Forensic engineers study physical systems that have failed in some way, in order to better understand why they failed.
Background Needed to Be a Forensic Engineer
Forensic engineering is a specialty within engineering, and so a forensic engineer at the very least will need to have a bachelor’s degree in engineering. A graduate degree is recommended. Appropriate areas of engineering that can be especially valuable for a forensic engineer include civil engineering, electrical engineering, materials engineering, mechanical engineering, and traffic engineering.
A forensic engineer will then need to obtain an engineering license. Further training from organizations such as the American Society of Civil Engineers is available to hone one’s skills. Often a certain amount of continuing education is required to maintain one’s license.
In order to better convey their findings in court, forensic engineers will sometimes have a background in law or communications.
What Does a Forensic Engineer Do?
Forensic engineers piece together a series of events to see what went wrong and why.
For example, a forensic engineer might investigate a traffic accident and use the physical evidence of tire marks and the location of broken glass and other debris to understand whether one of the vehicles was traveling at an illegal and unsafe speed, whether the brakes failed, etc. Or the forensic engineer might investigate a fire to ascertain where and how it started, thus making a case for or against arson.
Forensic engineering also comes into play when investigating such matters as building and bridge collapses. The forensic engineer will look for structural flaws, examine maintenance history, study the effects of untoward events such as earthquakes on the structure, etc.
Often a forensic engineer will be called upon to testify in court, for both criminal and civil cases, such as wrongful injury suits and patent disputes.
Career Prospects for a Forensic Engineer
Forensic engineers may be self-employed, work for small or large businesses, or work for government agencies. It’s common for forensic engineering to be part time work, for forensic engineers to be hired on a case by case basis as needed. They might then spend the rest of their time working for private employers or universities on other engineering projects.
Forensic engineering jobs have been on the rise in recent years, and that trend is expected to continue. Early in their career, forensic engineers typically make $40,000 to $60,000 per year. With five years or more of experience, they might make $60,000 to $80,000. With ten years or more experience, they might even top $100,000.
Karen Murdock, “Forensic Engineer Training.” eHow.
Dale Nute, “Advice About a Career in Forensic Science.” The Florida State University College of Criminology & Criminal Justice.
“Forensic Engineer.” Forensic Science.
“So You Want to Be a Forensic Scientist!” American Academy of Forensic Scientists.