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Strengthening Forensic Science in the United States: A Path Forward
RESEARCH AS A COMPONENT OF FORENSIC SCIENCEEDUCATION PROGRAMS
Student research and exposure to research is a critical component of an appropriate forensic science education.36 Research funding supports both faculty and graduate student research. Funding also supports the acquisition and maintenance of equipment and major research instrumentation and laboratory renovation.37 As noted in Chapter 2, the level of funding for forensic science research programs is seen by many observers as inadequate. Fisher notes that “labs are looking for more forensic scientists at the master’s and doctorate level. For universities to run graduate-level programs in the science, research dollars must be made available. However, the amounts of such R&D funds available to support forensic science at the National Institute of Justice are small and are all but non-existence [sic] from the National Science Foundation, and other funding sources.”38 Likewise, NIJ reported in 2004 that, “Currently, no sustainable source of State or Federal funding exists to support graduate education or research in forensic science. Nor should state and local governments fund research, as their funds have to support the service mission of the laboratories. The National Institute of Justice has traditionally provided virtually all federal research funding for forensic science, but additional funding from alternative sources is essential.”39
Many forensic degree programs are found at small colleges or universities with few graduate programs in science and where research resources are limited. The lack of research funding has discouraged universities in the United States from developing research-based forensic degree programs, which leads to limited opportunities to attract graduate students into such programs. Only a few universities offer Ph.D.-level education and research opportunities in forensic science, and these are chemistry or biology programs with a forensic science focus. Most graduate programs in forensic science are master’s programs, where financial support for graduate study is limited.
In addition, the lack of research funds means that universities are unlikely to develop research programs in forensic science. This lack of funding discourages top scientists from exploring the many scientific issues in the forensic science disciplines. This has become a vicious cycle during
To receive accreditation by FEPAC, a graduate program must include a component in which each student completes an independent research project leading to a thesis or written report, presented orally in a public forum for evaluation.