To become a forensic botanist, it is necessary to have an undergraduate degree at a minimum, and a master's degree can be extremely helpful. This can require four to seven years in school, and in some cases even more education for forensic botanists who pursue doctorate degrees in the field. In addition to meeting educational requirements, students should also consider opportunities for lab experience, which will be necessary for many job openings.
The science of forensic botany involves the analysis of plant materials found at crime scenes to provide insight into the events that may have occurred there. This can include everything from pollen found on a suspect's clothing to fragments of wood at the site of a murder. Forensic botanists can apply a number of techniques to their work, including microscopy, DNA analysis, and chemical analysis. Someone who has become a forensic botanist can look at materials in the lab and in the field to support law enforcement investigations.
A high school student who might want to become a forensic botanist can get a head start by taking extra math and science classes, including courses in plant anatomy and taxonomy, if they are available. In undergraduate education, a prospective forensic botanist should get a degree in plant physiology, taxonomy, or a related field. Some colleges offer forensic botany majors or minors. While in undergraduate training to become a forensic botanist, it may be possible to pursue internships with government agencies to get lab experience, or to assist an instructor who works in the lab on research activities.
Some labs will hire a person with an undergraduate degree to become a forensic botanist. Others expect a master's degree, and may expect a degree in forensic science. This provides cross-training, allowing a forensic botanist to refine botany skills in a master's thesis that also includes a grounding in forensics. Forensic analysis requires the ability to collect, handle, and store evidence safely, maintaining a chain of custody to ensure it will be valid and accepted in a court of law. Formal education in this field can be valuable for a practitioner, whether at work in the lab or in the field, where collection practices can be critical.
After qualifying as a forensic botanist and finding employment, it can be a good idea to join a professional organization. This can provide access to continuing education and networking opportunities like conferences. In addition, such membership, along with ongoing publication in scholarly journals, can help a forensic botanist establish credentials that may be important on the witness stand in court. The need for strong credentials may lead some practitioners to pursue a doctorate degree in the field to be able to work as an expert witness.