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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
certificate and degree programs to prepare students for forensic science careers. There are several types of forensic practitioners, including criminalists (those who work in crime laboratories), who make up a large part of the forensic science workforce and who often enter the profession with a bachelor’s degree, and other forensic science practitioners (e.g., pathologists, odontologists, entomologists, toxicologists, anthropologists), who typically have advanced degrees, often Ph.D.s, and who might work part time in forensic science activities. Another group of forensic examiners include crime scene investigators, who usually do not have advanced degrees; many do not have college degrees above the associate level.
Second, forensic science practitioners require continuing professional development and training. Scientific advances in forensic science techniques and research in the forensic science disciplines are of interest to practitioners who must be aware of these new developments. Forensic science practitioners also may need to complete additional training for certification purposes or may desire to learn new skills as part of their career development. Training refers to the “formal, structured process through which a forensic scientist reaches a level of scientific knowledge and expertise required to conduct specific forensic analyses.”1 Continuing professional development is the “mechanism through which a forensic scientist remains current or advances to a higher level of expertise, specialization, or responsibility.”2
Third, there is a need to educate the users of forensic science analyses, especially those in the legal community. Judges, lawyers, and law students can benefit from a greater understanding of the scientific bases underlying the forensic science disciplines and how the underlying scientific validity of techniques affects the interpretation of findings. These three objectives are explored in more detail in this chapter.
STATUS OF FORENSIC SCIENCE EDUCATION
Demand for Forensic Science Practitioners
Demand for more and better-skilled forensic science practitioners is rising at both the macro and micro levels. At the macro level, the appropriate question to ask is, what is the need for forensic science expertise in the United States? At the micro level, the question to ask is, what are the needs of a crime laboratory in hiring new forensic science personnel?
National Institute of Justice. 2004. Education and Training in Forensic Science: A Guidefor Forensic Science Laboratories, Educational Institutions, and Students. Washington, DC: National Institute of Justice, p. 25.