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DEPARTMENT OF CHEMISTRY AND BIOCHEMISTRY AND INTERNATIONAL FORENSIC RESEARCH INSTITUTE
Florida International University, University Park, Miami, Florida 33199

Frequently Asked Questions

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Crime Lab Director's Education Survey

What Educational Background Do Crime Laboratory Directors Require From Applicants For Positions in Forensic Science?

Dr. Kenneth G. Furton
Director, International Forensic Research Institute
Department of Chemistry, Florida International University,
Miami, FL 33199
Tel (305)-348-6211; Fax (305)-348-3772
www.fiu.edu/~ifri

The following is a summary of the results from an educational survey mailed to the members of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors where crime lab directors listed their educational requirements from applicants for the positions of drug chemist, trace/impression evidence examiner, serologist/DNA analyst, and firearms/document examiner/fingerprint examiner. Full details are available in reference 1. Crime lab directors generally expect applicants to have ‘hard’ science degrees with a preference for the B.S. in chemistry, followed by biology and forensic science degrees with significant chemistry components. The summary of degree required for all positions combined was 63% B.S., 27% B.A., 6% none, 3% M.S. and 1% Ph.D. The degree specialty required was 41% Chemistry (including Biochemistry), 24% Biology (including Genetics and Molecular Biology), 22% Forensic Science, 7% Medical Laboratory Science and 6% Other (including 2% Physics and 1% Criminal Justice).

More importantly, perhaps, are the specific courses suggested by respondents, as the department wherein forensic science programs are based may not adequately reflect the actual coursework students complete in that program. The majority of responders require 1 to 2 semesters of math/statistics, variable amounts of biological sciences courses and 3 to 8 semesters of chemistry courses depending on the position. On average, the drug chemist position required 1.1 semesters of biological sciences and 7.8 semesters of chemistry, the trace position required 1.5 semesters of biology and 7.2 semesters of chemistry, the serology/DNA position required 5.4 semesters of biology and 5.5 semesters of chemistry and the firearms/document/fingerprint examiner position required 1.4 semesters of biology and 3.3 semesters of chemistry.

In summary, the results of this recent survey indicate that the majority of crime lab directors responding require applicants to have B.S. degrees with a preference for chemistry/biochemistry, followed by biology and forensic science with a requirement for a substantial number of chemistry and other natural science courses. These results reinforce the conclusions from previous surveys (2,3) stressing lab directors preference for applicants to have a strong chemistry background. Based on this survey and others, students interested in careers in crime laboratories are advised to complete Bachelor of Science degrees with a substantial number of chemistry courses.

References:

  • Furton, K.G., Hsu, Y.L. and Cole, M.D. What educational background is required by crime laboratory directors?, J. Forensic Sci. 1999; 44:128-132.
  • Higgins, K.M. and Selavka, C.M. Do forensic science graduate programs fulfill the needs of the forensic science community? J Forensic Sci 1988;33:1015-21.
  • Siegel, J.A. The appropriate educational background for entry level forensic scientists: a survey of practitioners. J Forensic Sci 1988;33:1065-68.
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