Masters of Forensic Science Information Guide

MastersInForensicScience is a site devoted to helping students explore forensic science degrees and careers. Forensic science is the use of science as it relates to the legal system. Also known as forensics, this field encompasses crime scene investigation, forensic accounting, forensic psychology, computer forensics, and more.

While studying for a Master of Forensic Science, you will learn critical thinking skills, analytical skills, research peer studies and journals on the subject and create a thesis project that incorporates the knowledge and skill you’ve learned into an original research-based contribution to the field of forensics.

Master of Forensic Science Degree Programs

Pursuing a Master of Forensic Science degree is a way to prepare for a career in the field and the work force in a mid- or upper-level position. Forensic scientists who work in labs do not need work experience when they have the proper training to start working with DNA and ballistics after obtaining a Master of Forensic Science. This work experience is gained while attending school and learning how to analyze specimens.

Many Master of Forensic Science programs are offered online as well as at traditional campus universities. For students who work full time and currently work in a career in forensic science, an online master’s program may be the right fit for you. All course work is done online. Interaction with other students is done via forums and message boards and meetings to work on your thesis may be conducted online with your professor. You may have to conduct research for lab work at a campus lab nearby or at an independent lab. You will have to find what works with your schedule and how many lab hours are required to complete a Master of Forensic Science for your particular program.

What do Forensic Scientists Do?

There have been many advancements in the world of forensic science and a master’s degree in the subject prepares you for a technology-driven career analyzing specimens and putting together the story of what happened. You will learn micro analytical methods, how to investigate a scene, toxicology, trace and DNA analysis. You will also learn chemistry, how to reconstruct the scene and fire and arson investigation. Most Master of Forensic Science programs also place extensive study on substance abuse and alcohol impairment. This helps a forensic scientist piece together the puzzle when working on crime scene investigations that may involve parties participating in drug or alcohol use.

Often those with an extensive background in chemistry seek their Master of Forensic Science degree. A four year forensic science degree does provide one with the basics to work as a forensic scientist, but with the bulk of the course work being spent on basic science, there is not always ample time to thoroughly delve into forensic science. It is for this reason that some experts suggest an undergrad degree in chemistry, which is widely applicable in forensics and other fields.

Technology has played a huge role in the advancement of forensic science. What was being done by lab techs 10 years ago to assess a case is now being done by computers, giving forensic scientists the ability to use critical thinking skills to solve a case much faster. The conclusions made by computers regarding DNA and impressions are so prevalent in most criminal cases that forensic scientists are high in demand due to the value of their expert opinion on a case. Many are asked to testify to offer their expertise and explain to juries how and why a piece of physical evidence comes into play.

Jobs to Seek after Earning a Master of Forensic Science?

There are many aspects to forensic science. An undergraduate degree in chemistry or engineering is the most beneficial in conjunction with a Master of Forensic Science and can lead to numerous lucrative career opportunities. With these undergrad degrees you will also be able to get a job doing other things if you cannot find a job working forensic science. Because of high crime, this is a field that is set to grow. A number of states such as Texas, California and Illinois are hiring large numbers of forensic scientists.

Forensic Engineer

To work as a forensic engineer, you must have an undergraduate degree in engineering in addition to your Master of Forensic Science. Forensic engineers deal with product liability in many cases. You deal with testing products or finding out why products malfunctioned and caused injury. Many private companies employ forensic engineers. Forensic engineers work with product development teams to create products that will not be recalled and cannot become a liability due to a customer getting hurt while using the product. Forensic engineers are also brought in to civil suits when a product is in question in terms of safety. Both private companies, private investigators and the government will use forensic engineers in court to offer their expert opinion on the mechanics of an item and its potential to cause injury. Overall, forensic science technicians earn a mean wage of $55,040, as of May 2008, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Forensic Psychologist (Profiler)

In this position, you must have an extensive psychology background such as an undergraduate degree in the subject. A criminology undergrad degree will also be useful for this position (along with your Master of Forensic Science) with an emphasis in psychology. With a Master of Forensic Science, you become a prime candidate to work as a forensic psychologist or psychological profiler for the police department or other law enforcement agency. This position involves using both quantitative and qualitative behavioral analysis to understand those involved. Keep in mind the job of a forensic psychologist is not as it’s portrayed on television. There are a limited number of jobs for psychological profiling as most stay at their job for a number of years and are well-acquainted with the team they work with. Psychologists in the employ of state governments earned a median salary of $63,710 as of May 2008, according to The Bureau of Labor Statistics. The wage data is not broken down finely enough to give a more specific number applying to only forensic psychologists, but the BLS does provide ballpark wage figures for psychologists in various types of facilities and specialties.

Classes and Curriculum in Master of Forensic Science Programs

The above sections concentrated mostly on what you’ll do in a career in forensic science, but how do you get there? The classes you need to take in a Master of Forensic Science program can be flexible depending on your personal interests within the field, and which career path you want to pursue after graduation, but, as with any graduate degree program, there are specific skills you absolutely need to learn, and core classes that teach those skills. Some of the core classes in a forensic science program are:

  • Physical and Biological Evidence: Learning to gather and analyze evidence from crime scenes, categorize it and prepare it for use in legal proceedings, and the ethics and standards of interpretation that go with these activities, form the body of work for this class.
  • Principals of Forensic Toxicology: The practice of analyzing common drugs and knowing their medical and legal implications is called toxicology, and since the involvement of drugs, legal or otherwise, is so relevant to many investigations, forensic scientists need to know about and be able to use toxicology techniques.
  • Instrumental Analysis: Using machinery and scientific instruments to analyze physical and biological evidence is a large part of a forensic scientist’s work. Spectrophotometry, chemical compound analysis, and materials identification are all taught to forensic science students.
  • Molecular Biology for Forensic Scientists: DNA analysis and the use of blood, hair, and tissue to identify parties relevant to a particular investigation all fall under the umbrella of molecular biology. Learning to identify and analyze possibly minute biological samples for use as evidence are the main purposes for forensic science programs to include molecular biology courses.

Application and Acceptance into Forensic Science Programs

You almost definitely need a bachelor’s degree in some field before you can get into a Master of Forensic Science program, but since you’re looking at online master’s degrees, you probably already have that covered. The first step toward finding the right forensic science program for you is getting in touch with a few schools and getting detailed information about their course offerings, degree timelines, and costs. The following list of links can get you started communicating with some top accredited online universities that offer forensic science programs, and from there, there’s no limit on your education and career potential.