Frequently Asked Student Questions

What is the job description of a forensic anthropologist?


Forensic anthropologists work in a variety of contexts. Unfortunately, there are few full-time laboratory-type jobs in forensic anthropology, and many forensic anthropologists must do something else to make a living. Some forensic anthropologists are full-time college or university professors who only engage in forensic casework as part of their professional and community responsibilities. Most of the time they are engaged in teaching, advising students, and conducting research. Teaching and having a part-time consulting practice in forensic anthropology merges many of the things forensic anthropologists enjoy doing (engaging with students, being a scientist, studying history, writing, doing field work and research, and interacting with other professionals, for example, in medicine and law). A large number of forensic anthropologists are employed by government labs, such as the Department of Defense or the Federal Bureau of Investigations, or government contract labs, such as The University of North Texas. These anthropologists often have other responsibilities beyond daily casework, such as supervising trainees; advising on policies and procedures related to forensic anthropology and archaeology; and conducting forensic research or archaeological fieldwork. Increasingly, more forensic anthropologists are being employed in medical examiner or coroners offices. Many anthropologists employed in the medical examiner or coroner system may also perform other duties, such as death investigations, identifications, photography, assistance with autopsies, or managing their agency’s mass fatality planning. They may also be involved in supervising trainees, advise on policies and procedures, and conduct research. Some forensic anthropologists hold positions in museums and private enterprises, including some who have their own consulting businesses (mostly on a part-time basis, while holding some other position). On occasion, forensic anthropologists work with the International Red Cross or humanitarian organizations, either inside the country in mass disaster operations—like after the 9/11 disaster or airplane crashes—or outside the country investigating human rights violations, such as in Mexico and Guatemala. Sometimes these field missions cover an extended period of time, but other times this is very temporary work until the remains of the victims have been analyzed.




What is an average day like for a forensic anthropologist?


A typical day for a forensic anthropologist largely depends upon where they are employed. Those who are college or university professors do not spend every day working on forensic cases. When a case presents itself, it can demand a majority of the consulting anthropologist’s time, but when that case is finished, that person resumes regular duties as a college professor. An anthropologist employed at a college or university may spend part of any day in a laboratory working on cases, in an autopsy assisting a medical examiner, or even testifying in court. These professors also often take students out to help with forensic cases so that they can get hands-on experience in forensic anthropology. The remainder of their time is spent on tasks associated with teaching and mentoring in a college or university setting. If the forensic anthropologist works in a coroner or medical examiner’s office or for a government agency or NGO, then more of the average day is spent working with human remains. Forensic anthropologists working at a coroner or medical examiner’s office may spend part of their day assisting in the autopsy suite or examining remains within their laboratories, responding to scenes, or working on case reports. Some anthropologists who work for government agencies may spend part of their time searching for recent or historical remains, such as those associated with plane crashes or mass disasters, and therefore may spend days using archaeological techniques associated with site survey and excavation. Still others may work for international agencies aimed at recovering and identifying the remains of victims of genocide, so their days may be spent doing archaeological recovery work or laboratory-based analysis of human remains. If the anthropologist is employed in a museum setting, much of the day may be spent in cataloging and curating remains and working with researchers, in addition to assisting medicolegal officials. Any of these types of forensic anthropologists may be called upon to respond to mass disaster situations, such as occurred after 9/11 or Hurricane Katrina; many forensic anthropologists belong to disaster and mortuary teams or organizations.




What is the typical work environment of a forensic anthropologist?


The work environment, just as the responsibilities of a “typical day,” depends to some degree upon how the forensic anthropologist makes a living. Generally, laboratories are equipped with fume hoods to remove odors, large tables, microscopes, and dissection equipment. Working with human remains in varying postmortem stages can be unpleasant work, but is a significant part of the job. Infectious disease is a risk when working with human remains, so forensic anthropologists frequently use personal protective equipment such as coveralls, gloves, and goggles. Remains may come to the lab as isolated bones, complete or near-complete skeletons, decomposing bodies, or portions removed during autopsy from fleshed bodies. Forensic anthropologists may also be asked to assist at autopsy in some capacity. Sometimes remains must be cleaned of soft tissue so that they can be examined. As much flesh as possible is removed manually, and then the remains are then put into very warm water and detergent until the remaining soft tissue can be removed. Sometimes flesh-eating dermestid beetles are used to remove soft tissue. Once the remains are clean, the bones are laid out on tables so the forensic anthropologist can carefully examine and measure them. Forensic anthropologists also need office space where they can write their reports, review books and other reference materials, have phone consultations, send and receive email and other correspondence, and meet with others in a clean environment. Forensic anthropologists who conduct exhumations or recover remains from archaeological settings may work in a variety of grueling outdoor settings, including swamps, deserts, arctic plains, glaciers, and jungles. During those tasks, they may be faced with extreme weather, environmental hazards such as steep slopes and dangerous wildlife, unexploded ordnance, and occasionally hazardous chemicals (e.g., when recovering remains from the scene of a house or car fire). In these cases, anthropologists may need to wear special clothing to protect them from the elements (such warm or waterproof clothing). Anthropologists engaged in this type of work may need to use a variety of specialized equipment (e.g., total stations, Global Positioning System [GPS] units, aerial survey devices, magnetometers, ground penetrating radar) to record contextual details about the site that can inform later analyses.




Does a forensic anthropologist work alone or with other anthropologists?


Some forensic anthropologists work in laboratories with several other forensic anthropologists, especially those who work with the military or in large metropolitan medical examiners’ offices, but many forensic anthropologists work alone. Many work directly with graduate and/or undergraduate students to help train them in forensic anthropology methods. Sometimes forensic anthropologists take students to an investigation or ask students to help with large-scale searches. Most forensic anthropologists work with fellow anthropologists on research projects and share ideas at meetings and scientific conferences. Forensic anthropologists interact frequently with other types of scientists and professionals such as forensic pathologists, forensic dentists, biomechanical engineers, death investigators, law enforcement personnel, attorneys, and others. Learning about other disciplines and integrating perspectives from multiple fields help to advance forensic science.




What is the process a forensic anthropologist goes through when preparing for an appearance on the witness stand in court?


Expert witness testimony in a case may occur years after a skeletal examination takes place, so the forensic anthropologist must thoroughly review his or her case report, photographs, and other documentation of the case in preparation for pre-trial discussions or courtroom testimony. However, the anthropologist doesn’t try to learn “everything possible” about the matter, because seeking information beyond the scope of his or her role in the case has the potential to introduce bias. Once in court, forensic anthropologists view their role as educators. Their job is to try to teach the jury and others in the court about the basic principles that explain their scientific findings. Even though an attorney is asking the questions, the anthropologist on the stand addresses his or her answers to the jury (or the judge if it is not a jury trial). The testifying anthropologist must try to give the jurors or judge enough background information—at a level that anyone can understand—so that those who make the decisions in the case can understand the anthropologist’s conclusions. The expert witness has no interest in the guilt or innocence of the accused; that is for the jury or judge to decide. Forensic anthropologists on the witness stand must maintain objectivity and do not testify to anything beyond the scientific evidence or the scope of their expertise.




Why do physical anthropologists become forensic anthropologists?


Most forensic anthropologists have one or more degrees in anthropology—sometimes specifically physical or biological anthropology—which are subdisciplines of anthropology that focus on the variability of modern human and nonhuman primate skeletons, as well as ancient human remains and human and primate evolution. Based on these studies, forensic anthropologists share a passion for applying their knowledge of modern human skeletons to medicolegal questions (such as, “who is this person, and how did he or she die?”). This career allows them to make a difference by providing answers to the decedent’s family and by providing scientific evidence to medical examiners, coroners, and law enforcement officers while they are solving the case. Each case is unique, and all require an eye for detail. A forensic anthropologist is one of the last persons who can “speak for the dead.”




What is the average timeline for someone pursuing a career in forensic anthropology?


The paths to becoming a forensic anthropologist may be somewhat varied, but a typical educational background is as follows:

  • 4 years for a bachelor’s degree (BA or BS): Usually this degree is in anthropology or biology with a human emphasis, with additional courses in biology, geology, physics, chemistry, statistics, anatomy, and osteology, among others. An undergraduate major in anthropology includes the subfields of archaeology, biological anthropology, and cultural anthropology, and sometimes also linguistics.
  • 2-4 years for a master’s degree (MA or MS): The master’s degrees of most forensic anthropologists are in anthropology with a focus on physical anthropology (or the degree may actually be titled as physical anthropology). These programs commonly require the student to complete a written thesis based upon original independent research in the field. Students should align themselves with graduate programs that offer participation in forensic anthropology casework while still in graduate school. There are a few individuals who practice forensic anthropology with a master’s degree, but the standard is a doctoral degree, followed by American Board of Forensic Anthropology certification.
  • 3-7 years for a doctoral degree (PhD): Most physical anthropology doctoral programs are highly competitive. These programs require several years of coursework in physical anthropology along with a written dissertation based upon original independent research in the field. Again, students should seek programs with a focus on forensic anthropology and practicing forensic anthropologists on the faculty (preferably those who are ABFA-certified). Coursework taken for the master’s degree may be counted toward the doctoral degree, depending on the relevant university and/or program requirements; some programs accept students directly into a doctoral program without first obtaining a master’s degree.
  • Certification: Currently, the certification for post-doctoral forensic anthropologists is through the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), which confirms those who are experts in the field. For ABFA board certification, it is necessary to have earned a PhD, and then demonstrate practical experience as judged by case reports and a curriculum vitae that are submitted for review. Once a person has been approved to take the exam, he or she must then sit for an exam that is composed of both written and hands-on practical portions administered over the course of approximately eight hours. To date, almost 120 people have been board certified by the ABFA since its incorporation in 1977. Forensic anthropologists do not have to be board certified to perform casework, but this certification is highly recommended at some point in their career. For some jobs, such as those in accredited medical examiner offices, board certification may be required.
  • Additionally, like all scientists, forensic anthropologists must remain current in their field through continuing education activities. This includes reviewing new methods in professional journals and attending conferences and workshops.




What skills or attributes are necessary for someone considering a career in Foresic Anthropology?


Critical thinking and the use of sound logic are natural aspects of good science, in general, and forensic anthropology is no exception. Forensic anthropologists should possess good analytical skills, critical thinking abilities, and logical reasoning. They need to have good mathematical skills, attention to detail, and what might be called “3-D imagination,” in order to visualize the reconstruction of a shattered skull or to understand how the forces in trauma affect bone. Excellent written and verbal communication and computer skills are also critical. Beyond writing a master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation, a forensic anthropologist has to write forensic reports and design and complete research projects. Many have also written books and book chapters. They must be well-spoken, particularly on the witness stand. Forensic anthropologists must be able to be objective, just like other forensic scientists—this means they cannot get “too involved” in their work or too focused on “getting the bad guy.” Their job is to remain impartial and to speak for the dead, who can no longer speak for themselves. They are neither judge nor jury, nor are they the police. They do not interview witnesses and most do not typically speak with family members (although those employed full-time at coroner and medical examiner’s offices may more frequently speak directly with family members). Forensic anthropologists are scientists whose job is to analyze human remains in as detached a way as possible so that they do not let their emotions, preconceived notions, or biases color their judgment. If they let their feelings get in the way, then they are not doing the best job they can do for the deceased or for society. Forensic anthropology is not as it is portrayed in television programs like “Bones” or “CSI”-type programs; it involves a lot of reading, research, and hard work. A student must do very well in his or her undergraduate classes in order to be accepted into a forensic anthropology graduate program. Interested students should participate in archaeological field schools and will need to be able to write well and conduct quality research. Students often ask about volunteering or shadowing a forensic anthropologist. Volunteer work opportunities are generally rare, in part because forensic cases, by definition, require confidentiality. The agency in charge of the case usually determines whether or not volunteers may participate in a case, and usually those opportunities are limited to graduate students or highly-qualified undergraduate students who are studying with a practicing forensic anthropologist.




Is there a faster, easier way to become a forensic anthropologist?


No, and frankly, most professionals would consider that question a bit insulting. There are “on-line” courses and the like, and there are people who take a week-long overview course and then try to call themselves “forensic anthropologists,” but they are never taken seriously by law enforcement or the courts. There are some anthropologists with very little training in forensics who attempt to do casework, but that is a potentially dangerous and unethical situation given that the stakes are so high when dealing with legal issues. There are some forensic anthropologists practicing with a master’s degree, but their opportunities in the field can be quite limited, and at present, they cannot apply for ABFA board certification.




What is the most important thing for an aspiring anthropologist to know?


Students interested in a career in forensic anthropology have to know how to write very well, be avid readers, meticulous, and curious about science and the world. They have to know how to state only what the evidence tells them and not overstate their conclusions or the capabilities of their science. They need a strong ethical foundation, because assisting in legal matters holds people to a very high standard. Interested students also need patience and diligence, since it takes dedication and a lot of education and training to become a forensic anthropologist.




What is the job market like in forensic anthropology?


There are very few jobs in forensic anthropology. Therefore, most forensic anthropologists must do something else to make a living. The majority of forensic anthropologists are full-time college or university professors who engage in forensic casework as part of their professional and community responsibilities. Teaching and having a part-time consulting practice in forensic anthropology merges many of the things many forensic anthropologists enjoy doing (engaging with students, being a scientist, studying history, writing, doing field work and research, and interacting with other professionals, for example, in medicine and law). The field has been changing over time, however. Increasingly, forensic anthropologists are employed in a variety of governmental capacities including coroner and medical examiner’s offices, federal or state governmental agencies, and the U.S. Department of Defense, but these positions are still fairly rare. Some forensic anthropologists hold positions in museums and private enterprises, including some who have their own consulting businesses (mostly on a part-time basis, while holding some other position). On occasion, forensic anthropologists work with humanitarian organizations, either inside the country in mass disaster operations—like after the 9/11 disaster or airplane crashes—or outside the country investigating human rights violations, such as in Bosnia and Guatemala. Sometimes these experiences cover an extended period of time, but other times this is very temporary work until the remains of the victims have been analyzed.




Would most forensic anthropologists recommend this career to any high school student?  Why?


Yes! It is a rewarding career and can make a real difference. With regard to forensic anthropology, however—and forensic science, in general—interested students must keep in mind that “forensic” is the adjective that modifies the terms “anthropology” and “science.” Just as forensic scientists must first be good scientists, forensic anthropology requires an in-depth study of anthropology before focusing on forensics. Forensic anthropology is a very limited and competitive field, so interested students should do their best in their classes, especially science, math, and anthropology in order to be considered for openings in college and university-level academic programs. If they take the necessary coursework and take advantage of all opportunities to learn more about the field (particularly opportunities to participate in hands-on field and lab work), interested high school students may someday reach their goals in fascinating careers in forensic anthropology that aid both the living and the deceased.




Do forensic anthropologists typically like what they do?


Most forensic anthropologists either find great satisfaction doing casework, or they quit doing it. What many enjoy about the field is that each case is uniquely challenging and rewarding. Analyzing human remains can provide clues to resolving mysteries, including the identity of an unknown decedent and perhaps how they died. However, with this responsibility comes being a witness to terrible tragedies and horrific crimes, which can be very difficult. Many forensic anthropologists understand that while difficult at times, the work that they do can provide answers to families who have lost a loved one and at times, justice for the decedent. Many forensic anthropologists also enjoy teaching, which includes serving as university professors, mentors to students and trainees, and educating jurors when on the witness stand. Most find additional satisfaction in conducting scientific research and presenting it to others in such forms as oral presentations at conferences, journal articles, and books. These research endeavors help forensic anthropologists to advance their field.




What is the best aspect of being a forensic anthropologist?


Many forensic anthropologists agree that the most rewarding part of the job is being able to provide scientific information that assists in a death investigation. This information may point to the decedent’s identity and can aid in determining the circumstances surrounding death, providing much needed answers to medical examiners, coroners, law enforcement, and most important, families of the decedent. All forensic anthropologists enjoy working with the human skeleton. A fascinating thing about anatomy is that although bones are basically the same from person to person, some bones have variations or unique features because of genetics or from things that have happened during a person’s lifetime. If that was not the case, and all skeletons were exactly alike, forensic anthropologists couldn’t do what they do. Fractures, genetic anomalies, and life-history events—like pregnancy or weight lifting—all of these things leave specific marks on the skeleton. Because forensic anthropologists are skilled and knowledgeable in reading those clues, they can interpret the evidence to help identify the individual. That is truly remarkable and rewarding.




What is the worst aspect of being a forensic anthropologist?


The worst part of forensic anthropology is the inescapable knowledge of the violence that people inflict on each other. For many practitioners, this is particularly difficult when that brutality is directed against children. Witnessing the aftermath of terrible mass disasters may also be very disturbing, such as working with victims of 9/11, Hurricane Katrina, or a plane crash. Mass killings, such as political or religious genocides, involve innocent victims who were murdered. When unknown persons remain unidentified despite the hard work of forensic anthropologists and others, it can be haunting. It is often difficult for forensic anthropologists to separate or insulate themselves from the human aspects of the work. The decedents that forensic anthropologists analyze scientifically are real people with families and friends who care about them, and some of those individuals may have died in terrible ways. Forensic anthropologists require good personal support systems to keep them balanced. In fact, mental health counselors are often available to assist forensic scientists, especially at mass disaster settings. The jobs of forensic anthropologists, like other forensic scientists, are not only mentally challenging, they can also be physically demanding. In the morgue, anthropologists may stand on their feet for hours at a time. In the field, they may need to walk or hike for miles or climb hillsides or mountains while searching large areas for scattered remains. Forensic anthropologists may also need to spend long hours on hands and knees digging in the ground. These tasks take place during all sorts of weather, which can also be challenging. Oftentimes the work is extremely unpleasant to the senses of sight and smell, and spending long periods of time dressed in personal protective clothing, such as gloves, masks, or face shields can be physically uncomfortable. In other practical terms, a difficult part of the job is the unpredictability it can present. Many forensic anthropologists have periods of time with no cases at all, and then several cases will arrive in a week—perhaps several of which require extensive cleaning prior to analysis. This unpredictability means that everything else has to be shuffled to accommodate the casework. If a mass disaster setting presents itself, multiple forensic anthropologists may be called upon to essentially drop everything else, travel to the location, and spend days or weeks working with remains.




How much money does a forensic anthropologist make?


The real payback for any job in forensic anthropology is the satisfaction of helping resolve a case, whether that means understanding what happened to a person or figuring out a victim’s identity. Financially, however, the annual salary for a forensic anthropologist varies greatly based on their position, experience, and locale. Many forensic anthropologists are university professors, and their salaries vary from approximately $50,000 to $100,000 based on the size of their college/university, their number of years of experience, and the cost of living in the geographic area. Keep in mind that this salary is primarily for their teaching and research responsibilities, most of which occur over nine months of instruction per year. Some academic forensic anthropologists receive payment for their casework consultations through their educational institution and use the money for continuing education, equipment, and other needs related to their practice. Other academic forensic anthropologists have private practices and are able to keep their consulting fees. Consulting fees are negotiated between the professional forensic anthropologist and the client. Keep in mind, however, that involvement in casework may be sporadic, and thus may not be a significant source of annual income. Forensic anthropologists whose employment involves full-time casework typically work for governmental agencies at the local, state or federal level, such as medical examiner/coroner offices, or the Department of Defense. Their salaries range from approximately $50,000 to $150,000, depending on educational level, experience, and geographic area.




Do forensic anthropologists get to work in exotic places?


Most forensic anthropologists primarily work locally. However, some work with humanitarian groups such as Doctors Without Borders, the United Nations, the International Red Cross, and the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team, primarily investigating human rights cases (most involving mass graves) in places such as Bosnia, Serbia, Rwanda, Mexico, Guatemala, Argentina, and others. Some academic forensic anthropologists, often with their students, also regularly participate in the examination of archaeological remains from all over the world. A significant number of U.S. forensic anthropologists work for the Department of Defense, investigating sites where U.S. military service members have lost their lives and recovering remains from those locations. These anthropologists spend a substantial amount of time each year traveling to places such as Southeast Asia, the Pacific islands, and Europe for these search and recovery missions. Even if they don’t work in exotic locations, most forensic anthropologists have worked in unusual settings, such as recovering remains from caves, ravines, rivers, burned buildings, crawl spaces, and attics.




Have popular TV shows like “Bones” and “CSI” negatively affected the field of forensic anthropology, and if so, how?


Television has both helped and hurt the field of study. These shows have demonstrated the important contributions of forensic anthropology to the death investigation and brought the field more public exposure. This has prompted more offices to consult with a forensic anthropologist when the need arises. This increased interest has also inspired more individuals to seek out careers in forensic anthropology, and academic programs are able to select from a pool of highly-qualified applicants. However, since those shows have emerged, some jurors tend to believe that they are educated regarding the procedures of forensic casework from watching these programs. Sometimes jurors also tend to disbelieve forensic experts if their opinions on the witness stand are not consistent with what the jurors have gained from watching their favorite forensic television characters. In some ways, these shows have given the general public a fantasy view of the job of a forensic anthropologist and an unrealistic view of how “glamorous” the work is. Forensic anthropologists do not develop a biological profile in 30 seconds, they do not solve cases in one hour, they do not solve cases alone (they work with other experts), and they do not have access to all of the fantastic equipment used by their favorite TV characters. Some aspiring forensic anthropology students also believe that the shows are realistic, and they enter into their studies with misconceptions about what the job really entails.




Are there volunteer or shadowing opportunities available for students?


Students often ask about volunteering with or shadowing a forensic anthropologist. Volunteer work opportunities are generally rare, in part because forensic cases, by definition, require confidentiality. The agency in charge of the case usually determines whether or not volunteers may participate in a case, and usually those opportunities are limited to graduate students or highly-qualified undergraduate students who are studying with a practicing forensic anthropologist. However, various institutions provide “short courses”, webinars, or field schools which can help prospective students gain archeological and osteological experience. Your university may also sponsor an internship with the local medical examiner or coroner agency; you might ask your advisor if such an opportunity exists for your institution.




Is there a faster, easier way to become a forensic anthropologist?


No, and frankly, most professionals would consider that question a bit insulting. While there may be fully online degree programs or a variety of short courses covering forensic anthropology subject matter, these courses do not qualify someone to perform skeletal casework or to call oneself a forensic anthropologist. There are some anthropologists with very little training in forensics who attempt to do casework, but that is a potentially dangerous and unethical situation given that the stakes are so high when dealing with legal issues.




What are some other careers related to Forensic Anthropology?


Forensic anthropologists are by no means the only specialists working in the forensic sciences. They are merely one part of the extensive medicolegal (i.e., death investigation) system operating in the U.S., to include forensic pathologists, autopsy technicians, death investigators, identification specialists, odontologists, forensic biologists and toxicologists, and criminalists, among many others. In addition, many forensic anthropologists consult on crime-scene recoveries, working with detectives and crime scene investigators to process these scenes. All of these professions may prove rewarding to a student aspiring to a career in the forensic sciences, but who is unsure if they are willing to pursue the often-prolonged educational and certification trajectory of a forensic anthropologist. Forensic pathologists are physicians who conduct autopsies (basically surgery on the deceased) to determine the cause and manner of death of individuals who have died suddenly, unexpectedly, or violently. Forensic pathologists must attend medical school and then complete fellowships in anatomic pathology and forensic pathology. Forensic pathologists can also be medical examiners or they may work within the coroner system. Please see the National Association of Medical Examiners for more information. Autopsy support staff (including autopsy technicians, photographers, and x-ray technicians) are individuals from various backgrounds who assist the forensic pathologists with documentation of the remains and the associated clothing and evidence. This assistance may be through dissection of the remains, or taking fingerprints, photographs, and radiographs. Medicolegal Death Investigators respond to death scenes to investigate any deaths that are sudden, unexpected, or violent. They are responsible for gathering information at the scene through direct examination of the body and through conversations with law enforcement personnel and family members. The information they collect informs the forensic pathologist on how to proceed with examination and certification of the death. Medicolegal death investigators can have a variety of backgrounds depending on what jurisdiction they work in, which may typically include some education or experience in medicine, forensics, and the law. Please see the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators for more information. Identification Specialists are tasked with identifying all individuals who require a death investigation. They manage the identification process and determine which cases require additional forensic comparisons, such as fingerprints, DNA, dental, or medical radiographic comparisons. They assist with obtaining records for comparison, help to confirm the identification of an individual, and then communicate these results to family members. Forensic Odontologists apply their knowledge of teeth to the identification of unknown individuals, through comparative dental radiography or dental age estimations. Some forensic odontologists also specialize in bite mark analysis. They have a degree in dentistry. Please see the American Board of Forensic Odontology for more information. Forensic Biologists look at biological tissue and substances that come from the human body—mainly DNA—to solve forensic cases. They can also specialize in Forensic Botany (plants) or Forensic Entomology (insects) to estimate time since death.They have a degree in Biology. Forensic Chemists look at toxicological evidence from humans—drugs, for example—to solve cases. They have a degree in Chemistry. Please see the American Board of Forensic Toxicology for more information. Criminalists can look at fingerprints, blood, hair, fibers, shoe prints, tire treads, etc., which are often called “Trace Evidence” and can help solve cases. These individuals often have degrees in Forensic Science, Chemistry (or another “hard science”), or sometimes Criminal Justice. Please see the American Board of Criminalistics or the International Association for Identification for more information. Crime Scene Investigators are responsible for the careful documentation of crime scenes and the collection of all evidence. Depending on the jurisdiction, some crime scene investigators may be police officers or they may be civilians who work for Police Departments. These individuals often have degrees in Forensic Science, Chemistry (or another “hard science”), or sometimes Criminal Justice. Some crime scene investigators are also criminalists who work in the crime laboratory. Please see the International Association for Identification for more information. To learn more about becoming a forensic pathologist, odontologist, forensic biologist, toxicologist, or criminalist, please see the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.