In the last post, we explored some avenues to get a 10,000-foot view of your potential expert – how to match words with deeds from web pages, CVs and participation in the forensic community. Today we are going to dive a bit deeper into how to assess your potential expert’s technical skills by looking at certifications.
Certifications are sort of like a college degrees and like college degrees – not all are equal. We all know someone who has a ton of education and degrees that could not think themselves out of a wet paper sack. I have also met some of the most brilliant forensics scientists that have never stepped foot in a college classroom. Certifications are kind of the same way…just because your expert has certifications does not mean they are a rock star …and just because they don’t does not mean they are incompetent. Let’s take a closer look at the main types of certifications your potential expert may have.
Is Your Expert Certified in a Forensic Discipline?
Certification is the process of being vetted by an organization or group for the fundamental knowledgeof a particular field or discipline, as well as the ability to demonstrate the application of this knowledge in a practical situation. Simply put – do you have the knowledge (test) and can you use this knowledge to solve a problem with a known outcome or solution (practical exam). There are two main types of Certification: Vendor/Tool Specific and Discipline Specific Certification.
Vendor/Tool Specific Certification:
This training and subsequent certification typically involves a specific tool or set of tools. These courses of instruction typically run from 2-5 days in length. Generally, there is some background academic information provided on how/why the tool operates the way it does at a base level. The focus of the training and certification is on how to properly use the tool under typical operation conditions. Some of these courses have written and practical tests, while some provide a “certificate” for merely attending.
Discipline Specific Certification:
This type of certification is more rigorous and involved. This type of certification is typically provided by a not-for-profit or independent entity related to a specific discipline within the forensic community. These certification programs typically will include at a minimum:
- A degree requirement and/or a minimum number of years in a specific field.
- A minimum number of academic hours of study within a given field, typically 120 – 180 hours.
- Letters of reference from members in the professional community, typically two.
- Some form of written test to evaluate the applicant’s understanding of core concepts and information.
- Some form of practical test to evaluate the applicant’s ability to use discipline specific knowledge to solve problems and derive results from test materials with a known outcome.
- Some certification programs also require the applicant to defend their work in front of a board of certified individuals. This is to assess the applicant’s ability to accurately and properly communicate scientific concepts and their findings to other individuals.
There are still some organizations out there where an individual can simply take a very minimal online “course of study” and pay a fee to be conferred with “Certification” in a specific field. With the advent of the Internet and the ability to readily investigate the source and content of the certification, this scenario has become less frequent. But when evaluating your expert, it is important to do some research about the organization that conferred the certification. Almost all reputable certification programs will post on their web page the names and expiration dates of all certified individuals and provide the minimum standards for the confirmation of certification.
Just as not all that glitters is gold, not all certifications carry the same weight. We explored some of the different types of certifications which are available in the forensics community. If your expert lists a certification on their webpage or CV, check the source of the certification out. This is one more piece in the puzzle of getting a qualified forensic expert.
Next up – Teaching and how does your expert conduct their work.