There is no telling how many college students in criminal justice programs found their career by watching television programs that glorify the profession. Perhaps they are fans of Ducky’s lab in NCIS or the Art Deco glitz of the CSI Miami crime lab. What these students will soon discover is that the educational route to that career in forensics and the televised hype are not the same.
The move from TV show glamour to the reality of forensic anthropology will take methodical study of the human being and a lively interest in skeletons. And that’s just the beginning. One of the best ways to plan a career in this field is by understanding its meaning.
According to the American Board of Forensic Anthropology (ABFA), “Forensic anthropology is the application of the science of physical or biological anthropology to the legal process.” In most cases, the forensic anthropologist is examining the skeleton or skeletal remains of individuals.
A key term in this definition is “science,” and the individual planning a career in this area must understand that he or she is entering a field in which science predominates. So in considering this as a career option, a first step is to decide whether one has the disposition, skills and aptitude to master a science discipline. Someone who is a clinical lab scientist would make an excellent candidate since they are already experienced and educated in a science discipline.
The student who wishes to pursue this field will need a bachelor’s degree at a minimum with a concentration on a physical or applied science. Since anthropological forensics is concerned with osteology or the study of bones, teeth and other skeletal parts, then the student will need to concentrate on course work in the area of osteology.
Osteology is one of numerous fields in the forensic science realm. Other specialties include drug interactions, blood spatters and trace elements, toxicology, fingerprint analysis, ballistics, criminalistics and a host of other subjects. So the student planning a career in forensic anthropology will concentrate on an extremely narrow band within the forensic sciences.
There are few college programs of study which concentrate on forensic anthropology. In fact, there are few college programs specific to forensic science. This means that individuals interested in this field will likely major in a criminal justice or legal field or a physical or biological science program of study and then take courses specific to forensic anthropology. The American Academic of Forensic Sciences provides a list of colleges and universities offering a specialized degree in forensic science.
Once the degree is obtained and the individual is hired in a crime lab or local police department, additional study is mandatory, either to update one’s knowledge or to become certified as a specialist.
Mapping out your career as in forensic anthropology means a realistic analysis of the profession, its educational requirements and your abilities. You won’t find that watching TV.