Become a Forensic Biologist: Education and Career Guide
Research the requirements to become a forensic biologist. Learn about the job description, and read the step-by-step process to start a career in forensic biology.
Do I Want to Be a Forensic Biologist?
Forensic biologists inspect crime scenes for potential sources of evidence, such as blood, saliva, and hair, and then they analyze the specimens in a laboratory, focusing on DNA analysis. They write up their findings in technical reports and are called upon to testify in court. Forensic biologists typically work for government agencies.
Forensic biologists, also called forensic science technicians, work in a wide variety of environments, including those with poor weather conditions, landfills and other hazardous locations, as well as laboratories and office settings. They often work in teams and occasionally must complete their work independently. Such biologists work in shifts which may be during the day, evening, late nights, and/or evenings, depending on seniority. The job may carry an emotional toil when it involves work in the aftermath of violent crimes.
Forensic biologists are required to have at least a bachelor's degree in forensic biology or a related natural science or forensics field, plus specialty training. In addition, forensic biologists may seek voluntary certification, which may lead to enhanced job prospects. The following table lists the typical requirements for a career as a forensic biologist:
|Degree Fields||Forensic biology, biology, forensic science, chemistry*|
|Certification||Voluntary certification is available through the American Board of Criminalistics (ABC)**|
|Experience||None for entry-level forensic science jobs*; two years for forensic biology jobs and at least three years for advanced positions****|
|Key Skills||Critical thinking, written and verbal communication, attention to detail*|
|Computer Skills||DNA sequence analysis software, DNA database systems***|
|Technical Skills||DNA collection kits, chemical analysis, laboratory equipment***|
Sources: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, **American Board of Criminalistics, ***O*Net OnLine, ****Online job postings (August 2012).
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
A bachelor's degree in a forensic or natural science is required for a career as a forensic biologist. Forensic biology programs are rare, but a relevant major can provide sufficient training. Coursework in mathematics, biology and chemistry is required to understand techniques used in forensic laboratories. Students should enroll in electives in forensic pathology, genetics, molecular biology and DNA analysis.
Step 2: Work in the Forensic Science Field
Someone with a bachelor's degree can find entry-level forensic science work, though specialties such as forensic biology are typically learned on-the-job. Professional development workshops can teach the advanced skills, like population genetics, biochemistry and lab analysis methods, that are necessary for a forensic biology job. DNA analysis training typically lasts 6-12 months. People with several years of experience can obtain forensic biology positions. Background checks and drug tests are usually mandatory.
- Earn a master's degree. Employers may require graduate education for certain positions. A master's degree can help one attain more prestigious positions with less on-the-job training and work experience. Master's programs in forensic biology generally cover biotechnology, molecular biology and ethical issues in criminal investigations. Lab courses delve into aspects of DNA analysis, including DNA extraction and quantification.
- Get certified. Earning certification proves one's competency in the field and can help one stand out in the job market. The American Board of Criminalistics offers voluntary certification in molecular biology at two levels, Diplomate (D-ABC) and Fellow (F-ABC). Eligibility requirements for D-ABC certification include completing a bachelor's degree program in a scientific field, having at least two years of laboratory experience and passing the certification exam. To become an F-ABC, one must also have two years of experience in molecular biology or other specialty and pass a yearly proficiency exam. Certification lasts five years and can be kept current through professional development activities or passing a recertification exam.
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