Text compiled from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) website and the UH Mānoa 2013-2014 Catalog.
Forensic Science Programs in Hawai`i: Bachelor of Science and Master of Science in Forensic Sciences at Chaminade University
For available certificates: PAC’s Health Degrees Directory.
Forensics is more of a field than a specific profession. Forensic scientists come from a wide variety of professions – technicians, researchers, dentists, law enforcement officers, document specialists, medical doctors – and work closely with law enforcement agencies to analyze criminal cases. The term “forensic” derives from the Latin forensis, referring to the public forum of arguing legal cases before a court of law.
Forensic scientists help build legal cases by determining cause and time of death and presence or absence of criminal action. Specialists include forensic entomologists, who use knowledge of insects and their habitat to determine time and location of death; forensic toxicologists, who analyze body fluids for evidence of alcohol, drugs or poisons; and forensic odontologists, who compare dental records with remains to identify a body.
Some forensic scientists attend crime scenes, but most work in laboratories, offices, and morgues. Depending on their educational background, forensic scientists may perform autopsies, analyze DNA and dental remains, or create toxicology reports. Forensic specialists may also be called to testify as witnesses in court trials.
Forensic scientists work for federal, state and local government, private forensic laboratories, hospitals, universities, police departments, coroner offices, and as independent consultants. Employment positions include medical examiners, coroners, laboratory scientists, and independent consultants.
The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) divides Forensic Science into the following eleven specializations:
Criminalistics. Criminalists are trained to collect, examine, and interpret physical evidence and usually work at crime scenes. Responsibilities include examining hair, fibers, blood, alcohol, drugs, paint, glass, and flammables; restoring smeared or smudged markings; identifying firearms; and comparing bullets, tool markings, and foot prints. Using chemicals and instruments, criminalists separate important from irrelevant evidence. Typical foundational professions include medical technology, chemistry, microbiology, and physics; degrees range from bachelor’s to doctorate.
Digital & Multimedia Sciences. Digital & multimedia sciences professionals help develop the scientific foundations for the practice of digital forensics, including research and publication, or they may manage digital forensic laboratories. Depending on the specialty, these professionals may discover and prove facts concerning digital device examinations, network analysis, and comparison of digitized numerals, images, and analog/digital audio and video, to name a few. Typical foundational professions include computer science, information technology, and engineering; degrees range from bachelor’s to doctorate.
Engineering Sciences. Forensic engineers provide evidence for legal issues around structural analysis, including accident reconstruction, causes and origins of fires or explosions, quality evaluation of construction or manufacturing, and maintenance problems. Typical foundational professions include engineering, chemistry, and physics; degrees range from bachelor’s to doctorate.
General. General forensic scientists specialize in laboratory investigation, field investigation, clinical work, computer investigation, research, and other emerging forensic science disciplines. General forensic scientists are employed in numerous areas of forensic activity, including administration, archaeology, computer science, marine biology, social work, and speech science. Typical foundational professions include law enforcement, information and computer science, medical technology, chemistry, anthropology, marine biology, social work, psychology, speech pathology and audiology, etc.; degrees range from associate’s to doctorate.
Jurisprudence. Prosecutors, defense attorneys, and judges often work with forensic evidence and must call upon expert witnesses to give testimony in criminal and civil cases. These legal professionals must be aware of the laws and standards that dictate the admissibility of forensic evidence in court proceedings. A typical foundational profession is jurisprudence; the most typical degree is the Juris Doctor (JD).
Odontology. Forensic odontologists identify the human remains of missing and unknown persons using their dental records. These specialists are involved in autopsy examinations and conduct bite mark analysis in cases of assault, rape, and homicide. Injury analysis concerning the presence or extent of injury or physical neglect may also fall within the scope of forensic odontology. A typical foundational profession is dentistry; degrees include the Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) and Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS).
Pathology/Biology. Forensic pathologists investigate crime scenes and perform autopsies to determine the cause of a person’s death. They work closely with other forensic science professionals, including criminalists, forensic odontologists, forensic anthropologists, and toxicologists. A typical foundational profession is medicine. Depending on the area of specialization, degrees range from associate’s to doctorate; the most typical degrees are the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Physical Anthropology. Forensic anthropologists document the age, gender, stature, race, and other characteristics of skeletal remains. Forensic anthropologists are often skilled in facial reproduction (modeling how a face may have appeared) and can estimate the amount of time elapsed since death by examining the degree of body decomposition and insect remains (entomology). Typical foundational professions include anthropology and medicine; typical degrees include the Doctor of Medicine (MD) and Doctor of Philosophy (PhD).
Psychiatry & Behavioral Science. Forensic psychiatrists and psychologists are involved with legal issues such as an individual’s criminal responsibility, competence to cooperate with an attorney, capacity to abide by terms of probation, and degree of future dangerousness. Typical foundational professions include medicine and psychology; degrees include the master’s, Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and Doctor of Medicine (MD).
Questioned Documents. Document examiners or materials specialists analyze documents and related materials, including ink, paper, toner, and ribbons. Document examiners answer questions regarding manufacturing sources, similarities or differences between documents, production dates, and date of use. Typical foundational professions include chemistry, physics, and history; degrees range from bachelor’s to doctorate.
Toxicology. Forensic toxicologists are concerned with whether prescription or illegal drugs and/or alcohol lead or contributed to the person’s death or to a crime. There are several areas of specialization: postmortem toxicologists determine the contribution of drugs or other chemicals to the circumstances of the death, while others work with law enforcement agencies to investigate crimes in which drug or alcohol use may be a factor. Typical foundational professions include chemistry, medical technology, pharmacology (medicine), and pharmacy. Degrees range from bachelor’s to doctorate; typical degrees include the (Doctor of Medicine (MD), Doctor of Philosophy (PhD), and Doctor of Pharmacy (PharmD).
Forensic Science Programs
Forensic science is an umbrella term that describes the application of varies fields to criminal investigations. Consequently, there is no “typical” timeline: each career within forensic science has its own unique path and educational requirements. Training can begin at the associate’s or bachelor’s level, but most forensic careers require graduate degrees and/or additional certification. In every career, higher degrees offer greater opportunities for promotion, assignment opportunities, administrative and managerial work, and higher salaries. More information can be found on the AAFS website.
Prerequisites for Admission
Most importantly, remember that requirements vary from school to school! You must research to create a list of all the prerequisites you will need to apply to the schools you are interested in attending. Forensic scientists usually hold at least a bachelor’s degree in the natural and/or social sciences. Common majors include anthropology, biology, chemistry, computer science, medical technology, microbiology, physics, plant and environmental biotechnology, psychology, and sociology.
What makes a strong candidate?
Schools need to be certain that the students they accept are capable of completing the curriculum and are likely to become good forensic scientists.
Are you capable of completing the curriculum?
Admissions committees seek students who have:
- completed the prerequisites
- a high overall GPA
- a high major GPA
- performed well on an entrance exam
- balanced their course load so it is challenging yet realistic
Are you likely to become a good forensic scientist?
Admissions committees seek students who have:
- demonstrated empathy, compassion, and a commitment to public service
- high ethical and moral standards and a conscientious work ethic
- intellectual curiosity and a meticulous attention to detail
- demonstrated maturity (judgment, responsibility, dependability)
- high adaptability, ingenuity, and imagination in solving problems
- a broad liberal arts education that includes the humanities and social sciences
- experience in the field and with what forensic science entails
- a well-rounded life that balances academics, community service, social activities, and personal interests (hobbies, skills, sports, etc.)
- excellent oral and written communication skills
- strong letters of recommendation
Students planning to attend professional or graduate school will need to take the entrance exam(s) required by their prospective schools, which may include any of the following: Dental Admission Test (DAT), Graduate Record Examination (GRE), Law School Admission Test (LSAT), or Medical College Admission Test (MCAT).
UH Mānoa’s Pre-Health/Pre-Law Advising Center (PAC) has reference books, lists of volunteer opportunities, academic planning worksheets, and one-on-one advising by peers who can help you prepare for a career in forensic science.
|UHM’s Biology Club||www2.hawaii.edu/~bioclub
|UHM’s Chemistry Club||www2.hawaii.edu/~chemclub
|UHM’s Mānoa Pre-Law Association (MPLA)|
|UHM’s Pre-Medical Association (PMA)|
|UHM’s Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA)|
|UHM’s Pre-Dental Association (PDA)|
|UHM’s Engineering Clubs (Multiple)|
|American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS)|
|Directory of Accredited Forensic Science Education Programs||www.aafs.org/accredited|
|National Center for Forensic Science||www.ncfs.org|
|Florida State University Internet Pathology Laboratory for Medical Education (examples of cases)||library.med.utah.edu/WebPath/webpath.html|
|Preparing for Graduate School by the Honors Program||http://preparingforgraduateschool.weebly.com/|