to discern the likely psychological characteristics of individuals who commit crimes, and can use this same training to help choose the best approaches to some crisis situations, like hostage negotiations. The job market for forensic psychologists can be very competitive, so those who pursue graduate work in psychology and criminology usually have the most opportunities for employment in the field.