by Randy Skelton
Associate Professor
Department of Anthropology
The University of Montana - Missoula
Missoula, MT 59812-1001

Forensic anthropology is a branch of the forensic sciences concerned with the application of anthropological knowledge and methods to the process of law. In the most typical scenario a law enforcement agency finds skeletal remains and asks a forensic anthropologist for help in identifying who the deceased individual is.

Many people think there are a lot of jobs available in forensic anthropology. As much as I wish that were true, I haven't found it to be so. The reason for this is that there simply aren't enough cases, even in a big city like Los Angeles or New York City, to keep a forensic anthropologist busy. Combine this with the fact that there are many forensic anthropology students who compete for the privilege of working on cases for free, and you begin to see how grim the situation is.

There are three places where you might find a career as a forensic anthropologist: (1) as a faculty member at a college or university, or working as a curator for a museum (2) working for the army, which hires a few forensic anthropologists at their forensic centers in Hawaii and Washington D.C., and (3) working in a local, state, or federal crime lab as a regular staff member who just happens to have expertise in forensic anthropology.

Getting a job as college faculty or a museum curator, or working for the army usually requires a Ph.D. in anthropology, and in the 1990's is very difficult even with a Ph.D. Most of the people who are successful at landing the few available jobs have degrees from one of the major forensic anthropology programs.

Colleges and Universities with good graduate programs also tend to have good undergraduate programs.

Good Ph.D. programs in forensic anthropology are offered at:

Some people, especially those without an undergraduate degree in anthropology might find it useful to complete a masters program in anthropology before attempting a Ph.D. Excellent M.A. programs in forensic anthropology are offered at:

  • Florida Atlantic University. Faculty: Yasar Iscan, Susan Loth.
  • California State U.- Fullerton. Faculty: Judy Suchey.
  • California State U.- Chico. Faculty: Turhon Murad, P. Willey.
  • University of Wyoming. Faculty: George Gill.
  • Good programs can be found at too many other colleges to list.
  • Here at the University of Montana - Missoula, I teach one class in forensic anthropology. We offer B.A. and M.A. degrees in anthropology. Both our undergraduate and graduate programs focus on offering a rounded, 4-field approach to anthropology. Although some of my graduate students do their thesis on a subject related to forensic anthropology, I can not honestly say that our program is very good. Our main problem is that we have only a very small forensic collection, so students have to find collections to work with somewhere else.

    Most people take the third route and pursue a forensic career as a general laboratory technician. A good list of colleges offering graduate and undergraduate programs in forensic science can be found at The following are my suggestions for the type of course work that would best help you in preparing for forensic lab tech jobs. They are based on my personal experience applying for jobs, advice from crime lab personnel, and examination of job advertisements. It would be impossible to take all these courses, but the more you can take, the better. There is no ideal sequence of courses, nor is there an ideal blend of courses.

    Essential Skills and Knowledge:

    I recommend the following courses at UM-Missoula. Equivalents can be found at most colleges and universities.

    Chemistry. Most forensic science jobs require 20 to 30 semester credits of chemistry.


    Criminology (Sociology Department):


    Other Useful Skills and Knowledge:

    Hints and Tips

    Last revised May 24, 1996 by Randy Skelton.

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