MadSci Network: Chemistry

Re: What degree do I need to go into forensic science?

Date: Sun Oct 26 12:24:37 2003
Posted By: Dale L. Laux, Staff, Serology/DNA, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification
Area of science: Chemistry
ID: 1066777712.Ch

Hi Margaret,

You sound very ambitious which is great.  However, in this day of 
specialization, you will not be able to be an expert in all of the areas 
of forensics that you've mentioned.  You can be a generalist and know a 
little about all of those areas but you will have to pick one or two.  Let 
me discuss each one separately.

I'm not sure what you mean by personal identification but I imagine it's 
either DNA analysis or latent print (fingerprint) examinations.  For DNA 
analysis, you will have to have a BS in either chemistry or biology and 
have taken courses in genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry and 
population statistics.  These are required by SWGDAM, an organization that 
oversees forensic DNA analysis.  For fingerprint examinations, a BS in a 
science is sufficient.  You will receive on-job training for this 

Forensic photography and crime scene processing are two areas that go 
together well.  Most agencies will require an advanced degree, again, a BS 
in a science would suffice.  Many crime scene analysts have been police 
officers that have received crime scene training, and then move onto a 
laboratory setting as a crime scene agent.

Firearms and toolmark analysis will require an advanced degree, again, a 
BS in chemistry, physics, etc.  For this specialty, you will have to 
apprentice for quite some time until you are trained sufficiently to work 
cases by yourself.

So my recommendation would be to pick a subject that you enjoy and that 
you can do well in.  For example, don't pick biochemistry and get C's and 
D's just because you think it will get you in the DNA section.  You'd be 
better off majoring in Biology, getting A's, and then apply for a job or 

This brings me to another recommendation.  Apply for an internship at a 
crime laboratory for the summer before your senior year.  The FBI has 
internships ( and also check out local crime labs in your home 
state.  They may not pay well, or at all, but the experience will be a 
tremendous benefit in landing a job.  It also lets you see what people do 
in those areas that you are interested in.

For some more information on forensic science careers, go to 
and also, go to the Articles for Students section at

I hope this information helps.  Good luck in your career.

Dale L. Laux
Forensic Scientist

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