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What Is Forensic Science?
Thanks to the popularity of television shows such as CSI and Bones, more people than ever are becoming interested in pursuing a career in forensic science. While these and other shows offer an inside look at criminal investigation, they don’t provide a complete definition of what forensic science really is. In the simplest terms, forensic science involves the application of scientific principles to identify evidence and analyze it for the purposes of solving a crime. Forensic science draws on a wide range of the physical sciences, including chemistry, biology, and physics, as well as some of the social sciences, such as psychology and anthropology.

Forensic Science Degree Specialties

Forensic scientists use their knowledge and skills to work in a variety of specialty areas. Forensic pathologists, for example, are responsible for examining human remains to establish an individual’s identity, find the cause of death, and determine whether or not the death was the result of a criminal act. In cases where identifying the body is difficult because of the condition of the remains, a forensic anthropologist or odontologist may be called in to offer their expertise. Forensic toxicologists examine blood and tissue samples to detect the presence of drugs or other chemicals while forensic technicians may scour a crime scene to collect blood, hair, DNA, fibers, fingerprints, and other evidence. Forensic scientists work in crime labs, medical examiner’s offices, morgues, colleges, universities, and hospitals.

Computer Forensics Degree

Anybody working in computer forensics has a similar job to other forensic specialist but the main difference is that they focus on digital evidence instead of physical evidence. Working in computer forensics will require you to use investigative tactics with different digital devices to find pieces of evidence that will be used in actual court. So you will need to know the investigative tactics to find that evidence and also know how to put it into the correct format for court presentation.

Computer Forensics Education Requirements

You will need to know the procedures involved around computer forensics. For example, a common practice is to download the piece of digital evidence into a copy and then investigate that evidence within the copy.

As with many government jobs, you could be subject to a background check and could be denied employment if you have an arrest record. From an education perspective, the expectations will vary on the hiring agency/company on the level of degree that might be required.

Outside of information technology based four year degrees, there are also different certification programs available too. You will just need to make sure that those certification programs will suffice the requirements of the agency you hare applying to. There are also other agencies that will accept a private investigator license combined with a solid work experience background.

What Does a Computer Forensics Specialist Do?

As a computer forensics specialist, you can also expect to present your findings in a courtroom setting. So you will not only need the digital and technology expertise but solid communication skills to convey those findings to the concerning parties.

As technology continues to change, so will your educational background. You might want to pursue different certifications with digital forensic toolkits which can help increase your knowledge around computer forensics while helping build your expertise portfolio. These tools can perform what are standard forensic activities (and things you will need to understand) like:

  • Imaging a Drive: This is the practice of taking all of the contents of a drive and putting them into a single file on another drive.
  • Cell Phone Data Extraction: The practice of being able to extract any applicable information from a cell phone.
  • Deleted File Recovery: The tool should be able to recover any of the desired and applicable deleted files .

Not every tool operates the same way which is why before you purchase, train, or become certified with that tool you understand it has capabilities. The National Institute of Standards and Technology have put together a handbook that actually have tested several different tools and how they perform some of those core functions we just mentioned. It could be a requirement that you understand how to use these tools both in the beginning or later on in your computer forensics career.

Computer Forensics Career Outlook

As we do with all of our other career profiles, we like to make sure that our users understand both the current condition with computer forensics and also the future one as well. We pulled ONET statistics for Information Security Analysts which could slightly vary from computer forensics but is likely the most related from the available selections within ONET.

  • The hourly median wage as of 2014 is estimated at $42.74 ($88,890 annually)
  • As of 2012, it is estimated that there are 75,000 Information Security Analyst employees.
  • The projected growth from 2012-2022 is estimated to be much faster than average (which according to ONET means over 22%)
  • During that same time period, it is estimated that there will be 39,200 job openings.

The estimated growth is high but we always encourage people to find what their state breakdown is as that can vary greatly by location.

Computer Forensics Tech Daily Activities

The daily activities could vary greatly depending on what is needed that day and also the type of employment you have. Some digital forensic specialists operate as independent business owners which can make their daily activities vary greatly. Some general daily activities can include (but are not limited to):

  • Working on the desktop computer and extracting data
  • Moving whatever forensic findings into a presentable fashion for court
  • Providing an expert analysis to a courtroom of the digital findings
  • Data storage and backing up or copying files

This is only a micro of what could be required of you. If you are working for the FBI, you could be doing any one of these things multiple times throughout the day if you have multiple cases. The pace will be fast and likely require you to multi-task between those different cases.

Becoming a Forensic Scientist

The type of education you’ll need to begin a career as a forensic scientist generally depends on which specialty area you’re interested in. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, it’s best to begin with at least a four-year degree in one of the social or physical sciences. More advanced positions will require additional education. For example, a career in forensic anthropology may mean earning a master’s or doctoral degree. Forensic pathologists will need to earn a Doctor of Medicine (MD) degree while forensic odontologists need to complete their DDS or Doctor of Dental Science. Depending on which career path you choose, it could take anywhere from four to twelve years to complete your education and training.

Career Outlook for Forensic Scientists

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that employment in the forensic sciences should experience a healthy increase through 2020. Demand for forensic science technicians is expected to grow by 19 percent while employment of anthropologists is expected to increase by 22 percent. Employment of physicians, including forensic pathologists is projected to increase by 24 percent. The annual median wage for careers in the forensic sciences varies widely. In 2010, forensic science technicians earned a median wage of $51,570 per year while pathologists could earn more than $100,000 per year, depending on experience.

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