Becoming a crime scene investigator (CSI) for the FBI is a competitive but rewarding career path. The FBI employs some of the top forensic scientists in the country to investigate major crimes across the United States. CSIs play a vital role in identifying and analyzing physical evidence to uncover clues, reconstruct events, and ultimately help solve cases. If you are interested in a career at the intersection of science, investigation, and law enforcement, becoming an FBI CSI may be an excellent option.
To qualify for FBI CSI positions, candidates must have at least a bachelor’s degree in a natural science such as chemistry, biology, or forensic science. A degree in the physical sciences, such as physics, may also be acceptable. Strong coursework in subjects like biochemistry, genetics, statistics, and analytical chemistry is highly recommended.
Many FBI CSIs hold advanced degrees beyond a bachelor’s. Having a master’s degree or Ph.D. in a forensic science or natural science field can make you a more competitive applicant. Some seek additional certifications as well, for example through the American Board of Criminalistics.
In addition to formal education, the FBI looks for at least two years of laboratory experience for CSI candidates. This experience provides important hands-on training in evidence collection, handling, and analysis methods. Post-degree internships, fellowships, or research positions in forensics labs or related settings are great ways to build this expertise.
FBI Employment Requirements
All prospective FBI employees need to meet certain basic qualifications, including:
- Be a U.S. citizen
- Be at least 23 years old
- Have a valid driver’s license
- Hold a bachelor’s degree at minimum
- Pass a rigorous background check and drug test
- Demonstrate sound judgment, integrity, and strong investigative skills
Because FBI CSIs have access to confidential information and evidence, candidates undergo extensive reference checks, polygraph tests, and fingerprinting. Only those who demonstrate the highest ethical standards are selected.
Required Skills and Abilities
Beyond educational credentials, FBI CSIs need a specialized set of skills to excel. These include:
- Analytical expertise: FBI CSIs must apply scientific knowledge to make sense of physical clues. Strong powers of observation, critical thinking, and logic are essential.
- Attention to detail: Evidence analysis demands meticulous work and nuanced interpretation. CSIs must notice subtle variations and patterns.
- Communication ability: CSIs need to produce clear reports, convey technical findings accurately, and present evidence effectively in court.
- Objectivity: When gathering and examining evidence, FBI CSIs must remain impartial and avoid bias or assumptions.
- Technological proficiency: CSIs utilize sophisticated instruments and laboratory techniques, requiring comfort with specialized equipment.
Because the FBI investigates complex, high-stakes crimes, CSIs perform their work under significant pressure. They must be able to maintain accuracy and composure when handling challenging cases.
Criminal Background Check
All prospective FBI employees must pass an intensive criminal background check. The FBI will gather records from all locations where you have lived, worked, or studied over the past 10 years. Some aspects include:
- Fingerprint check: Your fingerprints will be compared to criminal databases.
- Drug test: You will be tested for illicit substances.
- Financial records: Your credit history, taxes, loans, and bankruptcies will be reviewed.
- Polygraph exam: You will be questioned under a lie detector test.
- Employment verification: All work experiences listed will be confirmed.
- Reference checks: Personal and professional references will be contacted.
The FBI background check aims to confirm your reliability, trustworthiness, and strong moral fiber. Deception at any stage disqualifies candidates from consideration.
The FBI Special Agent Selection System (SASS)
Applicants pursuing any FBI special agent role, including as a CSI, must pass the FBI SASS. This is a three-step testing process to assess your qualification for FBI duties.
- Phase I Testing: The proctored exam includes five sections testing logic, analytic reasoning, language skills, and behavioral skills. High scores move you to Phase II.
- Phase II Testing: This full day of evaluations includes writing samples, panel interviews, and a detailed questionnaire covering your background, work history, and more.
- Phase III Testing: Candidates participate in special agent training, including operation-related exercises, firearms handling, and scenario assessments.
The full process takes around six to nine months. Each year, only a small percentage of applicants proceed through all phases; the selection process is highly competitive.
CSI Training at the FBI
If hired as an FBI CSI, your training will continue through the FBI Academy at Quantico. All CSI recruits complete an intensive 20-week program covering areas like:
- Evidence handling protocols
- Crime scene procedures
- Forensic chemistry and biology
- Fingerprint analysis
- DNA typing
- Investigative techniques
- Expert testimony
Ongoing education and development continues throughout an FBI CSI’s career. You will receive regular specialized training to stay current as forensic science and technology tools evolve.
Career Path and Progression
The starting salary for FBI special agents, including CSIs, is around $53,500 per year. With experience, you can qualify for promotion to higher pay grades. After two years of service, CSIs are eligible to become Senior CSIs, then Lead CSIs or Forensic Examiners with additional experience.
Beyond pay grade increases, FBI CSIs may transition into other forensic careers. Some serve as forensic instructors at the FBI Academy, training newer CSIs. Others pursue leadership roles as lab directors, managing teams of CSIs and overseeing high-profile investigations.
Job Locations and Availability
FBI CSIs are stationed across the United States based on investigative needs. Positions are available at FBI headquarters in Washington DC and at regional field offices including:
|New York||New York City|
|Los Angeles||Los Angeles, CA|
|San Francisco||San Francisco, CA|
Open positions are posted at FBIjobs.gov when available. Competition is high, so persistence through the lengthy application process is key.
The working conditions for FBI CSIs vary depending on current assignments and whether they are in the lab or field. In the lab, CSIs spend long hours conducting meticulous evidence analysis using microscopy, spectroscopy, chromatography, and other techniques. Fieldwork is more unpredictable; CSIs must travel to crime scenes and secure sites to identify, document, and collect evidence.
CSIs are sometimes exposed to gruesome, hazardous, or dangerous situations, especially when responding immediately to violent crime scenes. Proper protective gear and caution are essential. The job involves long, irregular hours as criminal cases dictate.
However, working for the premier law enforcement agency provides unique experiences. FBI CSIs tackle high-profile cases using cutting-edge forensic tools. They collaborate with top professionals and help shape precedent-setting investigations. With their scientific expertise, FBI CSIs make an invaluable impact seeking justice.
Employment for forensic science technicians like FBI CSIs is projected to grow 14% from 2020-2030, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. This is much faster than average job growth compared to other occupations. Due to the complex scientific work and advanced qualifications required, positions with federal law enforcement agencies like the FBI are highly competitive.
However, qualified candidates with a strong background in the physical sciences or forensic science field should pursue FBI CSI opportunities. The FBI employs some of the best forensic investigators tackling major crimes. If you have a passion for analyzing evidence, unraveling mysteries, and upholding justice, look into becoming an FBI CSI.
Serving as an FBI CSI offers a challenging yet rewarding career at the intersection of science and criminal justice. If you meet educational and experience qualifications, demonstrate analytical thinking, communication skills, integrity, and composure under pressure, and can pass extensive background checks and examinations, the role may be an excellent fit.
While securing a position is highly competitive, qualified candidates should absolutely apply. FBI CSIs make a major impact using forensic science to support critical investigations. With ongoing training and potential to advance to leadership roles, becoming an FBI CSI is a fulfilling choice for those dedicated to protecting public safety and upholding justice through science and service.