Careers in criminalistics are surging in popularity, particularly among young women. "They continue to fill the ranks of various laboratories," Penn State forensic science professor Jennifer Smith writes. "It's one of the areas of science in which women outnumber men." Women who want to work in criminalistics have a number of career options available, both in the public and private sectors.
Crimes are solved by interpreting the evidence left at the scene to determine the who, what and why of the matter. According to the American Academy of Forensic Scientists, the criminalist's role in this process is "to objectively apply the techniques of the physical and natural sciences to examine physical evidence." Criminalists are, first and foremost, scientists; they often have bachelor's degrees in chemistry, biology, physics or molecular biology, or in forensic science. Most criminalists begin their careers as bench scientists, working either in forensic science labs or other occupations. The American Academy of Forensic Scientists recommends certification with the American Academy of Criminalistics for scientists who wish to work as criminalists.
Criminalistics Careers in Criminal Justice
Not surprisingly, most criminalists work in public sector criminal justice jobs. Larger police departments, including state and local policing agencies and sheriff's offices, often employ forensic scientists, as do district attorney's offices in bigger areas. Regional and state crime labs and state medical examiners' offices also have forensics labs staffed with criminalists and forensic scientists. On the federal level, agencies including the Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Central Intelligence Agency and the Drug Enforcement Administration are among agencies that employ criminalists.
Public Sector Criminalistics Careers
Not all public sector criminalists work in what most people think of as criminal justice careers.The U.S. Postal Service, branches of the military and the United States Fish and Wildlife Service are some lesser-known career avenues. Public colleges and universities also employ criminalists, usually in teaching and research.
Private Sector Criminalists
The demand for criminalists in the private sector may be smaller than in the public sector, but many career options are available -- sometimes on the other side of the law. Independent forensic crime labs, often catering to attorneys and private investigators, employ forensic scientists, sometimes in the capacity of re-interpreting public policing agencies' analysis of crime scene evidence. Some insurance companies also have their own forensic labs or contract with private labs for criminalist services. Private colleges and universities are another option.
- Digital Vision./Photodisc/Getty Images