Did you ever watch the hit TV show Bones and dreamed of becoming a forensic anthropologist like the illustrious Temperance Brennan? Becoming certified in the field requires significant formal education, but it’s ultimately an extremely rewarding career. As a forensic anthropologist, you will get the unique chance to work alongside law enforcement agencies and assist with investigations. You will process skeletal evidence, study bones, and gather information in order to determine the individual’s sex, age, physical condition, and time/cause of death. Additionally, you may also assist in excavating and relocating human remains, assess trauma to bones, and pose as an expert witness in court.
The field of forensic anthropology is relatively new. As a forensic anthropologist, you will be trained to apply your vast knowledge of science, biology, and culture to aid the legal process. You will mainly work with pathologists and homicide detectives, as well as other specialists, depending on the specifics of a given case. As you may already know, bones can offer amazing clues to a trained eye. You can uncover plenty of useful information about an individual by studying their remains, including possible illnesses or certain activities they used to engage in frequently (sports, job-related activities, and so on).
In order to become a forensic anthropologist, you will need a Master’s Degree or Doctorate in Physical or Biological Anthropology, which usually takes between six and ten years. According to The American Board of Forensic Anthropologists, there are very few opportunities for a person with solely a Bachelor’s degree to practice forensic anthropology. To be competitive in the field, you will also need to consider obtaining a broad education in physical/biological anthropology or related fields. While there will always be a need for forensic anthropology, due to the highly specialized nature of the job the demand for forensic anthropologists has never been particularly high.
If you’re interested in such a career, there are several universities in the U.S. that offer certified degrees: Boston University School of Medicine, California State University, University of Florida, University of Indianapolis, Texas State University, to only name a few.
How much you will make
While the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics doesn’t provide job data for forensic anthropologists, it does state that the median salary for anthropologists and archeologists is $57,420 per year or $27.61 per hour. Additionally, employment of anthropologists and archeologists is projected to grow 19 percent from 2012 to 2022, which is faster than the average for all occupations. It’s not all good news though: this is a small occupation, so jobseekers will face a highly competitive job market. On the other hand, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics also provides job data for forensic science technicians, who earn a median salary of $52,840 per year ($25.41 per hour).
Generally speaking, your salary as a forensic anthropologist will depend on your qualifications and expertise. Since the competition in the field is high, you might consider working as a lab technician first, in order to gain more experience with forensics, while simultaneously use your knowledge to help solve cases. The average salary for a lab technician is around $35,380, depending greatly on the facility you’re working for.
Forensic anthropologists can work in various organizations. The U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation’s (FBI) Laboratory Division added forensic anthropology as a service back in 2010. When you’re employed as a forensic anthropologist by the FBI, you are considered professional staff. Consequently, you have access to advanced technologies and equipment. Job duties include examination of whether bones are human or nonhuman, determination of whether or not suspect material is bone, estimation of a deceased’s age, sex, ancestry, and stature, analysis of skeletal trauma (including projectile, blunt force, sharp force, and burning), as well as identification of skeletal features that may help lead to identification. You may also provide assistance with facial approximations prepared by forensic artists. Additionally, forensic anthropologists can also work in the field, where they assist law enforcement officers with detection of clandestine graves, identification/location of burned or submerged remains, and recovery of remains. They can also be expected to conduct preliminary field analyses.
Besides working with the FBI, forensic anthropologists can also be hired by museums and research institutions, where they examine and catalogue important collections. The Smithsonian is the most widely known anthropology center in the U.S., and the institution’s staff has been assisting law enforcement investigations for over a century. Forensic anthropologists at the Smithsonian continue to train the next generation of researchers; plus, they’re currently serving the FBI, State Department, and several national law enforcement agencies in work ranging from individual criminal cases to mass disasters and war crimes.
Alternatively, forensic anthropologists might consider a career as a professor of forensic anthropology. If you choose this path, you can also consult for local medical examiner/coroner offices whenever necessary. As a bonus, working for a university can help you obtain grants for research, which is especially useful if you have any special areas of interest you’d like to pursue. You can also publish in scientific journals to boost your career. Not to mention the fact the full-time professors at major universities are very well-paid, with salaries averaging over $90,000 per year.
If you want to pursue a career as a forensic anthropologist, keep in mind that relatively few people practice forensic anthropology on a full–time basis. Most of them have a job with a university or research center and consult on cases whenever law enforcement officers need special assistance. Even the fictional Bones works for a museum and writes novels, beside her collaboration with the FBI. At the end of the day though, working as a forensic anthropologist is exciting and utterly interesting, regardless of your place of employment.