Forensic biologists examine body fluids, hair, bones and other human and nonhuman samples of evidence recovered from crime scenes. From their analysis -- which can also be used as forensic evidence in criminal and civil proceedings -- they can identify victims of crime and determine the cause and manner of death. Although forensic biologists primarily work for federal and state criminal investigating agencies, others find employment in private forensic laboratories and medical examination offices.
Using the Skills
To execute their duties competently, forensic biologists need excellent analytical and observation skills. They must assess a crime scene, determine the evidence collection sequence to use and spot little details, such as blood spatter on a shoelace. In the laboratory, forensic biologists need strong critical-thinking and practical skills. They should be able to identify the most effective forensic technique for examining the evidence and effectively operate electron microscopes and other equipment. Forensic biologists may be exposed to ghastly and messy scenes, so they must be psychologically resilient to maintain objectivity and avoid getting emotional.
It is the duty of forensic biologists to analyze biological evidence. In a case where a bloodied knife was the only evidence collected from a crime scene, biologists working at a law enforcement agency may perform DNA testing to determine whether the blood belongs to a person or an animal. They can also compare the DNA type with others obtained from suspects, relatives of a missing person or remains of unidentified people to find matches.
Compiling Reports and Other Duties
Forensic biologists compile reports detailing their findings. After examining semen obtained from a rape victim, for example, biologists working at a medical examiner’s office can, in their report, estimate the time the rape may have occurred, as well as identify the DNA type of the offender. If required, these professionals can present their findings in court proceedings.
Other duties include finding ways to neutralize or mitigate the effects of bioterrorism agents such as viruses and working with epidemiologists to investigate the sources of disease outbreaks and other public health threats.
To become a forensic biologist, pursue a bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in forensic biology, such as the one offered at Ferris State University in Michigan. The American Board of Criminalists awards a Diplomate of the ABC designation to forensic biologists with at least two years' experience who successfully complete the molecular biology and DNA examination. Combining this credential with a master’s degree in forensic biology significantly increases your competence as well as your chances of advancing to a senior position, such as forensic laboratory manager.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for all forensic science technicians was $57,340 in 2013. The lowest earners received at least $32,570, while the highest earners received up to $88,880.
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