If you’re interested in a career in forensic science, you’ll need to know what it takes to get started.
A forensic science career path typically starts with a degree in chemistry or biology. However, many schools now offer specialized forensic science degrees to prepare you for this exciting field.
Once you have your degree, it’s time to start looking for jobs. Most forensic scientists work for law enforcement agencies or laboratories, but there are also opportunities in the private sector.
No matter where your career takes you, though, be prepared for a lot of hard work and long hours. The rewards, however, are well worth it, and let’s get into it in detail.
1. What Is Forensic Science?
Forensic science applies scientific techniques and principles to legal questions and issues. It is used to help solve crimes by identifying, collecting, analyzing, and preserving evidence. This evidence can then be used in court to prove or disprove a theory about what happened during a crime. Forensic scientists must explain and communicate their findings both in writing and verbally.
Forensic science is a wide-ranging field that includes multiple specialty areas, such as the analysis of soil, glass, fibers, computer data, paint chips, handwriting, and documents. Forensic pathologists and medical examiners use forensic pathology and medical examiner science to determine the cause and time of death and establish whether a death was natural or the result of criminal activity. Forensic anthropologists study bones, teeth, and other physical evidence from the body to identify individuals who have died.
Forensic scientists often work for law enforcement agencies such as police departments, crime scene units, coroners’ offices, or laboratories. They may also work in federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the U.S. Department of Justice, or state crime laboratories.
2. What Do Forensic Scientists do?
Forensic scientists play a vital role in our criminal justice system. They help identify victims and perpetrators and collect and analyze evidence from crime scenes. This evidence can prosecute criminals and support the prosecution’s case in court. Forensic scientists also work with law enforcement officials to track down fugitives and solve crimes. They can also work as private consultants.
Some of the responsibilities of a forensic scientist include:
- Questioning witnesses and victims
- Analyzing evidence for clues to a person’s identity, such as fingerprints, hair samples, shoe prints, etc.
- Examining crime scenes for forensic evidence
- Working with law enforcement officials to solve crimes
- Safeguarding forensic evidence in the laboratory
- Testing and analyzing evidence, including glass fragments or gun powder residue
- Matching bullets to the guns that fired them
- Using DNA testing to solve crimes
Forensic scientists use several different types of equipment, including microscopes, computers, cameras, photographic supplies, DNA screening devices, and spectroscopes. They may also have training in robotics or other technologies.
3. What Types of Forensic Scientists Are There?
Forensic scientists can specialize in one particular area or perform multiple tasks. Specialization may include working with DNA evidence, fingerprints, trace evidence, firearms and ballistics, bloodstain pattern analysis (the study of how spatter patterns form), tool mark analysis (study of marks left on materials by tools), questioned documents, or toxicology (study of drugs and poisons)
1. Some of the Types of Forensic Scientists Include:
. Crime Scene Investigator – examines a scene to determine what happened and collects evidence.
. Toxicologist – studies how drugs and poisons affect the human body
. DNA Analyst – examines DNA collected at crime scenes or from victims or offenders to identify suspects, victims, or prove innocence
. Forensic Accountant – analyzes financial documents for fraud, embezzlement, tax evasion, money laundering
. Digital Evidence Specialist – examines computer files to look for evidence of illegal activity
. Forensic Psychologist – uses psychological principles to help solve crimes
. Crime Lab Technician – performs chemical and laboratory tests on physical evidence to aid in criminal investigations.
4. What Education Is Needed?
Forensic scientists typically need a bachelor’s degree in forensic science, biology, chemistry, or one of the natural sciences. Many colleges and universities offer undergraduate programs in forensic science at the bachelor’s level. Applicants who have degrees in other related fields may be accepted into an entry-level master’s degree program if they have relevant work experience. Forensic scientists must be detail-oriented and able to handle the pressure of high-stress situations in a laboratory setting. They may also need knowledge of law enforcement procedures and protocols, such as chain of custody (documenting where evidence has been) or proper storage and handling techniques for crime scenes.
It should take 5-10 years of postgraduate training before a forensic scientist can begin working as an independent consultant. Forensic scientists may work long and irregular hours depending on the nature of their work.
5. How Much Do Forensic Scientists Make?
The median annual wage for biological technicians, including forensic scientists, was $42,740 in May 2010. The median wage is when half the workers in an occupation earned more than that amount, and half earned less. Actual wages vary with experience, job location, performance, and educational level.
According to the BLS, forensic science technicians earn about $55k. Those in management roles earn a bit more, about $86k, and some forensic scientists and the top earners in the field make $115k+
6. What Is the Job Outlook?
People interested in a career as forensic scientists must be prepared for intense competition for available jobs. Because of the high-profile nature of many criminal investigations and prosecutions, criminal justice degrees are expected to remain popular with students who want to get into this line of work. However, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) projects that growth for forensic science technicians will be slower than average as advances in technology make it possible for more medical experts to perform some tasks once reserved only for trained crime scene investigators. The BLS also expects employment growth among biological scientists, including forensic scientists, to be slightly faster than average for all occupations.
7. Skills Needed to Become a Forensic Scientist
Some of the skills needed to become a forensic scientist include:
- An inquisitive nature
- A critical mind
- Good written and oral communication skills.
- The ability to work as part of a team.
- Patience and attention to detail.
- Resilience, as working in forensic science, can be stressful at times.
- Openness about the fact that you will see some unpleasant things during your career.
- Good IT skills (for using a specialist (and commercial) computer-based systems).
- An understanding of scientific concepts.
- A scientific approach to problem-solving.
The role of a forensic scientist can be used in many different areas, including; criminal investigation, medicine, military operations, espionage, law enforcement, and environmental work. The skills required for each area are slightly different but generally share many of the qualities listed above.
8. The Benefits of Being a Forensic Scientist
Some of the benefits of being a forensic scientist include:
- Flexibility for where you work.
- The opportunity to make a difference and help people.
- You can choose which area of forensic science interests you more (for example, biology, medicine, physics, chemistry).
- It is an exciting and rewarding career.
- You get to work in a team or alone.
- You can gain a lot of experience quickly if you decide to go back into education for another degree, diploma, etc.
- Many forensic scientists work outside office hours and have flexible working patterns.
- You can work in laboratories, offices, or outdoors depending on what kind of forensics you are interested in.
- Forensic scientists travel the world to give evidence in court cases and lead research.
A degree will give you more opportunities when applying for jobs, but plenty of opportunities are available without one. There are also many other valuable qualifications that you can use in your career, including diplomas and apprenticeships.
9. The Drawbacks of Being a Forensic Scientist
Some of the drawbacks of being a forensic scientist include:
- It is not an easy job and can be very stressful.
- You may have to work on weekends, nights, and public holidays.
- You will have to spend a lot of time working alone.
- Some jobs may involve you having to travel away from home for periods.
- It can be hard to find work when you first qualify or move into the job as fewer vacancies than other jobs.
- Some people believe that it is not a real job.
- The pay can be relatively low compared to some other jobs.
- Some forensic scientists who work in an office will have to spend their time doing desk work instead of getting out and about.
10. Top Recruiting Companies for a Forensic Cientist
Suppose you’re looking for a career in forensic science. In that case, you’ll be happy to know that there are many top recruiting companies out there who are always on the lookout for talented and qualified individuals.
Some of the most well-known and respected names in the business include:
1. Kelly Scientific – The company has been around for more than 75 years and is currently one of the top recruiting companies in the country. Kelly Scientific specializes in life science, engineering, lab management, scientific sales, marketing, and consulting services. It’s no wonder why they are considered one of the best companies to work for in the country.
2. Randstad – With more than 33,000 employees worldwide and 37 offices here in the United States, Randstad is currently one of the largest recruiting companies for qualified individuals looking for jobs in forensic science and other related fields.
3. Forensic Professionals – This firm has been around for some time now and is highly respected in the forensic science community. Forensic professionals provide expertise to criminal investigators, law enforcement agencies, medical examiners, coroners, and crime scene professionals looking for qualified individuals to join their team.
4. Robert Half – With over 50 years of experience in recruitment services, Robert Half is another top recruiting company specializing in forensics, engineering, advertising, marketing, financial services, and law.
5. CareerBuilder – Last but not least on the list of the best companies to work for in forensic science is CareerBuilder. This firm has been around for some time now and offers recruitment services within all legal, accounting, and finance fields.
The best thing about working for these companies is that they won’t just find you a job but also help you land the correct position as well as provide cutting-edge training so that you can exceed your set performance targets. You’ll enjoy working with them.
12. Best Colleges to Study Forensic Science
Many colleges offer forensic science courses, but the following colleges are considered some of the best in the country.
- University of Florida
- George Washington University
- Penn State University
- Sam Houston State University
- University of California, Davis
- Michigan State University
- University of New Haven
- Appalachian State University
- Texas State University
- Florida International University
The forensic science profession is a worthy and fulfilling career that allows you to make a difference in the world. You can pursue many avenues of specialization, like crime scene investigation or blood spatter analysis. However, no matter which field you choose, your work will be meaningful and rewarding as long as you’re passionate about it. If this sounds like something for you, then take some time to explore what may interest you most before deciding on one path over another.