innerbody

How to Become a Forensic Lab Technician

What Does a Forensic Lab Technician Do?

forensic evidence

Forensic lab technicians apply their knowledge and background in lab science to further the reach of the law. By using the latest laboratory techniques to analyze physical evidence from crime scenes, these professionals help to solve crimes and successfully prosecute criminal offenders. Forensic lab technicians work in sophisticated crime laboratories that are located in federal agencies, state or local agencies or independent facilities.

In addition to meticulous lab skills, this career requires the ability to summarize lab findings in written reports and to testify in court. Forensic lab technicians are sometimes called on to testify on physical evidence ranging from DNA to fingerprints to spent shell casings. In court testimony, they must describe their laboratory processes and findings, and explain their qualifications and experience, sometimes under aggressive questioning.

A job as a forensic lab technician enables lab techs use their unique combination of laboratory, analytical and oratorical skills to advance justice. Their lab work and expert testimony help to correctly identify and prosecute criminal offenders who might otherwise go scot-free.

Workplace Details

Lab technicians work directly with other scientists and supporting lab staff. The workweek is typically a standard one, although in some cases lab techs are called upon to do emergency or time-sensitive analyses during nights, evenings or weekends.

Salary and Job Outlook

State
Average Wage
California
$80150
Florida
$47740
Texas
$51700
Arizona
$56520
New York
$66690

Hover over any state to explore local income and job growth data.

Created with Raphaël 2.1.0 AL AK AZ AR CA CO CT DE DC FL GA HI ID IL IN IA KS KY LA ME MD MA MI MN MS MO MT NE NV NH NJ NM NY NC ND OH OK OR PA RI SC SD TN TX UT VT VA WA WV WI WY

ALABAMA

Median Salary: 
$48,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $94,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Birmingham$42,090$55,770$117,580

ALASKA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

ARIZONA

Median Salary: 
$52,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 31%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Phoenix$36,340$56,050$82,900
Tuscon$31,550$47,090$79,150

ARKANSAS

Median Salary: 
$38,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $56,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 33%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Little Rock$29,590$38,910$56,480

CALIFORNIA

Median Salary: 
$77,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $48,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $117,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 32%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 160

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Los Angeles$54,770$87,700$122,770
San Francisco Bay$51,080$78,760$112,540
San Diego$53,730$76,730$101,220
Sacramento$60,370$88,660$118,500

COLORADO

Median Salary: 
$58,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 17%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Denver$43,060$60,590$87,050
Colorado Springs$42,860$57,020$77,240

CONNECTICUT

Median Salary: 
$73,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $50,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $95,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 10%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

DELAWARE

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Washington DC$35,430$71,390$122,280

FLORIDA

Median Salary: 
$44,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $69,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 29%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 110

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Miami$36,000$54,720$88,480
Orlando$30,170$44,730$61,320
Tampa$33,110$45,700$69,510
Jacksonville$31,890$42,300$58,780

GEORGIA

Median Salary: 
$40,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $27,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Atlanta$32,540$46,330$90,110

HAWAII

Median Salary: 
$50,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

IDAHO

Median Salary: 
$46,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,400

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Boise$33,160$48,020$66,420

ILLINOIS

Median Salary: 
$66,000
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $110,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 30

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Chicago$43,460$63,130$110,680

INDIANA

Median Salary: 
$60,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $38,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Indianapolis$40,780$62,140$77,700

IOWA

Median Salary: 
$59,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $45,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

KANSAS

Median Salary: 
$44,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $30,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $70,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Wichita$34,250$46,700$68,660
Kansas City$29,430$42,540$71,350

KENTUCKY

Median Salary: 
$42,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $54,800

Job Growth Data Not Available

LOUISIANA

Median Salary: 
$46,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baton Rouge$32,700$47,710$75,090

MAINE

Median Salary: 
$40,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

MARYLAND

Median Salary: 
$59,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $114,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 12%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Baltimore$33,970$57,860$87,870
Frederick$19,530$54,030$114,780

MASSACHUSETTS

Median Salary: 
$70,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $19,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $115,000

Job Growth Data Not Available

MICHIGAN

Median Salary: 
$64,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Detroit$41,210$72,120$73,340
Grand Rapids$18,110$57,230$72,570

MINNESOTA

Median Salary: 
$56,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $39,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $73,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Minneapolis - St. Paul$38,560$56,280$73,880

MISSISSIPPI

Median Salary: 
$51,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $66,200

2014-2024 Job Growth: 18%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Jackson$34,320$52,190$67,820

MISSOURI

Median Salary: 
$50,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $69,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
St. Louis$35,170$92,690$110,260
Kansas City$29,430$42,540$71,350

MONTANA

Median Salary: 
$58,900
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $36,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,600

Job Growth Data Not Available

NEBRASKA

Median Salary: 
$50,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,900
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $72,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 28%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Omaha$40,780$50,250$68,690
Lincoln$41,770$54,330$76,910

NEVADA

Median Salary: 
$73,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $53,100
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $98,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 34%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Las Vegas$53,020$72,700$98,740
Reno$53,650$77,310$97,420

NEW HAMPSHIRE

Median Salary: 
$68,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $55,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

NEW JERSEY

Median Salary: 
$54,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $32,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $77,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 13%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Newark$32,370$52,690$94,890

NEW MEXICO

Median Salary: 
$51,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $76,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

NEW YORK

Median Salary: 
$66,100
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $91,500

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
New York City$44,080$65,810$92,970
Albany$48,270$69,900$90,800

NORTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$42,200
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $33,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $60,700

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Charlotte$34,390$47,170$62,650
Raleigh$34,580$42,970$63,470

NORTH DAKOTA

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 26%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

OHIO

Median Salary: 
$57,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $43,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $84,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Columbus$44,290$57,390$81,900

OKLAHOMA

Median Salary: 
$61,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $20,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $79,900

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Oklahoma City$18,900$65,040$80,340

OREGON

Median Salary: 
$65,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $41,800
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $81,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 24%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Portland$48,480$66,900$81,730

PENNSYLVANIA

Median Salary: 
$44,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,500
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,000

2014-2024 Job Growth: 21%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Philadelphia$28,310$45,630$74,870

RHODE ISLAND

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

SOUTH CAROLINA

Median Salary: 
$43,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $28,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $65,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 25%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SOUTH DAKOTA

Median Salary: 
$50,600
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,600
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,100

2014-2024 Job Growth: 27%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

TENNESSEE

Median Salary: 
$42,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $29,200
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $75,100

Job Growth Data Not Available

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Nashville$27,720$39,030$74,880
Knoxville$33,270$46,090$83,200
Chattanooga$27,650$41,800$69,410

TEXAS

Median Salary: 
$45,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $74,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 42%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 80

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Dallas - Ft. Worth$33,460$48,230$76,480
Houston$38,480$60,530$85,980
San Antonio$27,650$41,800$69,410
Austin$33,350$44,750$67,830

UTAH

Median Salary: 
$49,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $34,300
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $69,800

2014-2024 Job Growth: 36%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Salt Lake City$36,510$50,570$71,170

VERMONT

Salary and Job Growth Data Not Available

VIRGINIA

Median Salary: 
$65,300
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $35,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $109,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 35%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 50

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Virginia Beach$34,210$48,880$81,210
Richmond$35,960$65,230$86,790

WASHINGTON

Median Salary: 
$62,500
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $42,000
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $83,600

2014-2024 Job Growth: 11%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 20

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Seattle$49,310$67,090$86,750

WEST VIRGINIA

Salary Data Not Available

2014-2024 Job Growth: 3%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

WISCONSIN

Median Salary: 
$43,800
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $31,700
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $62,700

2014-2024 Job Growth: 23%
Projected Annual Job Openings: 10

SALARY BY METRO AREA:

CityEntry LevelMedianLots of Experience
Madison$27,580$42,280$61,010

WYOMING

Median Salary: 
$66,400
Bottom 10% (Entry Level): $40,400
Top 10% (Lots of Experience): $83,400

2014-2024 Job Growth: 20%
Projected Annual Job Openings: Fewer than 10

Forensic lab technicians make a median wage of $56,750, as reported by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. The bottom 10% make a median income of $33,860, while the top 10% make a median $97,400 per year. Advanced education and experience bring higher salaries. Jobs with federal or state agencies also tend to have better-than-average benefits.

Because of advances in technology and the increased use of forensic evidence, employment for forensic lab technicians is expected to grow at a very fast rate of 27 percent through 2024, according to the BLS. It must be noted, however, that the relatively few number of these technicians in our country means the total number will grow by just under 4,000 by 2024. Due to media exposure, what was once a hidden aspect of law enforcement has moved to center stage and more people than ever are interested in this growing field. Technicians with at least a bachelor’s degree and some experience stand the best chance of employment.

Compare Salaries by City

Los Angeles CA Median Pay

$87700 Per Year

$42.16 Per Hour

Washington DC Median Pay

$71390 Per Year

$34.32 Per Hour

Steps to Become a Forensic Lab Technician

1

Earn a bachelor's degree.

To obtain a job in a crime laboratory, aspiring forensic lab technicians should have a four-year bachelor’s degree, preferably in one of the life sciences, forensic science or criminal justice. Certificate programs (about one-year) and associate’s degrees (about two years) in forensic science are also available, but these qualify graduates for lab assistant positions that are primarily entry level. To get the best education and preparation, students should find an accredited program. A list is available at the AAFS Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission.

Show Me Schools »

2

Undergo training.

Because the results of their work contribute to a verdict of guilt or innocence, forensic lab technicians undergo meticulous and thorough training before working independently. This training is provided by a senior technician or scientist. Depending on the specialty, training takes six months to more than a year, especially for new graduates.

3

Keep up to date with periodic education and exams.

Forensic lab technicians are not required to have a license or certification, but they do need to pass proficiency tests on occasion. They must stay well informed of advances in the field by attending conferences, seminars or additional training classes.

4

Consider opportunities for your career to evolve.

Their background and experience make forensic lab technicians ideal crime scene investigators. A love of lab work leads some into technician or technology roles in medical or clinical labs. American Medical Technologists is a good resource for checking out similar lab tech careers. Obtaining a master’s degree also leads to exciting advancement and leadership opportunities.

Exploring Degree Paths

BACHELOR'S DEGREE

4 years

In order to work as a forensic lab technician, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree. There are several possible pathways that will qualify you for entry-level lab jobs:

  • Major in biology, chemistry, or a related natural science
  • Major in a natural science with a concentration or minor in forensic science
  • Major in forensic science

Undergraduate forensic science programs are usually offered at four-year universities. When choosing a program, look for a curriculum that emphasizes laboratory experience and hands-on analysis. Opportunities for field experience and internships are also desirable.

Show Me Schools »

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) provides voluntary accreditation for forensic science programs at the bachelor’s and master’s levels. An accredited program has met the basic educational standards set by educators and experts in the field.

At the bachelor’s level, forensic science students complete a series of general education courses in writing, the humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. (In some programs, these must be completed successfully before applying to the forensic science program.)

The bachelor’s-level forensic science curriculum is usually broad based so that you can explore a variety of areas. Expect to take classes in:

Crime scene processing

Practice collecting, processing, and handling evidence from different types of crime scenes.

Instrumentation

Use chromatography, spectrometry, electrophoresis, and x-ray diffraction to test evidence.

Forensic microscopy

Examine evidence using different types of microscopes and mounting techniques.

Lab procedures

Learn how to promote safety and preserve the integrity of your results.

As an undergraduate, take as many lab-based courses as possible in order to improve your observation and note-taking skills. In addition, AAFS recommends taking elective courses in math, statistics, and writing that go beyond your degree requirements.

MASTER'S DEGREE

2 years beyond the bachelor's level

With a master’s degree in forensic science, you’ll be able to work on more complex cases using advanced techniques. A master’s can also open doors to management, teaching, and research.

There are only 16 AAFP-accredited forensic science master’s programs in the United States. All of them are housed at four-year research universities and medical schools. Programs may be generalist or focused on a specific discipline like toxicology.

Ideally, your forensic science master’s program should blend coursework with hands-on experience. Classes at this level go beyond pure science to show you how your role fits into a larger legal context. Common courses include:

Forensic toxicology

Learn to gather, document, interpret, and handle evidence related to drugs and poisons.

Forensic drug analysis

Practice identifying and measuring levels of commonly used drugs in the body.

Evidence and procedure

Understand how your handling of evidence can help or hinder court cases.

Biostatistics

Use a variety of computer applications to analyze and interpret biological data.

The best master’s programs also offer opportunities for internships, fieldwork, and research. Master’s students are encouraged to participate in scholarly activities like symposia, conferences, and journal clubs.

Keys to Success as a Forensic Lab Technician

Necessary Skills and Qualities

Resilience

Forensic lab technicians need to be calm, careful and not easily nauseated.

Meticulous attention to detail

They should be thorough and detail-oriented by nature. Forensic lab techs must have analytical minds and be able to detect and communicate patterns.

Communication

Although they are technical experts, forensic lab technicians must also possess top-notch speaking and writing skills in case they need to testify in court or write a report that must pass muster in a courtroom setting.

Additional Credentials

There are many voluntary certifications available to forensic lab technicians. Some are generalist while others focus on a specific discipline.

Before investing time and money in certification, talk to your boss or mentor. Not all credentials are valuable or well recognized in the forensic science community. Make sure that the credential you’re interested in is likely to advance your career.

A few examples of forensic lab science credentialing programs include:

The American Board of Criminalistics (ABC) offers Diplomate (entry-level) and Fellow (advanced) credentials in forensic lab science. To successfully certify, you must hold a bachelor’s degree, meet the experience requirements for your specialty, and pass an exam. Available specialties:

  • Comprehensive criminalistics examination (CCE)
  • Molecular biology (MB)
  • Hairs and fibers (HF)
  • Paints and polymers (PP)
  • Drug analysis (DA)
  • Fire debris analysis (FD)

The American Board of Forensic Toxicology (ABFT) certifies forensic lab technicians at the diplomate (D-ABFT) and fellow (F-ABFT) levels. Certification requires a bachelor’s and doctoral degree, respectively. You’ll also need to meet experience requirements and pass a test. Diplomates can certify in the following areas:

  • Forensic toxicology
  • Forensic alcohol toxicology
  • Forensic drug toxicology

The International Association for Identification (IAI) offers certification in a variety of specialties. To qualify, you’ll need to meet the education and experience requirements for your area and sit for an exam.

IAI certifies forensic lab technicians in:

  • Bloodstain pattern analysis
  • Footwear
  • Forensic art
  • Forensic photography
  • Forensic video
  • Latent print
  • Tenprint fingerprint
  • Crime scene analysis
x