Made popular in recent years by television shows like “CSI,” crime lab analysts were once an unknown part of the forensic work done to solve crimes. Crime lab analysts are forensic scientists and utilize chemicals and visual analysis to recreate scenarios based upon pieces of evidence like spent bullets, fingerprints, and microscopic pieces of evidence found at crime scenes. Once primarily employed by the government, crime lab analysts have spread to a variety of other employers like hospitals and privately run laboratories.
As is not surprising with a scientific specialty that requires a college education, forensic science technicians may expect to earn a median salary of more than $52,000 a year, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). That works out to around $25 an hour. Overall, crime lab analysts perform well for income when compared against other life and physical science technicians which tend to sit at an average of just over $41,000 a year. A crime lab analyst’s median salary is also much higher than median wages for all occupations, which sit around $34,000 a year.
According to further salary data provided by the BLS, the expected salary of a new crime lab analyst may start around $32,200, which equals the pay of the lowest 10 percent of earners. The low end of the scale for salary usually represents workers who don’t have significant experience and are new to the profession or recently graduated forensic science technicians. On the other hand, once a technician works in the industry for several years, top earning potential may reach over $85,000, so there’s a lot of room for growth.
The work of a crime laboratory analyst will vary depending on whether the analyst is knowledgeable in a large, general area of forensic investigation or whether he or she has decided to specialize. An analyst’s employer may dictate whether specialization is necessary, and workers who want to earn higher wages may consider specialization as a route to a better salary. A crime laboratory analyst may even be called in for testimony during a trial, so becoming knowledgeable about trial basics and testifying may also be important.
Generally, analysts work often with DNA, while other analysts may work with weapons gathered at the crime scene as evidence, as well as in chemistry when toxicology reports are necessary to determine whether any controlled substances were at work in the crime. Subjects future crime lab analysts will study in school include chemistry, biology, fingerprinting, toxicology, and various investigations on psychology.
An interest in chemistry and biology, as well as other related areas of science, are useful for students looking for work as a crime lab analyst. Beyond the scientific knowledge and theory required of the job, analysts must also know how to create reports on findings that may be used by law enforcement or in a court of law during a trial. These reports require that analysts have good communication and writing skills.
A crime lab analyst will also need to learn how to testify in court, which may require learning to speak in public and communicate effectively on complex topics. Crime lab analysts must also have strong attention to detail and be willing to work slowly and carefully to ensure accurate results of investigations. Crime lab analysts must not only work well with other people, but they must also be able to perform well on their own while conducting lengthy crime scene investigations.
Degree and Education Requirements
At a minimum, a crime lab analyst must possess a bachelor’s degree, but some types of employment may require a job applicant also has a master’s degree. In addition, specialized training may be necessary if an analyst chooses to work for a lab that handles a specific type of investigation. A look at the curriculum of a chosen program is a good way to figure out whether a bachelor’s degree will offer the classes and topics necessary or whether further education may be necessary.
Beyond the classic topics of biology, chemistry, fingerprinting, and firearms identification, other subjects that may be valuable to a crime lab analyst include anthropology and zoology. In addition, entomology, which is the study of bugs, and botany, which is the study of plants, may also be helpful. In most cases, an internship taken near the conclusion of study in a bachelor’s degree program will help a future crime lab analyst find a specialty and the “on the job” knowledge required to work in an area of the student’s personal interests.
Rewards and Challenges of the Crime Lab Analyst
Crime lab analysts are an interesting hybrid of scientific knowledge and investigation techniques, so anyone with an interest in science who also enjoys solving problems will enjoy the work of a crime lab analyst. There are also many different types of focuses for the profession, so it’s possible to specialize in some incredibly varied areas like firearms, DNA analysis, and blood splatter analysis.
One of the challenges of becoming a crime scene analyst is that the profession is not on a trajectory of rapid growth, according to statistics compiled by the BLS. Forensic science technicians are only expected to see around 6% growth in the next decade, which is less than the 11% average expected for all professions. Because of the popularity of crime scene investigations, competition is expected to be fairly tough for new workers.
The competition present in the industry means that future crime lab analysts must be able to present expertise or specialized knowledge to find work. At the very least, a crime lab analyst needs to be prepared to go to a four-year college and obtain a bachelor’s degree, but further study may very well be required. Upon graduation and as the search for work begins, a crime lab analyst may want to get to know the accreditation procedures of the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors, which is an industry organization for crime laboratories.
Anyone who chooses to study to become a crime lab analyst should be prepared for some serious competition for jobs. Maintaining an excellent GPA, enrolling in an appropriate internship, and building valuable professional connections during school is the best way to enhance job prospects after graduation.
Crime lab analysts perform a diverse role in solving crimes, and anyone interested in science and other related topics should investigate the profession. Analysts may even cross over into other fields within industrial applications or become associated with academic research to help advance the profession.
You may also like: