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Author Topic: Undergrad advice please  (Read 21342 times)

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Offline Scott Smith

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Undergrad advice please
« on: October 20, 2011, 11:41:40 PM »
Hello AFTE!  I am seeking some advice for my undergraduate studies.  I read the advice you folks gave to Zero MOA a few years ago.  I have found two programs I am considering to launch my forensics career.  The first is a standard chemistry degree from a local university.  The other is a forensic chemistry program about 3.5 hours away.  I have compared the two programs tirelessly and need your input.

The forensic chem program is a chemistry degree with just two different classes.  Granted, those two classes involve trace, toxicology, and DNA, but is it a) worth the commute for just these classes, and b) necessary since (like F/TM) an agency will train me as they see fit?

Also, I noticed a couple of you advised on getting a masters degree...I would think that going through a graduate program without any work experience wouldn't matter.  Is my logic flawed?

Last question:  in '08 Michael Ward mentioned to MOA the market was saturated.  Is this still the case?  It won't deter me from my goals, but I would like a realistic expectation for myself.

Thank you to all!  See you in New York!

-Scott Smith

Offline Justine Kreso

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #1 on: October 21, 2011, 06:35:41 AM »
How much info are you really getting into with 2 courses?  It seems like you'd have a few classes each semester on each science within a lab and that's it.  Not enough time for you to really pick up intensive enough information in which it would be some benefit to a lab.  Save your commute and get a good internship during the summers and I'm sure you'll learn a lot more than you would in those classes.  

Down the road, you could always pick up those 2 other classes at the other college as well without bothering with their actual degree program.  

IF you can get a job right out of college, I see no point in getting a MS.  My senior year of college I said I'd go get a MS in forensics if I couldn't get a job right away.  I did....if I had a MS I would have started at my job about $1200 higher than I did, but then it all evens out because we top out at the same pay....so the most I would have ever been ahead in money was being a step ahead in salary and retirement, but I would have had $60,000 in student loans.  

That's just my opinion.  Others might have a different one since we all have different career experiences and in the end you really can only plan so much for this thing because you have no idea what lab hiring situations are going to be like in 4 years.


And glad we have our first student attendee for AFTE 2012!  :clap:
Justine Kreso
Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences
Syracuse, NY

Offline Tori Kujala

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #2 on: October 21, 2011, 08:27:58 AM »
Great points, Justine.

Something else to consider:  The Chemistry degree leaves you open for other employment opportunities in case you don't find a forensics job right away.  The Forensic Chemistry degree might limit your opportunities if an employer is looking for a QA/QC/R&D Chemist and he/she knows little about the FC degree program.

It might pay better to get the Masters later, once you are established.  I would have started at the same pay (an ex-associate who had her Masters did start here a month after I did at the same starting salary).  After promoting to Senior Forensic Scientist, I am eligible for an 8% raise if I went back to school to get my Masters.  At my age, I don't see myself sitting in night school.

Tk
Tori Kujala
Forensic Firearm Consultants, LLC
8505 Prairie Rose Lane
Fort Worth, TX  76123
817-528-5520

Offline Calvin Story

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #3 on: October 21, 2011, 09:29:16 AM »
The Texas Dept. of Public Safety system has a headquarters lab and 5 field labs (2 more coming on line soon) with Firearms Examiners. We train new Firearms Examiners. We have 6 in training right now. We have approx. 100 applicants for each opening we post. Most have degrees. We have to give extra points to Master degree applicants to help weed down to the 15 or so we will interview for each opening. Each opening is filled based on the applicants oral interview.
So, if we have 15 applicants with Master degrees, they will usually get the interviews. USUALLY, not all interviewees have Masters degrees. However, the starting salary is the same no matter what degrees you have.
Muddied the water, didn't I! Sorry but that is how our system works!
Our Second Amendment is America's original Homeland Security provision

Cal Story
Texas DPS, Austin

Offline Calvin Story

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #4 on: October 21, 2011, 10:15:22 AM »
Replying to my own post! Does that prove that I am getting old?

I just learned that we get 100 plus applicants for HEADQUARTERS openings. We only get 10 - 20 applicants for the field lab openings. Therefore, applicants that do not have Masters degrees are much more likely to get interviews for field lab positions. Our posted openings are specific to the locations where there are vacancies.
I also learned that points are awarded for internships. So do an internship at a Police agency while working on your BS degree and then apply (at least in the Texas DPS system). You don't have the added expense and time that you would have obtaining a Masters degree.
Our Second Amendment is America's original Homeland Security provision

Cal Story
Texas DPS, Austin

Offline Jeff Goudeau

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #5 on: October 21, 2011, 10:16:44 AM »
I second what Justine said about the internship.  We have hired a lot of people that have interned in our lab and some of those that we have not hired have gotten very good recommendations from us to other labs.  Of course, there was this one that may never get a job in forensics after he interned with me....I think he may be waiting tables now but not sure (don't act like and idiot during your intership).  

I got my Masters after I came to work...it worked out well for me going that route.
Jeff Goudeau
Firearms Supervisor
Louisiana State Police Crime Lab
Baton Rouge, LA

Offline Jeff Foggy

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #6 on: October 21, 2011, 11:46:18 AM »
I agree with Justine.  Save the travel time.  When you get into a crime lab, they are going to train you how to do the job anyway.  I have a chemistry degree and a forensic science degree and neither of them taught me how to do firearms identification.  Try to get a volunteer job or internship in a lab (most labs are good ole' boy networks that tend to hire and promote from within).

As for the masters, it matters where you work.  Some agencies give a pay bump for having advanced degrees.  Mine could give a flip.  Also, some agencies have tuition reimbursement plans that will assist in paying for the masters once hired.  These are questions to ask in an interview.

As far as saturation, we see a ton of applicants, but someone is always hiring.  Of course, we just eliminated Chemistry in our region due to budget and workload (a reality of working for a state agency). Also, be willing to be mobile.  You may have to move across the country for your first job, so apply everywhere.

Offline Michael Ward

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #7 on: October 21, 2011, 01:03:49 PM »
Scott,

There has been a lot of good advice posted here.  I concur with Tori that a general chemistry degree will potentially give you more job opportunities in the short term while you are looking for an entry level position in a forensics laboratory.  Justine gave you great advice on seeking an internship.  I give this same advice to all of my students at the University.  I have seen people who have expressed an interest in a career in forensics and their only exposure to forensics is through television; this is not good.  If you have had the opportunity to intern in a forensic laboratory, when you interview in the future you will have the ability to articulate that you understand what work is truly involved in forensics.  Good luck.
Michael S. Ward
Forensic Science Division Manager
(Crime Laboratory Director)
FWPD Crime Laboratory

Offline Scott Smith

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #8 on: October 21, 2011, 06:12:32 PM »
Great advice!  Thank you.  I had a feeling the commute wouldn't be worth it in the end.  I hear your recommendations about getting an internship, and that is definitely something I will be working for in my degree.  I have a friend (retired PD) who took his graduate studies while getting the tuition reimbursement, so I agree that waiting is the smarter thing to do.  Unless, as Justine said, I cannot secure a position after graduating, then I can concern myself with the MS.  Thank you all!!

Do many students attend the annual seminar?

Offline Justine Kreso

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #9 on: October 24, 2011, 06:46:25 AM »

Do many students attend the annual seminar?

No, not many.  There is generally not a huge concentration of college students coming into the field, plus to fund themselves to go to a week-long training seminar is cost restrictive, I'm sure.  However, one of the local universities has recenetly gotten their MS forensics program up and running and one of our firearms examiners is teaching the FA ID course there.  He thinks that they are planning on sending a bunch of their students to take advantage of the proximity, so we are expecting a greater than usual student attendance. 
Justine Kreso
Onondaga County Center for Forensic Sciences
Syracuse, NY

Offline Kim Haag

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #10 on: October 24, 2011, 06:12:31 PM »
Hey there Scott,

I attended my first AFTE conference when I was in college and I made up business cards promoting myself at that point and passed them out to everyone.  It was a great way for me to meet people and a great way for me to be remembered.  I have a Masters in Forensic Science and I regret it because of the huge bills I've been left with and the lack of ANYTHING it's brought me.  I am in a lab where my degree gets me nowhere.

I highly recommend all of the advice you've received in the posts from the wonderful examiners before me.  An internship is your best bet!  That allows labs to get to know you and whether or not you apply for a job there, you still can use those individuals to write you recommendations.

Here at the APD lab, we had a wonderful intern, the one and only Mrs. Justine Kreso, and we would have hired her in a heartbeat if we had a position open! 

Good luck!
Sincerely,
      Kim Haag
      FSC, Albuquerque, NM

Offline William Cox

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #11 on: October 25, 2011, 10:43:58 AM »
My university was the first in the West to have a forensic program.  That being said, it is a Chemistry Degree with a forensic option (kind of like biochem vs organic chem etc).  Additionally I had so many other classes (biology, physics, math) that I almost had about 4 or 5 minors.  The point was to have enough of a background to be able to start anywhere in any lab (forensic or otherwise).  No forensic graduate degrees available in the west at that time, plus I had just spent 7 years (Marines etc) finishing my BS.  The university has a partnership with the state patrol so that all the students (or nearly all, some do elsewhere) get an internship at one of the labs.  Mine happened to be in toxicology.  A good friend of mine got the firearms intern under a certain Ed Robinson.  He now works Customs as a federal agent, and I am at the lab.  Never know where you're going to be.  As was also said, I'm from the north west.  My job is in Georgia.  Be ready to move to have that first position.  You may not start in Firearms either.  I was told that I'd most likely have to start in another discipline and transfer once I was in the system and an opening came up. 

Offline Calvin Story

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Re: Undergrad advice please
« Reply #12 on: January 30, 2012, 10:55:24 AM »
In the Texas system we require a Bachelor's Degree. We give interview points for a Master's Degree. If hired, the pay is the same no matter what degree you possess. We give the same interview pointes for an internship as we do for a Master's Degree. At this level we would much rather see some practical experience as opposed to another set of academic credentials.
Our Second Amendment is America's original Homeland Security provision

Cal Story
Texas DPS, Austin

 

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