Cool Careers in Forensic Science

If you missed our Cool Careers session on Forensic Science and the work of the LSU FACES Lab this summer, here is a recap of the main takeaways:

Staff from the LSU Forensic Anthropology and Computer Enhancement Services (FACES) Lab gave a fascinating presentation of the vital work being conducted for law enforcement and the coroner’s office. This is a specialized field of study and not for the faint of heart.  However, the immeasurable reward of giving a family closure after losing a loved one is priceless.

What is the faces lab?

The (FACES) Laboratory provides forensic anthropology and forensic imaging services to agencies within Louisiana. The Department of Geography & Anthropology had been offering forensic anthropology services since the late 1970’s; however, a formal laboratory was not created until the 1990’s. Its founder, Mary Manhein, established the FACES Lab in cooperation with Louisiana State University and the State of Louisiana in order to offer expanded services to law enforcement and coroners. Five full-time staff, two to four graduate assistants, and several undergraduate student workers are employed at the Lab.

What services does the faces lab provide?

FACES services are provided free of charge for agencies within the state of Louisiana and include:

  • Animal vs. Human Skeletal Identification
  • Biological Profile and Trauma Analysis
  • Forensic Imaging
  • DNA Sample Collection
  • X-ray Services
  • Positive Identification Assistance
  • Official Final Report and Expert Court Testimony

What kind of job can I get as a forensic anthropologist?

Forensic anthropologists with a graduate degree often work in higher education. Their employment involves teaching physical anthropology courses, conducting osteological research, and providing community services and forensic case analysis. Forensic anthropologists may also seek employment in laboratories such as the FBI, state bureaus of investigation, private firms, or medical/coroner examiners’ offices.

“I want to do forensic science – like what they do on ‘CSI’.

“CSI” as seen on popular television shows is not real.  No one does what they do on CSI.  In reality, investigating a crime involves many people from different agencies, including the police and sheriff’s departments, coroner or medical examiner’s office, the District Attorney’s Office, and crime laboratories.  Saying you want to be in “forensic science” is like saying you want to be a “doctor” – there are many different areas within forensic science in which you can specialize.  The student must take the time to explore the field and consider in which area of forensic science s/he wants to work.

I want to work in a crime lab – What do I major in?

In general, you are eligible to work in a crime lab if you complete the requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences, Biochemistry, Microbiology, or Chemistry (the exception to this is DNA analysis – see below).  If you are hired by a crime lab, you receive “on-site” training, where you learn how to collect and process evidence according to your lab’s established protocol.

I want to do DNA analysis – What do I major in?

You need to complete the requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences, Biochemistry, Microbiology, or Chemistry, making sure you take the following courses: biochemistry (BIOL 4087 or BIOL 4093 and 4094), molecular genetics (BIOL 4132), and biochemistry laboratory (BIOL 4385).  Microbial genetics (BIOL 4246) and statistics courses are also advisable. Additionally, you should take courses in public speaking, as you will have to testify in court.

Should I get a graduate degree in forensic science?

Currently, you do not need to have a graduate degree to find employment in forensic science.  However, it is a very popular field, and as more students graduate with the right qualifications, the job market eventually will become extremely competitive.  A graduate degree may give you an advantage over other candidates applying for the same job.

I want to be an investigator – What do I major in?

Most death investigators actually start their career as patrol officers – that is, as regular police officers.  After gaining several years of experience “on the street,” they can apply for a promotion to homicide investigator.  If promoted, the homicide investigators receive additional training through death investigation workshops. Graduates of forensic anthropology programs are also qualified to work as death investigators and coroner’s investigators.

If you would like more information on careers in forensic science, check out the links on our Career Exploration page. For more in-depth career planning guidance, call us at (225) 231-3733 to make an appointment for career coaching.

Written by Cynthia Payton