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7 major myths of crime scene investigation

Contrary to what you've learned from popular television drama, most crime scene investigators do not lead a rousing life teetering on the edge of violence. It's true that they often work at crime scenes where they use forensic tools to gather, preserve and transport key evidence, but talk to a real CSI and you may find that these professionals are scientists, not Wild West gunslingers.

If you're wondering how to become a crime scene investigator, don't believe the TV hype. Let's bust some myths that arise from Hollywood's crime scene investigator job description.

1. Every law enforcement agency has its own CSI staff.

The Department of Labor reports that 12,390 forensic science technicians held jobs in the United States in 2010. This would not be enough to staff the 15,430 total Federal, state and local law enforcement agencies counted the same year by the U.S. Census.

2. A crime scene investigator salary brings in a ton of money.

Forensic technicians took home about $51,570 in 2010. The Labor Department's estimates for annual median wages also show that top earners in the field made up to $82,990. The Portland Tribune reports that instead of roaring around in $60,000 Hummers a la Horatio Caine, Oregon state forensics officers drive pickup trucks.

3. Forensic scientists carry side arms, make arrests, grill witnesses and face death.

Some may, if they're also sworn police officers. However, most investigators are civilians with extensive scientific training from crime scene investigator schools. The women don't wear high heels and sexy skirts, and they don't strip down to tank tops to fish bodies out of the bathtub. You'll wear a lab coat or a civilian uniform that resembles those worn by the police agency. Often the real challenge is to safely handle potentially dangerous chemicals that are used in gathering and testing evidence.

4. CSIs are former crime victims or ex-strippers.

The truth? These professionals typically hold a bachelor's degree in forensic science, biology, chemistry or criminal justice, and those performing DNA testing generally have graduate degrees. The required school for crime scene investigation is heavy in science and math courses.

5. You'll get to the bottom of things in 50 minutes.

L.A. County Crime Lab director Barry Fisher told Payscale.com that it takes weeks--sometimes months--to sift through evidence, and it may not ultimately affect the outcome of the investigation.

6. You'll be drenched with blood at disturbing murders and grotesque suicides.

Actually, the Portland Tribune found that 60 percent of bodies examined by Oregon CSIs died of natural causes and 26 percent were victims of an accidental death. Homicides make up only 2 percent of their investigations.

7. The best part of the job is helping police nab the bad guy.

That's not always the case. According to Fisher, you'll get equal satisfaction in finding out that the wrong suspect has been held in custody. Even so, as CSIs in Florida told NewsChief.com, you'll spend most of your day preparing and delivering paperwork to police, court personnel or to attorneys.

Still interested? If so, you can find training for crime scene investigation online or in traditional on-campus programs. And remember--many civilian CSIs are true scientists, problem solvers and patient professionals that work regular shifts. You won't be taking blood samples home to worry over during the night.

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