BS – Forensic Biology and BS – Forensic Chemistry
The College of Science offers two undergraduate degrees in forensic science: Forensic Biology and Forensic Chemistry. To declare a major in forensic science, students must have an overall GPA of at least 2.5 and a math/science GPA of at least 2.5. Both degrees are very rigorous and contain at least 86 semester hours in science and mathematics. Many forensic scientists work in crime laboratories. For example, a forensic biologist usually specializes in DNA analysis or continues to medical school to pursue a career as a medical examiner; a forensic chemist analyzes non-biological trace evidence found at crime scenes in order to identify unknown materials and match samples to known substances.
In order to find employment in the forensic science field, you need a master’s degree. At the present time, UTEP does not offer a graduate degree in forensic science; however, a master’s degree in Biology with an emphasis on DNA analysis or a masters in chemistry with an emphasis on gas chromatography and spectrophotometry will prepare you for work in a forensic lab. A GPA of at least 3.0 is required for graduate school.
At the present time, the degree in forensic science is not accredited by the American Association of Forensic Scientists because it is a fairly new degree and UTEP has to graduate four cohorts before we apply for accreditation. The degree contents are based on the requirements for accreditation.
Forensic biologists utilize scientific methodology and analyses to investigate evidence such as human, animal or plant remains, DNA traces, physical material like clothing fibers, and other material that can be helpful to legal investigations. Forensic biologists have degrees in either forensic science or biological sciences with a focus on forensics, and they may work for law enforcement or government agencies, private and consulting companies that specialize in laboratory analyses, or at universities.
Training for forensic biologists, depending on the specialty, includes university courses in biology (including entomology and botany), chemistry, human and animal pathology, biochemistry, and DNA analysis techniques. In order to interact with and advise law enforcement officials, additional courses in the areas of mathematics, physics, and criminal justice are often included in forensic biologist training at the university level. Additional training may involve collection of evidence at mock crime scenes, and subsequent analyses in the laboratory. These analyses may include analytical techniques for the identification of blood and bodily secretions, DNA, pathology, and other forms of potential evidence. Such training gives forensic biologists a basic understanding of scientific principles, and standard practices for laboratory documentation with appropriate methodology. Courses in criminal justice instill a basic understanding of the judicial process, including criminal trials, and standard procedures for the handling and analysis of evidence.
Once these analyses are completed, the forensic biologist will write and submit technical reports (albeit in laymen's terms) of their findings to law enforcement officers or courts of law. Due to a recent ruling from the United States Supreme Court, attorneys representing individuals accused of a crime have the right to cross examine the individual who conducted forensic tests of relevant evidence. And thus, forensic biologists will often be required to testify as an expert witness in a court of law about the findings in their reports.
Forensic chemists analyze non-biological trace evidence found at crime scenes in order to identify unknown materials and match samples to known substances. They also analyze drugs/controlled substances taken from scenes and people in order to identify and sometimes quantify these materials.
A strong background in chemistry and instrumental analysis and a good grounding in criminalistics are vital. An undergraduate degree in forensic science or a natural science is required for work in crime laboratories, with extensive coursework in mathematics, chemistry, and biology. More advanced positions, such as lab managers and supervisors, require a master’s degree. A Ph.D. is often preferred for advancement to positions such as lab director.
Those interested in working with trace evidence, such as glass, hairs, and gunshot residue, should focus on instrumentation skills and take courses in geology, soil chemistry, and materials science. If forensic biology, such as DNA analysis, is preferred, take microbiology, genetics, and biochemistry courses. Those interested in the toxicological aspects of this work, such as obtaining and interpreting toxicology reports, should study physiology, biochemistry, and chemistry.
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