Murder House: Careers in CSI

A career in Crime Scene Investigation

Television, movies and crime novels have brought on an explosion of interest in the field of crime scene investigation.  A career in the field of Forensic Science does require some demanding education and strong personal characteristics.  Here’s some background on what you need to know to get into the C.S.I. field or as one of the specialists who use science in the fight against crime.

The basics:  What do you need to get into the field?

Here’s the minimum skills you’ll need to start a career in criminal investigation, according to The Forensics Sciences Foundation:

  • A bachelor's degree — get one in science; some forensic sciences require advanced degrees; take chemistry, biology, math, English composition.  (However the more science and the more specialized you get in a field the greater the chance you will need a Masters Degree as well!)
  • Good speaking skills — take public speaking, join the drama club, Toastmasters, the debate team
  • Good note-taking skills — you can't subscribe to a service or depend on Cliffs Notes in real life!
  • The ability to write an understandable scientific report
  • Intellectual curiosity
  • Personal integrity

Are there jobs available in Criminal Forensics? 

Yes, but it depends on what area you hope to get into.  And the pay can very greatly depending on your specialty and amount of education.

About 840,000 hold jobs as police officers and detectives, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  About 80 percent were employed by cities and towns and another 12 percent in state level police agencies.  Various federal agencies employed about 6 percent.  Employment of police and detectives is expected to grow as long as there is continued concern for homeland security and stopping illegal drugs.  However the Department of Labor adds that “employment growth will be hindered by reductions in Federal hiring grants to local police departments.”

You had better be prepared to compete for the job.  Dr. Daniel Strydom the Director of Laboratory Forensic Sciences at Nebraska Wesleyan University told us that “applications are at a 50 to 100:1 ratio to the number of positions in State criminalistics laboratories” across the country.

There are also jobs available in private companies providing investigators on contract, lab work and Private detectives.  The Department of Labor estimates that there are around 43,000 of these jobs.  It is not clear how many of these jobs are specifically related to criminal forensics, since the category also includes private security services.  Three are signs that the employment of private detectives and investigators is growing faster than other areas of the economy in general and law enforcement over all.  Not only fear of crime and increased litigation will lead to the increased demand for forensic investigators but the prevention of industrial spying and the proliferation of criminal activity on the Internet, such as identity theft, will boost need for people in those specialties.  There will likely be lots of competition because of the large number of qualified people who are attracted to this occupation.   

Clip 1: Dr. Melissa Connor, Director of the Forensic Science Program, discusses what kind of education she recommends for students interested in getting into C.S.I. work.


Clip 2: Larry Barksdale, veteran crime investigator with the Lincoln, Nebraska Police Department, talks about how training for detectives and investigators has changed over the years.

Clip 3: Christine Gabig, Trace Evidence Analyst for the Douglas County (NE) Sheriff's Department, gives advice to students wanting to get into the field.