The question of how long you must study to become a forensic scientist has no precise answer. However, you should expect to complete at least a four-year college degree if you want a career collecting and analysing crime scene evidence. Most forensic science jobs require the minimum of a bachelor's degree, but some positions require additional education. In addition, because forensic scientists must keep up with scientific developments, the learning never really ends.
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The American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD) and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), two national associations for forensic professionals, report that a career collecting crime scene evidence or working in a crime lab requires a four-year degree, majoring in a scientific discipline. The ASCLD advises majoring in biology, chemistry, molecular biology or forensic science. In addition, college electives should include courses in criminal justice, criminal law and English composition, according to the AAFS. In general, a full-time student can complete a bachelor's degree in about four years. A part-time student will require additional time.
It is important to investigate the requirements of a degree program before investing in four years of study. The popularity of forensic science as a profession has fuelled a rise in bachelor's degrees in forensic science. The ASCLD advises students to investigate the course content of a degree program before enrolling. Ensure the program has a heavy course concentration in natural sciences, emphasising chemistry, physics, organic chemistry and other scientific content. The AAFS adds that the content of a degree is more important than the actual title.
Although a bachelor's degree is sufficient for most forensic science jobs, some jobs, such as that of crime lab director, require a graduate-level degree. The National Institute of Justice, in a report on forensic science education, says that a master's degree in the field or another scientific discipline should prepare students to work in forensic laboratories. A doctoral program, meanwhile, should prepare students to conduct forensic science research and teach at the university level. A master's degree requires about two years of study, while a doctorate can require four years or longer.
Because new findings advance the state of scientific knowledge, forensic scientists must stay abreast of new developments, advancing their studies through continuing education courses. Continuing education helps forensic professionals learn new technologies and maintain specialised certifications that they might hold. These certifications, while not generally required for employment, demonstrate expertise in a particular speciality, such as criminalistics or DNA analysis. So, while employment as a forensic scientist requires four years of college, the studying never really ends.
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