Frequently Asked Questions
What is forensic anthropology?
Forensic anthropology is an area of applied anthropology. Anthropology consists of four subfields: cultural anthropology, archaeology, physical anthropology and linguistics. Forensic anthropology falls within the subfield of physical anthropology. Forensic anthropologists apply the methods and techniques used by physical anthropologists, namely osteologists and skeletal biologists, to forensic cases. The term "forensic" simply means, "having to do with law or legal debate."
What do forensic anthropologists do?
They use techniques employed by physical anthropologists to identify human skeletal remains. They analyze skeletal remains to build a profile consisting of age, race, sex, height, presence or absence of trauma, and time since death. The purpose of the profile is to aid law enforcement in positive identification of an individual when no other means are available. Sometimes it is not possible to gather all of the pertinent information because the remains may be badly damaged or fragmented. Whenever possible, however, forensic anthropologists create a detailed profile of the remains, with the ultimate goal of positive identification.
What is the difference between forensic anthropology and forensic pathology?
A forensic anthropologist is a physical anthropologist with specialized training in osteology and/or skeletal biology. Forensic pathologists are medical doctors that specialize in forensic pathology. They perform autopsies in order to establish the cause of death. Forensic anthropologists concentrate mainly on bony anatomy, whereas, forensic pathologists concentrate on soft tissue anatomy, internal organs, bodily fluids, etc.
What kind of job can I get as a forensic anthropologist?
Forensic anthropologists with a graduate degree usually work at a college or university. Their employment involves teaching physical anthropology courses, conducting osteological research, and providing community services and forensic case analysis. Forensic anthropologists may also seek employment in laboratories such as the FBI, state bureau of investigation, private firms, or medical/coroner examiners' offices.
How can I learn clay facial reconstruction techniques?
To learn clay facial reconstructions one should investigate the forensic sculpture workshops available. The internet will give you information about several sources as well as other information about the field of forensic art. The following links may be of particular assistance:
- Forensic Artist Links
- IAI Forensic Art Certification
- Scottsdale Artists' School
- Karen Taylor Website
Does LSU have a degree in forensic science?
LSU does not offer a degree in forensic science. However, you do not need a degree in "forensic science" to get a job as a forensic investigator or forensic scientist. More information below on types of education required for careers in forensic science. Also see the Education section of this website for details on the degrees offered in the Department of Geography and Anthropology at LSU.
“I want to do forensic science - like what they do on ‘CSI’.”
“CSI” as seen on popular television shows is not real. No one does what they do on CSI. In reality, investigating a crime involves many people from different agencies, including the police and sheriff’s departments, coroner or medical examiner’s office, the District Attorney’s Office, and crime laboratories. Saying you want to be in “forensic science” is like saying you want to be a “doctor” - there are many different areas within forensic science in which you can specialize. The student must take the time to explore the field and consider in which area of forensic science s/he wants to work.
I want to work in a crime lab - What do I major in?
In general, you are eligible to work in a crime lab if you complete the requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences, Biochemistry, Microbiology, or Chemistry (the exception to this is DNA analysis - see below). If you are hired by a crime lab, you receive “on-site” training, where you learn how to collect and process evidence according to your lab’s established protocol. Additionally, in the process of obtaining your degree, you should have courses in public speaking and statistics, as you will often have to testify in court regarding the evidence you process. Ask your undergraduate advisor to help you choose courses that will cover these topics, yet be acceptable electives for your degree.
I want to do DNA analysis - What do I major in?
You need to complete the requirements for a Bachelor of Science degree in Biological Sciences, Biochemistry, Microbiology, or Chemistry, making sure you take the following courses: biochemistry (BIOL 4087 or BIOL 4093 and 4094), molecular genetics (BIOL 4132), biochemistry laboratory (BIOL 4385). Microbial genetics (BIOL 4246) is also advisable. Additionally, you should have courses in public speaking and statistics, as you will have to testify often in court regarding your work. Ask your undergraduate advisor to help you choose courses that will cover these topics, yet be acceptable electives for your degree. As with non-DNA forensic work, if you are hired by a crime lab, you receive “on-site” training, where you learn how to collect and process evidence according to your lab’s established protocol.
Should I get a graduate degree in forensic science?
Currently, you do not need to have a graduate degree to find employment in forensic science. However, it is a very popular field and as more students graduate with the right qualifications, the job market eventually will become extremely competitive. A graduate degree may give you an advantage over other candidates applying for the same job. Check with specific colleges and universities that offer a specific degree in forensic science to find the various prerequisites for entering their programs.
I want to be an investigator - What do I major in?
Most death investigators actually start their career as patrol officers - that is, as regular police officer. After gaining several years of experience “on the street,” they can apply for a promotion to homicide investigator. If promoted, the homicide investigators receive additional training through death investigation workshops. Graduates of forensic anthropology programs are also qualified to work as death investigators and coroner's investigators.
Students interested in law enforcement can major in one of several different areas, some of which include Political Science, Communication, Business Administration, Criminal Justice, or Sociology, with a concentration in Criminology. You can talk with the undergraduate advisors in those departments for information on the degree requirements for each major.
The type of degree that you get generally is not as important as other qualities that are required to be a successful investigator. Such qualities include a desire to do the work, talent for discerning fact from fiction, common sense, the ability to handle horrific sights and smells, and tenacity to sift through and follow up leads. Also, a working knowledge of basic science and DNA is important.
- LA Repository for Unidentified and Missing People
- LSU FACES Laboratory Facebook
- LSU Department of Geography and Anthropology
- LSU Graduate School
- Louisiana State Police Crime Laboratory
- National Missing and Unidentified Persons System (NamUs)
- National Center for Missing & Exploited Children (NCMEC)
- ViCAP (FBI)
- American Academy of Forensic Sciences
- American Board of Forensic Anthropology
- International Association for Identification (IAI)