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Frequently Asked Questions
1. What is forensic science? Forensic science is the application of science to the law. Because there are many sciences, there are many forensic sciences. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) currently has 10 sections representing different fields of the forensic sciences, but the 11 sections do not represent all the possible fields. Another name for forensic science is Criminalistics—both terms have been applied to humanities (non-physical or –natural science) based Criminal Justice programs.
3. Who should be a forensic science major? Our forensic science major is for anyone who 1) has an interest in science applied to legal processes; 2) would like a science background to supplement their interest in criminal justice; 3) likes science but cannot yet identify a specific scientific field of interest. Students should be able to maintain a C average or better. Although the forensic science program does not do background checks on its students, applicants should have no criminal record or history of controlled substance abuse.
4. What do you mean by "have no criminal history"? Criminal records and histories are verified by a background check. Even when charges are not filed there is still a history, and that must be declared. Crime lab employees frequently must also undergo a polygraph test to verify the criminal history.
5. What counts as abuse of controlled substances? If you use illegal drugs, such as marijuana, heroin, cocaine, ecstasy, inhalants, etc., you will not qualify for a career in a crime lab. This rule is so strict that even a single use may exclude you from a position in a crime lab—if a comparable applicant has never used an illegal drug, his or her application will have priority. Law enforcement agencies (police, sheriff, etc.) may allow single/reformed users to qualify if sufficient time has passed since that use. Habitual users should not apply.
6. I have a juvenile record. Won't it stay sealed? It might stay sealed against a background check, but that may depend on the laws and practices of individual states. However, your juvenile activities may be exposed in a polygraph exam (although testers caution the subject to stick to adult history). If you are interested in crime lab work inquire early about the nature of the background check to see if you qualify for employment.
7. Do I have to disclose my juvenile record? If you are asked "Have you ever used/done something," then you MUST provide a true response. Ever means at any time in your life, so you may have to disclose juvenile behaviors. Individuals considering a career in the forensic sciences or other careers requiring a background check may have to disclose conduct before being attached to a polygraph, and failure to do so indicates dishonesty—not a good quality in a security field.
8. Is the program accredited? Yes, because UND is an accredited university. The program is accredited as part of this accredited University. An accreditation body (FEPAC) for forensic science education programs exists in association with the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. FEPAC accreditation is not required for education in the forensic sciences (unlike accreditation for medical programs) although this could change. There is more FEPAC information further into the FAQ. As soon as the UND forensic science program is ready to apply we will apply for FEPAC accreditation.
9. I understand that jobs are competitive. Have any of your graduates been employed in crime labs? Yes, both locally and out of state. Most of these students followed the equivalent of the Evidence Analyst track for the program, and obtained internships before they graduated. Forensic Science students in the technician track have also been hired in law enforcement and corrections positions. To our knowledge we currently have alumni employed in the states of North Dakota, Minnesota, Arkansas, California and Colorado.
10. If a biology, chemistry, or other science degree can get you into a crime lab, why major in forensic science? Science programs, such as biology and chemistry, do not typically include criminal procedure training (inspect a few biology or chemistry curricula for criminal justice courses). Therefore graduates with these bachelor degrees usually have had no criminal procedure training or practice with basic evidence analysis techniques. Forensic science programs remove this lack. Also some upper division criminal justice courses, such as here at UND, may be restricted to majors and unavailable to interested chemistry majors, for example.
11. I'm interested in forensic __________. Should I join a forensic science program? Yes and no. Many fields requiring a higher degree (e.g., Ph.D.) for expert testimony can be accessed without a forensic science program. Forensic pathology, odontology, anthropology, and various aspects of biology, and toxicology, to name a few, do not require specialization in forensic science until the last years of education, if ever (for example, forensic pathology requires a 1 year internship after the medical degree is acquired). However, employers and graduate schools may favor applicants who have exposure to criminal procedure and law, especially for people with chemistry/biology degrees who are interested in evidence analysis. Your options depend on the field you are interested in. Crime scene technician—join a forensic science program. Entry level crime laboratory analyst—join a forensic science program. Medical examiner—join pre-med or double major pre-med and forensic science. Forensic anthropology—major in anthropology and specialize at the doctoral level. Forensic computer analyst—be a computer science major and join the American Academy of Forensic Sciences in your undergraduate career.
12. Do I have to be a sworn officer to be a crime scene technician? Many states (and other areas under U.S. jurisdictions) require evidence technicians to be sworn officers. North Dakota and Minnesota have this requirement. Check with the law enforcement agencies of the state in which you are interested to find out what their requirements are.
13. Are there jobs available in forensic science? Yes and no. There is a large need for skilled employees due to improvements in crime lab facilities, increase in drug trade-related crime, increase in expectation for scientific analysis of evidence, and the DNA backlog, but job availability depends frequently on the resources of state governments. Some careers have more jobs available than others—chemists tend to leave crime lab positions, so these jobs open more frequently. On the other hand, anthropology positions tend to be in universities and can be rarer. If in doubt, be a chemist. Eventually DNA jobs may have similar private sector availability.
14. What salaries are available to forensic scientists? Salaries will vary by forensic field and state of employment. For example, forensic pathologists typically make over $100,000 per year. Forensic anthropologists make from $100,000 to $60,000 per year. Salaries for individuals with bachelors degrees in forensic science will vary significantly depending on the location of employment, anywhere from $24,000 to $60,000. To learn about the range of salaries, visit the American Academy of Forensic Sciences website, www.aafs.org, and follow the employment link. Read the job descriptions both for salary postings and for information on the qualities desired in job applicants.
15. What do I do if I cannot find a forensic science job immediately after finishing my bachelor's degree? *There are no guarantees of employment after completing any academic program of any type. However, always remember that your bachelor's of science degree means that you will have a science background in a country (the USA) that has to import its scientists to meet the demand for research, industry, and education. You will realize this fact when you have a science instructor who was originally from China, India, or another country. Consider seeking employment in other areas that require a science background, such as science education or as a lab technician in private industry. Another option is to pursue graduate school in your scientific interest. Your goal should be to maintain your scientific training while applying for forensic jobs as they become available. See the next question for more advice.
16. How should I look for work if a forensic position is not in my immediate future? Start job hunting at a level above jobs that only need a high school diploma, i.e., do not seek jobs like factory worker (on the factory floor), housekeeping/custodial (non-managerial), or cashier. If you must work in these locations apply for upper level technician or managerial positions first (if those positions do not require years of experience). Good options are quality control lab technicians or managers, sales for science/technology companies, or writers for science/technology companies. Look for companies and city/state/federal governments that hire safety officers, quality control inspectors, inventory control specialists, and other security roles where knowledge of law, forensic procedure, or lab safety is helpful.
17. I really want to be a forensic scientist, not a private sector lab analyst. How can I become a forensic scientist with these outside jobs? *If you are deeply invested in joining the forensic science community, which is relatively small, you are likely to eventually succeed. It has been my observation that the individuals who want to be forensic scientists eventually become forensic scientists—they do what is necessary to stay in the community. First, join the forensic community—apply as a student to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences. Attend as many annual conferences as you can, to build relationships with individuals who can sponsor your membership even if you are not employed in a forensic laboratory. You will need a sponsor from the forensic community to remain a member once you are no longer enrolled in a forensic education program. Even if your forensic career turns out to be 5 or 10 years away, you will be refining and developing your interests and involvement in the forensic sciences by participating in its community.
18. Is there a Forensic Science Club? Yes. The club currently meets about twice a month during the school year and has dues of $10/term. Aside from social gatherings, the club occasionally gives presentations and demonstrations for local secondary educational institutions. Contact the director or watch your email for announcements of meeting times and location.
19. How can I learn more about the forensic sciences? Visit the American Academy of Forensic Sciences website, www.aafs.org, and read about the current sections of the academy, other forensic organizations, employment opportunities, forensic science education, and academy activities.
20. Who can join the American Academy of Forensic Sciences? Visit the academy website, www.aafs.org, for specific instructions. Basically applicants must be students of a forensic science education program (at the undergraduate or graduate level) or employed in a forensic science field.
21. Do I need a forensic science program with FEPAC accreditation? Probably not—only if the label makes you feel more comfortable with the academic program.* FEPAC came into existence because there are academic programs called "Forensic Science" which do not provide a science education. These are usually Criminal Justice programs providing a bachelor of arts degree. If you can find the curriculum for the forensic science program you are interested in and see multiple chemistry and biology courses, then it is a science program. However, accreditation programs like FEPAC also exist to assure the public that a set of external standards also apply to the academic program. An accreditation label may give a program an appearance of general acceptance or prestige, and if that is desirable for you as an applicant than you do need a program with FEPAC accreditation.
22. If a forensic science program is not FEPAC accredited, is my bachelor (or master's) degree worthless? No. FEPAC does not have the same status as accrediting bodies for law, medical, or other specialized schools. Schools which do not have FEPAC accreditation provide valid forensic science degrees as long as the university itself is accredited.
23. Do employers look for students from FEPAC accredited institutions? Employers do not currently look for students from FEPAC accredited institutions. Crime lab directors advertise for applicants with science degrees. Since FEPAC only applies to forensic science programs the crime lab directors would have to exclude applicants with biology, chemistry, or other natural science degrees, which they are not currently doing. Basically, forensic science employers hire transcripts, not degrees. This means they sort applicants first based on the contents of the transcript, not on the type of degree or the institution from which the degree was earned.
24. You sound ambivalent about FEPAC accreditation. Is it necessary for forensic science programs to be accredited? At the undergraduate level I find FEPAC accreditation to be less necessary.* As long as employers are hiring science degrees, not just forensic science degrees, then almost any university with biology and chemistry departments will provide an adequate science background for employment into an entry level position in a crime lab (but read on for problems with biology and chemistry degrees).
For graduate level education (particularly Master of Science in Forensic Science) I find FEPAC to be a convenient tool for determining if the program will benefit the student.* Job descriptions for crime labs equate master's degrees with years of work experience, so students must ask themselves if a master's program will give them something they could not have trained into if they gained an entry level lab position with a bachelor of science degree. A FEPAC label on a master's program can help a student decide if that program will improve their education and likelihood of employment.
25. So why are you pursuing FEPAC accreditation for this program? As FEPAC gains recognition future applicants may feel more comfortable applying to schools with the FEPAC label. Therefore we pursue accreditation in order to reassure students about the quality of their education.
28. What is a forensic anthropologist? A forensic anthropologist is an individual who examines skeletal remains to provide identification and/or trauma analysis for the purposes of a criminal or civil investigation.
30. The Forensic Science Program has two tracks. How do the tracks differ? The two tracks are Evidence Technician and Evidence Analyst.
The Evidence Technician track serves those individuals who prefer to be crime scene technicians, working as sworn officers (if required) of law enforcement agencies. Many Criminal Justice majors might choose to double major with this track if they plan to become a scene technician or if they simply want to support their law enforcement activities with a science background.
The Evidence Analyst track is for individuals who want to work in a crime laboratory performing scientific tests of evidence. This track has about 15 additional hours of upper division science, particularly biology, and math. If you are interested in chemical analysis of unknown substances, or analysis of DNA or serological evidence, this is your track. This is also the track for individuals who are double majoring with biology or chemistry, because they can substitute some of the upper division credits of the second major for some of the upper division courses in the Forensic Science curriculum. I also recommend the Evidence Analyst track to anyone who is uncertain which science they wish to pursue.
31. Why can Evidence Analyst track students substitute upper division courses? The Evidence Analyst track requires 96 credits, 15 to 20 of which are upper division courses in Biology. If a student is double majoring in Chemistry they can more efficiently satisfy their degree requirements for both programs without taking several credits of upper division science in an area that is not their interest. A double major with Chemistry would substitute some upper division Biology courses with upper division Chemistry courses, such as substituting Physical Chemistry for Population Biology.
32. Are there any upper division courses that are not eligible for substitution in the Evidence Analyst track? Any required upper division course also found in the Evidence Technician track is not eligible. CHEM 333 and 341/L (as an equivalent to CHEM 340) are not eligible.
34. What happens to the upper division load in the Evidence Analyst track if I double major with a humanities or a science major other than Chemistry or Biology? You should talk to your adviser about your prospective course load. Double humanities majors are encouraged to use the Evidence Technician track. Other science majors will have to discuss managing the course load with the adviser.
35. I'm new to the forensic science program. What is the usual advice for new students?
1. Check your UND email account frequently because the university uses it as the official email address for its students. That means bills, announcements, and communications from your advisor may only reach you through this address.
2. React early to change your study skills if you do not get the results you expect on a test. Review exams that do not go well immediately and identify where the errors occurred.
3. *The second most common mistake for students having difficulty passing courses is that they do not use flash cards when studying. The most common mistake is that students assume that they will be able to pass college exams by recognizing information, not by knowing information. Recognizing information comes from simply reading the books and notes. Knowing information comes from self-testing, such as through flash cards, practice quizzes, or teaching someone else the course material.
4. Do not expect to know immediately what you want to do with your degree—many students only know near the end of their sophomore year.
36. I'm new to the forensic science program and want to work in a crime lab. What is the usual advice for students like me? At the end of your sophomore year (or the equivalent if you are a transfer student) start looking for an internship. You have to search for these on your own (although your advisor may tell you of some likely sources) and apply to the crime labs offering them. You must be enrolled as a student to be in an internship—most crime labs will not take non-students. Once you have arranged an internship you can talk to your advisor about enrolling in ANTH 497 Forensic Science Internship.
37. Is an internship important for my career goal to be in a crime lab? YES. If you are interested in a crime lab position as a chemist or biologist, you should try to get an internship before you graduate. Crime lab directors are HIGHLY biased towards applicants with an internship experience.
38. Is an internship important if I'm interested in a forensic career which requires a higher degree (such as pathology, anthropology, odontology. . .)? No, an internship is not as necessary, but some kind of experience at the undergraduate level in the area to which you are applying for graduate school is always a good idea. This could be anything from an undergraduate teaching assistantship to a volunteer position to a senior thesis—but such experience makes your graduate application stronger.
39. Who is the advisor for the Forensic Science Program? There are three advisors for the program. Dr. Stubblefield, the program director, is advisor to seniors and juniors (email@example.com). Sophomores go to Dr. Richard Wise (firstname.lastname@example.org) in Psychology and Dr. Igor Ovtchinnikov (email@example.com) in Biology has most freshmen.
40. Do I have to follow changes to the curriculum? You have to comply with the curriculum in the catalog at the time you are first enrolled (see the catalog about the exception to this rule). The program director recommends you follow the updated curriculum in order to be competitive in your future prospects, but you do not have to follow the changes to graduate.
41. I'm a freshman in the program. What courses should I be taking? First year chemistry, biology, and calculus are good courses to complete in your freshman year. If the load is too rigorous hold the chemistry, because the Chemistry department offers the freshman level courses in the summer, but keep in mind that it is a pre-requisite for later courses. If you cannot take summer school hold the biology (but the pre-req issue still holds). If you do not meet the pre-requisites for calculus take college algebra and pre-calc if necessary. Then fill in the rest of your course schedule with a general ed or elective of your choice. See the next question for more information.
42. What general education or electives should I take? As a university student you should receive a universal education, meaning an education that gives you a founding breadth of knowledge to support your life and existence after you graduate. Therefore you should choose which general education or elective courses to take. Your advisor may occasionally recommend a course, but she prefers that you read through the catalog and search each semester's schedule of classes to find appropriate courses for your interests.
43. The online course schedule is difficult to browse. Is there another way to learn about the variety of courses offered for my elective choices? Browse through the catalog in your freshman year to familiarize yourself with the types of courses offered. The second step is to obtain each semester's course offerings from the individual departments you are interested in. Anthropology, for example, produces an online and paper brochure of its course offerings each semester during the previous enrollment period.
44. What concerns should I have if I double major? Double majors in another science major or program (e.g., pre-medical, chemistry, biology, biological anthropology) will have the fewest difficulties as far as increased class load. Many of the courses can be applied to both majors with no conflict. Humanities double major, commonly with Criminal Justice, offer a greater challenge because the curricula do not overlap as much. You may want to allow yourself a 5th year to graduate if you have a humanities double major with forensic science.
45. I'm a CJ double major. Which courses apply doubly? The answer to this question keeps changing, so please consult the catalog under which you entered. In the past, CJ 210 Intro to Policing, CJ 342 Law for Criminal Procedure and SOC 326 Sociological Statistics could be applied to both the CJ and FS majors. HOWEVER, ANTH 345 Forensic Science and CJ 352 Criminal Investigation MAY NOT be doubly applied.
46. I have a CJ minor. Which courses apply doubly? The answer to this question keeps changing, so please consult the catalog under which you entered. In the past, CJ 210 and 342 could be applied doubly. HOWEVER, ANTH 345 Forensic Science and CJ 352 Criminal Investigation MAY NOT be doubly applied.
47. My psychology (or other) major requires a different statistics course (or other course) from those in the FS major. Will it apply to the FS major? Psych Stats will satisfy the statistics requirement for the FS major. For other courses you need to see the director for approval. Have a syllabus for the course ready when you make your petition.
*To indicate where opinions occur in this FAQ. The opinions in this FAQ are those of Dr. Stubblefield and may or may not be shared by UND, forensic science students, or other forensic professionals.