Details on a Career in Forensic Engineering

Forensic engineering is a particular specialty within the forensic sciences.  The forensic engineer studies physical evidence using the theories, principles and knowledge of engineering. Forensic engineers are employed by governmental and private organizations. For example, this position is found in law firms and insurance companies in addition to prosecutor offices and police departments.

The forensic engineer may also work as an expert consultant doing investigative work on a project-by-project basis.  If you choose this career, you might also be asked to be an expert witness in court trials from time to time. Expert witnesses usually hold a graduate degree in their area of expertise in addition to having many years of experience.

When you are in forensic engineering your job will entail investigating any and all materials, physical structures like buildings or bridges, and products after an apparent failure. In many cases an injury has occurred or there has been property damage.  You will collect evidence, design and use testing models to recreate situations, conduct experiments and much more. The ultimate goal is to identity the cause of a failure and to document how to prevent future physical materials or structural failures leading to damages or injuries.

Forensic engineers may investigate traffic accidents, the cause of fires or bridge failures for example. You can work for law enforcement and work crime scenes but from the engineering perspective.

Preparing for a New Career in Investigative Work

What education does a forensic engineer need? A bachelor’s degree in engineering is usually the minimum education requirement. The engineering degree can be in any of a number of disciplines including electrical, mechanical or materials. The degree can then be supplemented with courses in civil law or criminology or other related subjects if you desire.

To earn the highest salaries you will need to get a masters degree or even a doctorate in engineering or an allied science.  In addition, obtaining professional certifications from a recognized authority or organization can lead to a higher salary.

You will need to be licensed by the state as an engineer as a minimum.

In some states you can obtain special licenses, in addition to the general license, indicating you are a specialist in a particular area. To obtain a specialty license you will complete additional study, work in the field, and take an exam proving your expertise.

The more credentials and experience you have, the more you will be able to command in the job market. Professional organizations include the American Academy of Forensic Sciences and the International Institute of Forensic Engineering Sciences.

The education of a forensic engineer takes place in the classroom and in the field. Hands-on experience is important in order to successfully prepare for this career.

Excellent Pay for an Excellent Career

The salary a forensic engineer can expect to make depends on many factors including the location of the job and years of experience. So how much does a forensic engineer make a year?

In general, per PayScale, you can expect to make anywhere from $49,000 to $97,000 as an average annual salary.  The more experience you can claim, the more you can expect to get paid.

  • 1 to 4 years experience $40,000 to $64,000
  • 5 to 9 years $70,000 to $98,000
  • Over 10 years $82,000 to $103,000

Forensic science technicians, including forensic engineers, earn an average salary of $55,070 annually according to the U.S. Department of Labor. Within the industry classification of “architectural, engineering, and related services” the forensic scientists earned an average salary of $59,320 as of May 2009.

The city and state where you choose to work has an impact on the forensic engineer salary. Forensic scientists in Florida earn an average of $44,910 per year. In Washington, D.C. they are earning an average salary of $69,870.  In Massachusetts the average is $81,950.

One of the reasons for the disparity, of course, is the difference in the cost of living.

The state with the highest employment numbers for forensic science jobs is Florida with Illinois and Arizona also reporting significant numbers of positions.

Salaries are not quite so disparate when looking at various metropolitan areas. The top five employment cities for forensic scientists, including forensic engineers, pay between $70,000 and $78,000.  Washington D.C. pays the most which would be expected considering the number of government jobs in that area.

Researching various locations of employment can net you more pay in the long run.

The employment growth for forensic science technicians is projected to be approximately 20 percent for the 10 year period of 2008 to 2018. The rapid growth rate is due to an expanding population and the need for specialists trained to use complex technology.

To be a forensic engineer, you need to be methodical and task oriented.  With the right education and skills you can begin a fascinating career with excellent earning potential.