Few positions within the field of criminology and criminal justice have as much allure in popular culture today as crime scene investigation (CSI) jobs. Of course CSI careers in reality are not exactly like the versions of them you may see on television; their day-to-day work can be more mundane, and they require serious training and education to do them well. But if you are willing to put in the time and energy to channel your inner David Caruso and pursue a CSI career path, you may find it a creative and rewarding opportunity to work on the cutting edge of law enforcement technology.
Read below about what goes into a typical CSI career path, from personality traits that may indicate the field is right for you to disciplines you may pursue within it and the salary outlook and education requirements for CSI jobs.
What Makes a Good CSI Professional?
It takes a very specific disposition to make it in the field of crime scene investigation. CSI professionals must be extremely detail-oriented to complete scientific investigative procedures accurately and precisely in every instance. They must also possess a meticulous mind for organization to track the complex and extensive evidence they can generate through the course of an investigation, as well as the critical thinking ability necessary to draw compelling connections between physical evidence and suspects in criminal cases.1
Beyond these innate abilities, successful candidates for CSI jobs must also possess a constitution that can withstand the challenging experiences that are part of everyday life for crime scene investigators. Crime scenes, by their very nature, can be unpleasant places, more upsetting than they can appear on television programs that tend to glamorize the profession. A successful CSI professional will likely need to have the stomach to accept blood, autopsies, and other uncomfortable sensory experiences as part of the job.2
Education and Training for CSI Jobs
Educational requirements for CSI jobs can vary broadly based on the type of role you desire and the nature of the agency. While some of the smallest municipal police departments may be willing to allow candidates to move into CSI roles with only a high school diploma (provided they have copious on-the-job training), most agencies will require a four-year college degree at the absolute minimum. Some agencies may also require a scientific background for a CSI career, particularly if you want to specialize as a forensic analysis technician. A bachelor’s degree in a natural science such as chemistry, anatomy or biology will go a long way toward helping your CSI career in this regard.1
Beyond these basic qualifications, an advanced degree could give your career in crime scene investigation a very nice boost, particularly if you are interested in positioning yourself to move into a leadership role. Across all fields and professions, master’s degree holders earn median salaries that are, on average, nearly 20 percent higher than professionals with only bachelor’s degrees.3 A criminology and criminal justice master’s degree can provide you with an intellectual background that can help you stand out from your competition in the CSI job market.
Responsibilities and Disciplines Within CSI Jobs
The International Association for Identification (IAI)—the leading professional organization for CSI professionals—counts a wide-ranging array of topic areas and professional responsibilities toward its crime scene investigation certification. These include collection and preservation of evidence, courtroom testimony, latent print detection, report writing, underwater search and recovery, arson investigations, and more,4 and they provide a great overview of the diverse skills you may utilize in a CSI career.
The IAI also officially recognizes seven other separate disciplines within the field of forensic analysis, many of which have an IAI certification process associated with them. These include such specialized skill sets as bloodstain pattern identification, facial identification, forensic art, footwear and tire track examination, and forensic photography and digital imaging.5 While not necessary for all forensic roles, specific certifications in these subject areas can help you get a leg up when applying to CSI jobs in the future.
Salary and Job Growth Outlook for CSI Jobs
CSI jobs can take a number of different forms, each of which is categorized separately by the Bureau of Labor Statistics. Generally speaking, CSI jobs can be parsed into two broad categories: law enforcement officer positions that require police officer training and civilian crime scene officer roles which do not.2 The latter of these categories, while requiring more intense training up front, also can position you for greater professional development down the line.
For instance, civilian crime scene investigators may often find themselves in laboratory-based roles. If this appeals to you—if your ideal CSI career involves meticulously running tests and poring over results—then you are likely interested in a forensic science technician role. These positions pay a median salary of $58,230, and they are expected to grow by 17 percent by 2026 (a rate BLS categorizes as “much faster than average”).6
If you choose to go the route of a sworn police officer and you desire a CSI career path that takes you more frequently into the field in an investigative capacity, the median salary you can expect to see rises to $63,380. Police officer roles are expected to grow by 7 percent by 2026, a rate roughly as fast as average across all professions.7 And with hard work over the course of a service career, you could see yourself promoted a detective or criminal investigator role that carries an enticing mean annual wage of $85,020.8
If you think your professional future may involve pursuing a creative and analytical CSI career path, now is the time to position yourself to thrive in the field with an advanced degree. The online Master of Arts in Criminology and Criminal Justice program from Kent State University can be your gateway to a leadership role, and can help ensure you have the skills and perspective to succeed as a crime scene investigator. Learn more about the experienced, innovative faculty who can prepare you for an exciting CSI career.
1. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from work.chron.com/long-become-csi-agent-10913.html
2. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from forensicmag.com/article/2007/01/crime-scene-investigator-career
3. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from www.bls.gov/careeroutlook/2018/data-on-display/education-pays.htm
4. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from theiai.org/crime_scene_requirements.php
5. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from theiai.org/certifications.php
6. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from www.bls.gov/ooh/life-physical-and-social-science/forensic-science-technicians.htm
7. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from www.bls.gov/ooh/protective-service/police-and-detectives.htm
8. Retrieved on August 19, 2019, from www.bls.gov/oes/current/oes333021.htm