Forensic Sciences Graduate Certificate Program


In 1248 A.D., a presiding judge for the high courts in China, Song Ci, described a homicide where a peasant was murdered with a sickle, with no witnesses to the crime. A death investigator asked the local peasants to bring their sickles to the town square and place them on the ground. In the hot sun, as time passed, flies began to gather on one of the sickles; attracted to the smell of blood, they pointed to the guilty person. Forensic science has changed substantially since the 13th century, however, the purpose is the same – to apply scientific methods and principles to questions of interest to the law, in order to serve justice.

The Graduate Certificate is meant to complement a program of study at Iowa State that leads to any graduate degree in an established academic major. It is recommended for students that wish to strengthen their interdisciplinary skills. Coursework for the Certificate is at the graduate level. Qualified undergraduates may also enroll, provided they are admitted to the Graduate College as a certificate student for at least one semester. Iowa State does not offer a major in Forensic Sciences at either the graduate or undergraduate level, but it does have a complimentary undergraduate major in Criminal Justice. Forensics. What does the word mean? Certainly, it conjures up images from the popular media, particularly from wildly successful crime dramas, such as CSI, The Practice, and Bones. But forensics is much more than just “tracking down the perp”. Broadly speaking, forensic science applies scientific theory and method to legal problems. Forensic science is an interdisciplinary endeavor that relies on sound science from a broad array of academic fields, such as anthropology, entomology, psychology, biology, statistics, chemistry, sociology, and materials science.

The primary goal of our Certificate program is to prepare a generation of scientists and practitioners who can contribute productively to forensics, particularly at the research and development level. To earn the Certificate, you will take an interdisciplinary set of courses that will broaden and enrich your perspective of forensic science, attend a series of seminars given by seasoned scientists in the field, and participate in a professional conference at which you can make valuable contacts.

After you complete the Certificate, you will be:

  • educated in a diverse array of topics that contribute to the interdisciplinary field of forensic science,
  • well informed about the needs for research and development in forensic science,
  • able to propose a research project related to forensic science,
  • informed about forensic science as a career choice,
  • aware of the possibility of offering your expertise to law enforcement agencies within your community, and
  • aware that forensic sciences can be used as an educational tool in your post-graduate capacity as a professor/teacher, parent, or community volunteer.

To complete the certificate you must complete the required coursework and attend a professional conference.


In order to earn the Certificate, you will take 12 credits of coursework and seminars at Iowa State University:

  • 1 graduate credit seminar course in forensic science: ANTHR 541. The seminar will be offered each fall semester. In this seminar, you will report on the off-campus conference you attend, and also on your research.
  • 1 graduate credit of independent study: ANTHR 542. Choose a topic in forensics, ask the DOCS for approval, research it in the literature and write a paper on it. You will present this research project to the seminar group.
  • At least 10 graduate credits from among the courses listed on the ISU Catalog.  From these courses, you may not choose any courses offered toward your academic major, and you must choose courses from at least two different departments entirely outside of your department or program.
  • All credits must be taken for a grade.To finish the program, you must have achieved a total GPA of 3.0 or higher and completed the Certificate within three contiguous calendar years.


You will attend a national or regional scientific meeting devoted to forensic science. Conference travel funding from the Graduate and Professional Student Senate and Division of Student Affairs are available for graduate and undergraduate students, respectively. You must spend at least 2.5 days at the conference. After attending, you will report back to the group as part of the seminar course. Examples of suitable meetings are those held by the:


“… the program was helpful in getting a job. I now teach biology courses at (a community college) and I was told after I accepted the position that one of the things which stood out on my resume before my interview was the forensics certificate….I thought the program increased my understanding of forensics, especially the seminar with guest speakers who work in forensics. The seminar gave me a chance to learn about possible career options within forensics. I really enjoyed the program…”

from an instructor of biology at a community college.

“The program was most definitely helpful, as a matter of fact the Forensics Certificate played a crucial role in landing me the job. Much of the information provided in the forensic seminars was beneficial and also helped point me in the direction needed to obtain further information.”

from an ISU graduate who was hired to develop and direct a private forensic DNA laboratory.

“Completing the graduate certificate in forensic science enabled me to develop skills applicable to research and teaching in forensic anthropology and more broadly, biological anthropology. Exposure to a broad number of disciplines related to forensic science provided me with the opportunity to study topics relevant to biological anthropology that otherwise would not have been incorporated into my graduate program of study. It was a worthwhile endeavor!”

from an aspiring professor of anthropology.

If you are interested in pursuing a certificate in Forensic Science, you must first speak with the Director of Certificate Studies or his/her representative. Be prepared to discuss your objectives, the courses you are interested in taking, and your timetable for completion. You should also discuss any pre-requisite waivers, if applicable, with instructors of the courses that you would like to take. Contact Dr. Andrew Somerville at to set up an appointment.


Print off these checklists to keep track of your progress through the Certificate Program:

For the correct application forms, please choose the description below that fits you best:

  1. You are an ISU graduate student who wants to earn the Forensics Certificate in parallel with your Ph.D. or M.S./M.A.. You will need to complete the following forms:
  2. You are an ISU undergraduate student who wants to earn the Forensics Certificate in parallel with your B.S. or B.A.. You will need to complete the forms listed below. You should submit the concurrent enrollment request and graduate college application forms simultaneously, at least two semesters before you graduate. On the concurrent enrollment request form, on the line labelled “Admitted”, please enter the semester in which you plan to enroll as a graduate student, for example, “Spring 2015.”

NOTE: You will need to formally enroll for your last semester as a graduate student and take at least 12 graduate credits since the Certificate is a graduate program. However, the Certificate should be planned, and the majority of its requirements fulfilled, before that semester.