Forensic Scientist Career Information

There are a wide variety of forensic scientist careers available from criminalistics to questioned documents specialists.

Basic Tasks

All types of forensic scientists analyze evidence and sample material and conduct scientific tests and surface examinations of material presented to them. Based on their examinations, forensic scientists will write reports that renders the analysis, as much as possible, in plain English for examination in legal proceedings. Forensic scientists will also spend time in courts of law providing expert testimony about their analysis, their findings and their reports.

Hours and Work Schedule

A forensic scientist’s hours and work schedule is usually full-time, forty hours a week. Depending on their employers, forensic scientists may be asked to work on weekends or on an on-call basis. Most forensic scientists will work in a laboratory setting, either with a government agency or a medical services laboratory, but some travel may occasionally be required.


According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean hourly wage for forensic technicians is $25.46 per hour. The top paying states for this occupation are Wisconsin, Massachusetts and Kansas. Nationwide, the top paying cities are Boston, Anaheim and Los Angeles.

Different Types of Forensic Scientist Jobs

The American Academy of Forensic Scientists describes eleven different areas for forensic scientists. All of these areas require at least a two-year technicians’ training, though many will require an undergraduate degree, and some professions will require graduate degrees or degrees in medicine or dentistry.

The first five include criminalistics, odontology, physical anthropology, pathology and toxicology, which are most often portrayed in films and television. Criminalists examine crime scene evidence of all types, from trace evidence to scene reconstruction. Odontologists are forensic dentists, who conduct identification of remains or analyze other dental evidence. Physical anthropologists will organize and categorize remains, most often skeletal. Pathologists will determine cause of death. Toxicologists will study samples to look for chemicals, such as drugs, or biological components that have affected organisms or the environment.

Less well-known areas include jurisprudence, digital and multimedia sciences, engineering sciences and questioned documents. Jurisprudence examines the use of forensic scientific evidence in courts of law. Digital and multimedia scientists capture digital records of events. They also manage the computerized devices and networks used by forensic scientists. Engineering scientists will be involved in accident investigation or in reviewing structural designs for flaws. Questioned document specialists will examine the authenticity of a wide range of documentary evidence, from artwork to wills.

The final area named by the American Academy of Forensic Scientists is the general area. The general field is a catch-all term that describes new fields of forensic science, such as the work of artists who use sculpture to reconstruct faces from human remains and environmental crime scene analysis.

Opportunities for Advancement

Some forensic scientists will become senior scientists and supervisors within the laboratory environment. They will have more responsibility for the work performed in the lab, and they will manage and direct other scientists and staff members there. An increase in duties will also lead to an increase in salary. Some forensic scientists will pursue advanced degrees so they can advance within the field. Some wil do so to become consultants and expert witnesses based on their education and expertise in a specific area.