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Q&A - PhD Programs in Forensic Science

Can I work while studying for my PhD in forensic science?

Most jobs in forensic science require a bachelors degree or forensic science certification, meaning you should be well qualified by the time you are working toward your PhD. Consequently, many students in forensic science PhD programs already have jobs in the field. For example, students with a background in digital forensics might work as digital forensic analysts to build digital models, examine computer data and provide technical support to legal teams.

You might also consider looking into something more specialized, such as an evidence handling expert. Familiarity with forensic lab processes is important, as the evidence handling expert is responsible for ensuring that lab procedures are performed in the correct sequence in order to maintain the integrity of the evidence.

Students earning a PhD in forensic science often teach as adjunct professors. Many community colleges do not require a PhD in order to teach in a part-time position, so you will be qualified with just a bachelors or masters. Working as an adjunct, an often overlooked application of a forensic science degree, can give you valuable professional experience.

While enrolled in a traditional degree program, you might encounter scheduling conflicts. Enrolling in an online PhD in forensic science offers more flexibility in scheduling, so balancing school and work should be less of an issue.

Are there any scholarships for traditional or online PhD students in forensic science?

A number of scholarship and funding opportunities exist for students earning their doctorate in forensic science. Most top forensic science PhD programs, such as the program at University of Central Oklahoma, offer teaching or research assistantships. Students interested in a teaching or research assistantship often have to submit an application similar to the initial application to the school. They are awarded assistantships and generally receive a full tuition waiver and a small stipend in exchange for teaching classes in their area of study. This is a great way to gain work experience and avoid accruing unnecessary debt.

The Ellis R. Kerley scholarship is available to graduate students associated with the American Academy of Forensic Science or the American Board of Forensic Anthropology. This highly competitive scholarship is awarded to only 1 student each year. Applicants must demonstrate superior academic merit, be a graduate student at a university affiliated with AAFS or ABFA and be a student member of AAFS.

Because an accredited online PhD in forensic science is still hard to come by, scholarship opportunities are not offered specifically to PhD students pursuing a degree online. Nevertheless, you should try to seek out any funding opportunities that might be available to you.

Are there any notable people who have earned PhDs in forensic science?

Forensic science degrees online and on campus are becoming more popular so more notable people are entering the field, such as Dr. Marcella Farinelli Fierro, who received her PhD from University at Buffalo in 1996. She served as the chief medical examiner for the state of Virginia and has done consulting work with the FBI. She has also given expert testimony for a number important cases.

Many pioneers in the field made their name before earning the best doctorate in forensic science was necessary to do so. Dr. Cyril Wecht, for example, studied medicine and earned a law degree from University of Maryland in 1962. He is most well known for his controversial theories about the deaths of John F. Kennedy, Elvis Presley and JonBenet Ramsey.

Dr. Henry Lee is a well-known forensic scientist who even has his own TV show, but like Dr. Wecht he received his education before a PhD in forensic science was available. He earned his PhD in biochemistry from New York University in 1975 and has gone on to work on such cases as the O.J. Simpson trial, the Washington, D.C. sniper case and the death of journalist Danny Casolaro. Dr. Lee currently teaches forensic science at University of New Haven.

Do you recommend any forensic science PhD student blogs that I should follow?

While very few forensic science blogs maintained by PhD students exist, it will still be worth your while to look at blogs written by forensic science professionals, such as Forensics Talk. Run by a forensic nurse, this blog shares the author’s personal thoughts, analyzes major news stories such as the Trayvon Martin case and breaks down each crime based on her knowledge and experience as a forensic nurse.

Forensic Photoshop is dedicated to the practical application of Adobe Photoshop in forensic investigations as well as managing forensic workflow. It provides information on software updates, walkthroughs and other great resources to aid in document, video and image analysis.

In the News is run by Dr. Karen Franklin, a criminal investigator and faculty member at Alliant University. In her blog she draws on her professional experience in the criminal justice system and her background in forensic psychology to examine and analyze current cases.

CrimProf Blog focuses on criminal proceedings and the role of forensics in the courtroom. In addition to case studies and analyses, the blog presents links to resources like professional and academic journals as well as some reputable schools offering related degree programs.

While not academic, PhD Comics takes a sarcastic approach to finding humor in the pursuit of a PhD. It does not cover forensic science PhD programs specifically, but it features a character studying sciences that you might relate to.