Forensic Scientist Vs. CSI Forensic Scientist

Crime scene investigators collect and catalog evidence.
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Crime scene investigators collect and catalog evidence.

Forensic science is a flourishing field, especially for women. According to an August 2012 article in The Washington Post, unlike other scientific disciplines, forensic science will likely be led by females. And William Whilden, who started the forensic sciences program at George Washington University, says that 90 percent of his students are female. Both forensic scientists and CSI forensic scientists play a crucial role in forensic science; however, there are distinct differences between the two.

CSU Forensic Scientist Duties

CSI forensics scientists, more commonly known as crime scene investigators, decide which evidence to collect, determine the methodology and catalog such items as weapons and fingerprints. In addition to making written notes, they photograph evidence and sketch the crime scene. This evidence is then taken to the crime laboratory for processing by forensic lab technicians.

Forensic Scientist Duties

Forensic scientists work in a laboratory setting to examine evidence collected by CSI forensic scientists. Forensic lab scientists use chemical and physical analyses to identify evidence and establish a link between suspects and criminal acts. They evaluate DNA, fingerprints and blood splatters, in addition to performing ballistics tests.

Job Variety

While crime scene investigation is a limited branch of forensic science, laboratory forensic scientists have a variety of specialties to choose from. For example, some forensic scientists specialize in digital and multimedia sciences. These individuals enhance video footage to identify suspects and victims, examine computers to determine if files have been deleted or modified and establish timelines of computer usage. Other forensic scientists may specialize in engineering sciences and are able to answer such questions as why a vehicle rolled over, an airplane crashed or a building collapsed. Forensic toxicologists determine if alcohol or illegal drugs contributed to a person’s death. Forensic science is a growing field for women, who account for nearly 50 percent of the membership the American Society of Crime Lab Directors board, according to a May 2013 Penn State University article, "Probing Question: Do Women Dominate the Field of Forensic Science?" It notes the majority of technical and bench positions at larger federal labs are filled by women.

Educational Requirement

Crime scene investigators need a degree in forensic science or a natural science, although many crime scene investigators start as police officers. Laboratory forensic scientists usually need a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, chemistry, biology, mathematics or a related field. Some specialties have other requirements. For example, forensic scientists in engineering sciences generally need an engineering degree. Forensic toxicologists usually have a bachelor’s degree in a physical science, but many also take graduate courses in toxicology, and may obtain a master’s or a Ph.D. in toxicology.

2016 Salary Information for Forensic Science Technicians

Forensic science technicians earned a median annual salary of $56,750 in 2016, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. On the low end, forensic science technicians earned a 25th percentile salary of $42,710, meaning 75 percent earned more than this amount. The 75th percentile salary is $74,220, meaning 25 percent earn more. In 2016, 15,400 people were employed in the U.S. as forensic science technicians.

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