Forensic detectives, also called forensic scientists, collect, record and analyze evidence related to crimes. Often, this job involves going to crime scenes to collect evidence, take photographs and record details important to solving the crime. In the lab, professionals in this field identify, test, record and analyze evidence. They also reconstruct crimes in order to solve them. Forensic detectives work in the justice system, consulting with other experts and law enforcement officials.
You will typically need a bachelor's degree to become a forensic detective. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, an undergraduate science degree will prepare you for this job. However, some forensic detective jobs may require you to earn a master's degree or Ph.D. No matter which degree you choose, the AAFS recommends that you take courses in composition and mathematics in addition to sciences like biology and chemistry. Taking criminology and medical technology courses might also help you qualify for this job.
You need good communication, organizational and analytical skills to become a forensic detective. An understanding of medical terminology and causes of death is also critical for this career. Likewise, you'll need to keep accurate notes and take clear digital photographs to document crime scenes and case specimens. Developing advanced computer skills may also prove helpful for this career, as you typically have to use computers for researching, processing data and creating reports. In addition, you'll need the ability to remain calm and composed, even in the face of unpleasant or disturbing investigations.
Depending on the employer, you may qualify for a forensic detective job without any prior experience. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, many people develop applicable skills and gain relevant experience by completing apprenticeships under the supervision of seasoned forensic detectives. Such apprenticeships will train you in investigative and specimen collection procedures. In addition, many employers provide on-the-job training in forensic lab work.
Some colleges and universities do offer forensic science degrees. However, the Florida State University School of Criminal Justice and Criminology advises against choosing this type of degree instead of a science degree in a field like biology or chemistry. According to FSU's Dale Nute, during periods of fierce competition and fewer job openings, you might have trouble finding a job with a forensic degree. A science degree might prove more marketable.
Jordan Meyers has been a writer for 13 years, specializing in businesses, educational and health topics. Meyers holds a Bachelor of Science in biology from the University of Maryland and once survived writing 500 health product descriptions in just 24 hours.