Forensic investigators collect and analyze evidence from crime scenes. Many forensic investigators work as forensic scientists responsible for examining the physical evidence in a laboratory. Others may work in areas like computer forensics, examining digital information related to a crime. The amount of time it takes to become a forensic investigator can vary based on specialization. Education and training generally take from one to five years.
Associate Degree Options
Those who want to pursue a career working in the crime lab as a forensic science technician can obtain an associate degree in science technology. These degrees will introduce the student to a wide range of studies in laboratory technology and in science fields like biology, chemistry and physics. An associate degree will take about two years to complete and will require general education coursework in conjunction with the coursework in science and laboratory technology.
Bachelor's Degree Options
Some forensic investigators obtain bachelor's degrees in chemistry or biology. This provides them with much of the necessary background for working in the crime lab, the science knowledge needed and the general education background preferred by many employers. A bachelor's degree in one of these areas will typically take about four years to complete and will generally require a combination of about two years of general education courses followed by two years of coursework specifically related to the science major. Other bachelor's degree options include studies in areas like criminology or criminal justice.
Computer and Accounting Forensics
For investigators going into the fields of computer forensics or accounting, two basic educational options can be pursued. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a bachelor's degree in computer science or accounting is the best route for breaking into these fields. Degrees in criminology can suffice, but a strong technical background is needed. The bureau recommends the computer science and accounting degrees because of the specialized nature of these fields. Accounting degrees can prove helpful for those involved in forensic accounting, or the investigation of financial crimes. A second option is to pursue a certificate program in computer forensics. These will take about two semesters to complete and generally require about 21 credit hours of work. An accounting degree with a computer forensics certificate could prove marketable in the forensics investigation field.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics indicates that some science technicians and investigators gain employment and learn their job through on-the-job training alone. The amount of time spent completing training for various fields of forensic investigation can vary by field of specialization. Those who have no education related to their intended field of specialization can expect to spend a longer period of training than those who have a degree.