To work as a forensic botanist, you’ll need at least a bachelor’s degree, and a master’s degree can be extremely beneficial. For forensic botanists who pursue doctorate degrees in the field, this can take four to seven years of schooling, and in some cases even more. Students should consider opportunities for lab experience in addition to meeting educational requirements, as many job openings will require it.
Forensic botany is the study of plant materials discovered at crime scenes in order to gain insight into the events that occurred there. This can include anything from pollen on a suspect’s clothing to wood fragments found at a crime scene. Microscopy, DNA analysis, and chemical analysis are all techniques that forensic botanists can use in their work. A forensic botanist can examine materials both in the lab and in the field to assist law enforcement investigations.
If plant anatomy and taxonomy courses are available, a high school student interested in becoming a forensic botanist can get a head start taking extra math and science classes. A prospective forensic botanist should pursue a degree in plant physiology, taxonomy, or a related field during their undergraduate studies. Forensic botany is offered as a major or minor at some colleges. It may be possible to pursue internships with government agencies to gain lab experience while in undergraduate training to become a forensic botanist, or to assist an instructor who works in the lab on research activities.
To work as a forensic botanist, some labs will hire someone with a bachelor’s degree. Others anticipate a master’s degree, possibly in forensic science. This provides cross-training, allowing a forensic botanist to hone botany skills while also gaining a foundation in forensics in a master’s thesis. To ensure that evidence is valid and accepted in a court of law, forensic analysts must be able to collect, handle, and store it safely while maintaining a chain of custody. Formal education in this field can be beneficial to a practitioner, whether in the lab or out in the field, where proper collection practices are crucial.
It’s a good idea to join a professional organization after you’ve qualified as a forensic botanist and found work. This can give you access to opportunities for continuing education and networking, such as conferences. Furthermore, such membership, combined with ongoing publication in scholarly journals, can assist a forensic botanist in establishing credentials that may be useful in court. Because of the need for strong credentials, some practitioners may decide to pursue a doctorate in the field in order to work as an expert witness.