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Becoming a Forensic Engineer: Job Description, Education & Careers

Oct 20, 2021

What Does a Forensic Engineer Do?

Forensic engineers are those who are able to expertly analyze performance problems through using the principles and concepts of engineering. A forensic engineering definition centers around the application of scientific methodology to investigate the failures of materials, components, products and structures. A forensic engineer job description usually includes studying materials, devices, and structures in order to investigate why these fail when they do. In order to improve the longevity or performance of the product or to improve its safety profile, a forensic engineer is often called upon to isolate the specific reason or reasons a product did not perform as intended. A forensics engineer is often a key figure in product liability cases, a type of civil court case, and can even play a role in criminal cases, to investigate and testify about the source of a product's design or an object's failure.

Education Bachelor's degree in engineering
Job Skills Communication, critical thinking, attention to detail, mathematics
Median Salary (2019)* $84,125
Job Growth (2019-2029)** 4% (all engineers)

Source: *PayScale.com **U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

How to Become a Forensic Engineer

The following steps are key to becoming a forensic engineer:

  • Meet education requirements - In order to become a forensic engineer, you will need a batchelor's degree in engineering. Depending on your place of employment, you may need a graduate degree like a Master's or PhD in engineering as well.
  • Acquire state licensure in engineering - In order to become licensed, you will need to pass both the practice of engineering (PE) exam and the fundamentals of engineering (FE) exam. You should also check with your state for additional requirements.
  • Gain certification in forensic engineering - You can become board certified in forensic engineering through the National Academy of Forensic Engineers.

Forensic Engineering Education Requirements

Because the forensic engineer role is based on the field of engineering, you'll need at least a 4-year degree in engineering to become a forensic engineer. If you want to be a forensic engineer in a specific specialty, you'll want to major in the relevant sub-field of engineering; some engineering specialties include electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, chemical engineering and computer engineering. Common courses in engineering include introduction to engineering, systems, distributed systems and fields, advanced mathematics and control theory; there is more specialized coursework for each engineering specialty.

Licensure and Certification

In addition to the required forensic engineering education, you'll need first to become a licensed engineer in the state in which you hope to be employed before you can become a forensic engineer; licensure requirements vary by state, but they typically require several years of experience and culminate in the successful completion of the Principles and Practice of Engineering exam. Once you're a licensed engineer, you can complete the process to certify your specialty in forensic engineering; according to the International Institute of Forensic Engineering Sciences, this is a year-long process, where you'll show your experience in forensic engineering, fitness in technical knowledge and ethics and complete an oral and written exam.

Skills for Forensic Engineers

There are a number of skills which are important for a forensic engineer to posses, including:

  • Scientific reasoning
  • Attention to detail
  • Investigative ability
  • Communication
  • Determination

In order to succeed in this field, forensic engineers need a firm understanding of the scientific method in order to apply those principles to their investigations. In order to fulfill forensic engineer tasks, these individuals need to have attention to detail and critical thinking skills, as well as the ability to communicate clearly, both verbally and in writing, for the purposes of gathering information about incidents and reporting their findings.

Types of Forensic Engineers

There are multiple forensic engineering fields in which forensic engineers can specialize. Some of these specializations include:

  • Forensic electrical engineering: investigates electrical engineering flaws or accidents.
  • Forensic fire engineering: investigates fires that result from engineering errors.
  • Forensic materials engineering: investigates materials to look for engineering defects.
  • Forensic mechanical engineering: investigates mechanical structures for mechanical flaws that lead to an accident.
  • Forensic polymer engineering: investigates polymers, a special type of molecule, to look for engineering flaws.
  • Structural forensic engineering: investigates structures that may have been engineered improperly.

Forensic engineers have so many specialization options because there are many applications of forensic engineering. There are a variety of situations which require the expertise of a forensic engineer. For example, when investigating the causes of a fire and what failure caused the blaze, it is best to have a forensic fire engineer on the job as this type of forensic engineer is specialized to analyze such situations. When it comes to the collapse of a bridge or a building, a structural forensic engineer is best able to determine the causes of the structural failure which led to the collapse. These examples also show why forensic engineers often appear in legal proceedings, because situations like a bridge collapse, a fire, or another product failure sometimes lead to court cases to determine liability for the situation and any compensation due because of it.

Outlook for Forensic Engineers

According to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), employment in engineering will grow by about 4% from 2019-2029, the average for all occupations. Salaries for forensic engineers will vary by where they are employed and their specialty within engineering. In 2019, PayScale.com reported forensic engineers earned a median annual salary of $84,125.

Alternatives to Forensic Engineering

Individuals seeking to become a forensic engineer may be interested in similar occupations, including occupational health and safety specialist as well as quality control inspector.

Occupational Health and Safety Specialist

People who work in this occupation look at workplaces to ensure they're run according to applicable rules and regulations, and in ways that are safe for people. They may take materials samples, evaluate workflow and processes, and look into workplace accidents. Occupational health and safety specialists may also develop workplace safety training programs for employees. The BLS reports that local, state, and federal agencies were among the top employers for occupational health and safety specialists in 2019.

Employment typically requires a bachelor's degree in occupational health or a field like engineering or chemistry, followed by on-the-job training; some employers give priority to candidates with voluntary professional certification. The BLS reports that jobs in this field are predicted to increase 4% from 2019-2029, a rate that is average for all jobs during that same decade. The agency reported that occupational health and safety specialists earned median pay of $74,100 in 2019.

Quality Control Inspector

A quality control inspector looks at items to see if they've been manufactured according to the product blueprints, recommending changes to the manufacturing process to make corrections, if necessary. In addition to visual inspection, quality control inspectors may also conduct tests on items. Quality control inspectors may also keep records and prepare reports related to inspected products.

While many jobs require a high school diploma, job-seekers may have better chances of employment if they've completed some post-secondary education, such as in industrial subjects or lab sciences; quality control inspectors also receive on-the-job training. Experienced quality control inspectors may earn voluntary professional certification. Jobs in this field are predicted to decrease by 17% from 2019-2029, per the BLS, with workers earning median pay of $39,140 in 2019.

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