If you have a strong stomach, a desire to do right by victims of crime, and an intense interest in the science behind crime and human biology, forensic anthropology may be the perfect criminal justice specialty for you. Violent crime is on the rise in many parts of the country, and some crimes may leave victims mutilated, unrecognizable, or left to decompose for weeks before being recovered. In the distant past, this simply meant that no evidence could be collected and the guilty criminal got away scot-free.
Now, forensic anthropologists can look at bodies in various states of decomposition or abuse and use their skills to determine how someone died, what physically happened to them before and after death, and how long they've been deceased. By using other evidence, they may even be able to determine where someone died and if there was trauma or disease present before the crime. Does a career in forensic anthropology sound interesting to you? If so, use our school listings to learn more about programs in your area today!
Forensic Anthropologist Job Description
As a forensic anthropologist, you need to have an ironclad ability to deal with violent crime and its aftereffects. You'll be called by police stations and investigators to examine corpses, put together remains, or answer questions about the life a person led before they died. Typically, forensic anthropologists are only called in for cases where foul play is suspected. As a result, forensic anthropologists' come into close contact with corpses that have been subjected to torture, rape, brutalization, and other unthinkable crimes. No matter what your feelings are on a case, you must be able to maintain your professionalism and report the facts. Forensic anthropologists' are rewarded with the knowledge that they're helping make their community a safer place
How to Become a Forensic Anthropologist
Becoming a forensic anthropologist is a long path, as you must earn several degrees and prove your skills in many different ways. The first step is earning a Bachelor's degree. This is probably the most flexible step of your education. You should consider majoring in a relevant field like criminal justice, human biology, anthropology, or forensic science. These majors can give you the criminal justice or human biology background you need to thrive in a forensic anthropology degree. Consider taking courses like Human Biology, Anatomy & Physiology, and Introduction to Forensic Science, regardless of your degree choice. This step of your education may take about four years. The next step in your career path is earning a Master's of Science in Forensic Anthropology. This degree program delves into specific subject areas and skills you'll need in this career. Though the full program curriculum varies between schools, you can plan on taking similar courses no matter which school you attend. You may take classes like Bioarchaeology, Experimental Design for Forensic Anthropology, Mortuary Archaeology, Advanced Osteology, and Expert Witness Testimony. You may also take classes that focus on outdoor crime scenes, field methods, thesis development, and biological anthropology. This degree has a significant hands-on component, so you may work at constructed crime scenes, look at pictures, and use models to hone your skills. If you attend school full-time, you may be able to earn a Master's degree in two years.
In many cases, a PhD is required. Earning a PhD can be time-consuming, so it's important to plan ahead. Most students take between three and seven years to write and defend their thesis. To earn a PhD in forensic anthropology, you'll need to choose a specialty area of study in this field, research it, and write a thesis under the guidance of your advisor.
Forensic Anthropology Salary and Career Outlook
The general job outlook for forensic anthropologists is very positive. Between 2016 and 2026, O*Net expects job openings for anthropologists to increase faster than average when compared to other occupations. It's difficult to say how this pans out to forensic anthropologists specifically, since forensic anthropology is a highly specialized job. The job outlook does tend to be better in places where there are robust police stations and crime laboratories.
Across the country, the average salary for a forensic anthropologist is $63,190 per year (O*Net, 2017). However, it's helpful to look at where you plan on living and working to determine a potential salary range. O*Net indicates that the average salary for a Texas anthropologist is $65,920 per year. In New York, the average salary is slightly higher than the national average, at $85,210 per year (O*Net, 2017). The average salary for an anthropologist in California is $65,050 per year (O*Net, 2017).
Forensic Anthropology Resources
- Forensic Anthropology Identification Process from the SFU Museum
- Forensic Anthropologists: History Detectives, from PBS
- Written in Bone: Forensic Anthropology at the Smithsonian
- Forensic Anthropologists find Bones Likely to Be Amelia Earhart's: Study
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