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Use your scientific savvy to interpret evidence and solve crimes.

What does a Criminalist do?

At first glance, a Criminalist sounds like a professional criminal — a miscreant so masterful that they’ve earned a special suffix at the end of their “criminal” title. Really, though, the exact opposite is true: Criminalists don’t commit crimes. They solve them by collecting, preserving, and interpreting evidence at crime scenes.

Essentially, “Criminalist” is a synonym for Forensic Scientist. As a Criminalist, therefore, you’re one of those Crime Scene Investigators on TV crime dramas. Unlike your television counterparts, however, you don’t unravel a crime during a 60-second scene between commercial breaks. Instead, you go through a detailed, painstaking process that can take hours, days, or even weeks of analysis.

Still, the gist is the same: Like the Forensic Technicians on “CSI,” “Law & Order,” and “Dexter,” you’re on call 24/7. Whether it’s murder, theft, kidnapping, arson, or assault, when a crime occurs, you visit the place where it happened in order to collect physical evidence that proves what happened there.

Typically, you have an area of expertise. Some Criminalists, for example, specialize in trace evidence, such as hairs and fibers or paints and polymers. Others, meanwhile, specialize in fire debris analysis, molecular biology, or drug chemistry. Regardless, the process is similar. First, you collect, photograph, and document evidence. Second, you examine it in a laboratory to determine what it is and what it says about the crime. Next, you prepare a report that communicates your findings. Finally, you testify to your findings in court when someone’s charged for the crime.

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