FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS
- What is forensic science?
- What is physical evidence?
- What work does a forensic scientist involve?
- There are 3 main areas:
- Do I need to have a master's degree to get a job in forensic science?
- Do the subdisciplines within forensic science have any specific requirements?
- How accurate are the television shows that portray forensic scientists?
- Is there any experience requirement to start a career in forensic science?
- What are the sub-disciplines in forensic science?
- What courses should I take in high school to prepare for a career in forensic science?
- What do I do if I can't find a job/internship in forensic science?
- What else will help me get a job in a crime lab?
- What is the starting salary for a career in forensic science?
- What major should I choose?
- What type of education do I need to start a career in forensic science?
- What type of work environment can I expect?
- Where can I find more information about forensic job opportunities?
- Where can I get information about forensic science?
- Which schools offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in forensic science?
- Why are internships important?
- Forensic Computing
- Forensic Photographer
- Forensic Medicine
- Forensic Archaeology
- Forensic Toxicologists
- Analytical Chemist
- Society of Chemical Industry
- Royal Society of Chemistry
- Biomedical Scientist
- Clinical Hospital Scientist
- Research Scientist
- Other Science Jobs
- Careers Outside Science
What is forensic science?Back to Top
Forensic science is the application of natural sciences to matters of the law. In practice, forensic science draws upon physics, chemistry, biology, and other scientific principles and methods. Forensic science is concerned with the recognition, identification, individualization, and evaluation of physical evidence. Forensic scientists present their findings as expert witnesses in the court of law.
What is physical evidence?Back to Top
Physical evidence can be anything that tells you about the situation being investigated. It can be weather conditions, smells, or the position of doors and light switches. It can also be items such as footwear impressions, fingerprints, tire tracks, and blood spatter. Physical evidence can be marks left by weapons, patterns of tearing or breaking, gunshot residues, hairs, fibers, glass, paint chips, plastic, paper, typewriting, handwriting, computers, and marks left by printers and copiers. It can be blood samples or tissues examined for DNA typing or for the presence of alcohol or drugs. Physical evidence is used to link together the suspect, victim and scene.
What work does a forensic scientist involve?Back to Top
- Recording findings and collecting trace evidence from scenes of crime or accidents.
- Analyzing samples such as hair, body fluids, glass, paint and drugs in the laboratory.
- Applying various techniques as appropriate; e.g. DNA profiling, mass spectrometry, chromatography. Presenting written and verbal evidence in court which may be cross-examined.
- You need a strong stomach, as some of the scenes of crime can be gruesome.
- Confidence is also required as reporting officers have to present evidence in court and be cross-examined. This makes up a quarter of the work.
- Crimes may happen at any time, so evening and weekend call outs happen regularly.
There are 3 main areas:Back to Top
Chemistry: Crimes against property.This includes the analysis of contact traces e.g. glass and paint, also fire investigation and serial number restoration. However, approximately 80% of cases involve drugs analyses.
Biology: Crimes against the person. Violent crime makes up most of the case types encountered and the majority of examinations involve blood and other body fluids. Both traditional serological and DNA testing is used. Also deals with the analysis of hairs and fibers. DNA work is increasing because of the new nation-wide DNA database. Crimes from many years ago are now being re-examined because of new DNA evidence.
Drugs and Toxicology: Alcohol and drug driving cases, the criminal and non-criminal investigation of deaths due to overdoses, poisons and drugs.
There is no general requirement for a Master's degree, although if you are interested in employment at a specific laboratory, you should contact the director of the laboratory to determine what they require. A Master's degree in forensic science, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, medical technology, or a closely related field may substitute for experience and are useful for career advancement. Again, contact the specific laboratory to inquire if this is their policy. Many examiners/analysts have a BS in chemistry or biology and an MS in forensic science. For specialty areas, advanced degrees are helpful but not required.
Do the subdisciplines within forensic science have any specific requirements?Back to Top
At this time, only DNA laboratories have stated specific requirements. The latest FBI DNA Quality Assurance Audit Document Issue 10/00 states that each examiner/analyst should meet the following degree/educational requirements: a B.A./B.S. degree or its equivalent in a biology, chemistry, or forensic science related area; college course work or classes covering the subject areas of biochemistry, genetics, and molecular biology; and college course work or training which covers the subject area of statistics and/or population genetics.
How accurate are the television shows that portray forensic scientists?Back to Top
Popular television shows such as CSI: Crime Scene Investigators have increased the popularity of the forensic science field. However much work is done by creators to make the show as real as possible, the purpose is entertainment, and the depiction of forensic scientists can be far from accurate. Forensic scientists will not interrogate suspects and will not perform investigations. This is the job of police officers and investigators. Forensic crime scene analysts will arrive at the scene, process the scene, collect the evidence, and transport that evidence to the laboratory. Depending on the organization, crime scene analysts may continue with the case and process the evidence in the laboratory, or they may hand over the evidence to laboratory analysts. Due to backlogs and lack of personnel, it may take weeks for a piece of evidence to be processed. The job of a forensic scientist is often routine and repetitive; the majority of your time will be spent processing evidence and filling out paperwork, not running around town chasing down criminals. Another common misconception is that forensic scientists perform autopsies. Autopsies are performed by Medical Examiners who have gone to medical school and become doctors, in some areas of the country autopsies are also performed by coroners, who may not be doctors. Even though a forensic scientist does not perform autopsies, one must be prepared for being exposed to the gory nature of many crimes.
Is there any experience requirement to start a career in forensic science?Back to Top
Some laboratories offer trainee positions that do not require prior training in the forensic science field. Trainee positions are not often available. It may be necessary to consider doing an internship in a crime laboratory to gain experience. Unfortunately, there is no official listing for these opportunities and you will need to contact the laboratory you are interested in. The internship may be easiest to do while you are a student. In fact, some universities give credit for and/or require an internship.
What are the sub-disciplines in forensic science?Back to Top
Forensic scientists are often involved in the search for and examination of physical evidence. This physical evidence is useful for establishing or excluding an association between a suspect of a crime and the scene of the crime and/or the victim(s) or between the victim(s) and the crime scene. The scientist will sometimes visit the scene to determine the sequence of events, any indicators as to who the perpetrator might be, and to join in the search for evidence. The following is a general listing of sub-disciplines and associated examinations: Forensic Biologists analyze blood and other body fluids. Forensic Trace Evidence examiners analyze hairs and fibers, paint, soil, and glass. Forensic Chemists analyze flammable substances and evidence from a scene of a suspected arson. Forensic Drug Chemists analyze suspected drugs of abuse such as marijuana, cocaine, and heroin. Forensic Toxicologists analyze specimens from individuals such as blood and urine for alcohol, drugs, and poisons. Other Forensic Scientists specialize in footwear, tool mark, and tire impressions; fingerprints; firearms; explosives; questioned documents; computer crime; odontology; and/or engineering.
What courses should I take in high school to prepare for a career in forensic science?Back to Top
A background in math and sciences including biology, chemistry, and physics will be helpful. A composition or writing course may also be helpful. A solid education will enable you to continue your studies in college and prepare you for a career in one of the many different forensic science fields.
What do I do if I can't find a job/internship in forensic science?Back to Top
Jobs in forensic science can at times be somewhat difficult to obtain. If you have just graduated from college and cannot immediately find a job in forensic science, finding a laboratory job in one of the natural science fields (chemistry, biology, biochemistry, etc.) will give you valuable laboratory technique and instrumentation experience. A strong scientific job background will help make you a strong candidate when applying for forensic science jobs. Being flexible and willing to move may also help you find a job in forensic science. If you limit yourself to a certain city or state, you may wait a long time for job openings. You will have many more opportunities to find a job if you are willing to move to the job instead of waiting for a job to open in your area. Internships in forensic science are also hard to obtain. Many crime labs do not offer internships, or only offer them when they have a specific project to be completed. Call the crime lab you are interested in to see if they have internship opportunities. An applicant with a scientific job background will be better qualified when applying for an internship. If no crime lab internships are available in your area, keep doing other laboratory work, scientific experience will prepare you for your career.
What else will help me get a job in a crime lab?Back to Top
Courtroom testimony is an essential job duty for a forensic analyst. Therefore public speaking and the ability to convey scientific concepts in understandable terms is vital. Most laboratories require applicants to undergo some sort of background evaluation prior to employment. This may include polygraphs, drug screens, or background investigations. Drug use, alcohol abuse, theft, and even excessive traffic violations are often causes for dismissal from the application process. While many professions may be willing to forgive youthful indiscretions, law enforcement will not. The credibility of a forensic scientist is highly scrutinized; therefore applicants with compromised credibility will most likely be disqualified from the application process.
What is the starting salary for a career in forensic science?Back to Top
The majority of forensic science laboratories in the U.S. are publicly operated. The laboratories may be part of the federal, state, county, or local government There are also a number of private laboratories that operate independently, are associated with universities, or are under contractual agreements with government agencies. The starting salary is dependent on the above factors and individuals should contact the specific laboratory that they are interested in. Salaries for Crime Laboratory analysts vary from region as well as position. The starting salary in the USA is generally around $30,000. Analysts with many years of experience may make $60,000-$70,000.
What major should I choose?Back to Top
The majority of positions within a crime lab require a bachelor's degree in a physical science. Some universities offer a degree in Forensic Science. However, if the university you are attending does not offer such a program there are other majors you can consider. The major that you choose should reflect the forensic discipline in which you wish to work. For example, drug analysts should have a degree with a concentration in chemistry, while DNA analysts should have an emphasis on molecular biology. If you want to work in forensic DNA analysis, you must have coursework in molecular biology, statistics, genetics, and biochemistry. While Forensic Science degrees are not required, most provide a curriculum that includes ancillary courses that are helpful in the career. These include criminal law, courtroom procedures, and expert testimony courses.
What type of education do I need to start a career in forensic science?Back to Top
The minimum acceptable training is a Bachelor's degree in forensic science, biochemistry, biology, chemistry, medical technology, or in a closely related field which must have included or been supplemented by twenty credit hours in chemistry. Ideally, your coursework should include the following: microscopy, statistics, and laboratory work. A Bachelor's degree is essential for a job in the following forensic disciplines: drug analysis, toxicology, trace evidence, and forensic biology including DNA analysis.
What type of work environment can I expect?Back to Top
Most analysts work in a laboratory setting for 8 hours per day. Some analysts may assist at crime scenes where the hours can vary throughout the day and night.
Where can I find more information about forensic job opportunities?Back to Top
In addition to job listings on this site, there are other sites which may be helpful. Check out the American Society of Crime Lab Directors. ASCLD members are laboratory directors and if they have a job opening, they usually send the information to the web master for posting. Also, go to the American Academy of Forensic Science's home page at www.aafs.org and click on "job opportunities". The AAFS lists job openings according to title and receive postings from numerous laboratory locations.
Where can I get information about forensic science?Back to Top
General forensic information can be found in several locations in your local library. There are also many Internet sites that have information about forensic science. A general search for forensic science books on sites such as Amazon.com will provide a long list of informational books. Criminalistics by Richard Saferstein and Henry Lee's Crime Scene Handbook by Henry Lee, Timothy Palmbach and Marilyn Miller are two of many textbooks used by colleges, which cover a broad range of forensic science topics, issues and procedures. Shorter, cheaper and more topic specific books can also be found according to your interests. For youths, a partial list of books about forensics can be found at www.mfrc.ameslab.gov
Which schools offer undergraduate and graduate degrees in forensic science?Back to Top
For a list and links to individual schools, please refer to the colleges and universities list on the American Academy of Forensic Science Web site, www.aafs.org Forensic Home. A list of some of the Midwestern schools is also available on this web site, www.mfrc.ameslab.gov.
Why are internships important?Back to Top
Internships provide students with the opportunity to experience the "real world" of forensic science and the crime laboratory. They also provide recent graduates with the relevant experience that crime laboratory directors seek from applicants. Getting an internship in any laboratory and learning about the theory behind the techniques that are employed can be helpful. This will provide experience in general laboratory procedures as well as safety processes that are employed in laboratories. Be prepared to perform basic functions such as washing glassware or clerical duties. Things to know about an internship: There are three important things to know about an internship: You may need to set up an internship well in advance of a semester if you wish to finish it the same semester you enroll for it. You need to have an internship agreement form signed by all parties (work supervisor, faculty) before beginning your internship hours. You need to familiarize yourself with the Internship Course Requirements.
Forensic ComputingBack to Top
Computer security is a growing area. The work involves close contact with lawyers, commercial organizations and investigation agencies. Issues may involve fraud, child pornography, terrorism and ID theft. Organizations involved include: Police Forces, Government Agencies (Customs and Excise, DTI, Serious Fraud Office), Specialist Forensic Computing firms, IT Security and corporate investigation companies, accounting firms specialize in Information Security, and computer security.
Forensic PhotographerBack to Top
Forensic photographers take photographs at scenes of crime and hospitals for use as evidence in court. They may also work for law firms to build up evidence for cases in areas such as personal injury. It is a type of scientific photography and forensic photographers use a range of specialized equipment including infrared and ultraviolet films, and microphotography equipment. Digital equipment is increasingly being used. They require an understanding of anatomy and may work with investigating police officers, doctors and medical illustrators to prepare presentations for use in court. The job requires tact to deal with distressed victims of crime and the work may be disturbing at times.
Forensic MedicineBack to Top
The careers here include Histopathology/Forensic Pathology, Clinical Forensic Medicine ("police surgeon") and Forensic Psychiatry. First you must qualify as a doctor, but there are now some 4 year fast-track courses for graduates.
Forensic ArchaeologyBack to Top
There are four main areas where traditional archaeology and criminal investigation come together: recovery: excavation techniques, evidence recording, materials recovery and conservation; search: aerial photography, survey; skeletal analysis: identification, physical anthropology; and analytical science: dating, species identification. Most forensic archaeologists are employed by universities, but other possible employers include large police forces and museums. You will rarely find vacancies advertised as it's such a small field. To get in you need to get a strong postgraduate qualification and then network - talk to people doing the job about possible openings.
ToxicologyBack to Top
Toxicology helps us understand the harmful effects of chemicals on living organisms: pesticides in the food we eat, pollutants in air, chemicals in water, toxic dump sites. Which chemicals are really dangerous? How much does it take to cause harm? What are the effects of a particular chemical?
Forensic ToxicologistsBack to Top
Forensic toxicologists deal mainly with medico-legal aspects of drugs and poisons, their main responsibilities are to establish and explain the circumstances of legal cases where drugs or other chemicals are implicated.
PharmacologistBack to Top
Pharmacologists study the effects of drugs and chemical compounds on humans and animals. Working as part of a team including chemists, biochemists, geneticists, microbiologists, molecular biologists, toxicologists and pharmacists work in research, development and clinical trials of drugs. Pharmacologists are employed by pharmaceutical companies, universities, chemical, food and drink, household goods and cosmetics manufacturers, hospitals and the Public Health Laboratory Service, and government or charity-funded research institutes such as the Institute of Cancer.
Analytical ChemistBack to Top
Analytical chemists are involved in work as diverse as chemical or forensic analysis, process development, product validation, quality control, toxicology, drug formulation and development. Involves:
Analyzing samples from various sources to provide information on compounds present or quantities of compounds present, using analytical techniques and instrumentation such as gas and HPL chromatography, ion chromatography, electro-chromatography and spectroscopy techniques like Raman preparing samples interpreting data and reporting results developing new methods for analyzing chemicals maintaining instruments liaison with customers and staff.
Society of Chemical IndustryBack to Top
www.chemind.org produces Chemistry & Industry Magazine - see jobs section on-line.
Royal Society of ChemistryBack to Top
Biomedical ScientistBack to Top
These work in hospitals and related laboratories; providing a range of sophisticated analytical and advisory services to clinicians and other professionals, and/or being directly involved in research projects. Graduates join as Trainee Biomedical Scientists. Training lasts about two years, leading to increasing responsibility for research and management. Similar opportunities are available in the Blood Transfusion Service and veterinary laboratories. See our medical laboratory science page for more information in this area:
Clinical Hospital ScientistBack to Top
Organizes tests on patient samples, to assist with investigation, diagnosis and treatment of disease; Advises clinicians and GPs on use of tests and interpretation of results; carries out research as well as evaluation and quality assessment of diagnostic tests. Typically you work in a hospital paid on the Grade A Clinical Scientists pay scale while completing a relevant Masters degree on a part-time basis (this is fully paid for). See our medical laboratory science page for more information on this area.:
Research ScientistBack to Top
Although you can get a job as a trainee research scientist with a good first degree, for those wanting a long term career in research it may be advisable to study for a doctorate as promotion within research may be hindered without one - you may encounter "glass ceilings". You can work in:
- Industrial Companies
- University Laboratories
- Research Associations i.e., Biology and Biotechnology Research Council Laboratories
- Scientific Civil Service.
TeachingBack to Top
A Postgraduate Certificate of Education Course (PGCE) lasts one year. It's not that difficult to obtain a place on a science PGCE provided that you can show some evidence of interest in teaching such as voluntary work at a school. Remember that you can also teach science in Colleges of Further Education, private schools and the Armed Forces. For more information: See http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/siteach.htm
Other Science JobsBack to Top
These include patent work, food science, medical sales, information science, scientific publishing and many others. For more information: http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/ScienceJobs.htm
Careers Outside ScienceBack to Top
Forensic Science graduates are attractive to many employers because of their personal transferable skills rather than the specific skills that they have gained during their degree course. These skills include the ability to analyze information in a logical way, numeracy and problem solving skills. Jobs using these skills include:
ComputingBack to Top
A popular area for science graduates in recent years, partly due to the availability of postgraduate conversion courses, such as the one year MSc in Computer Science at UKC.
FinanceBack to Top
Finance employers in banking, insurance and accountancy are attracted to science graduates. There are many traineeships available for new graduates irrespective of degree subject.
See http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/workin/accountancy.htm and http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sitebank.htm
Forensic Science can also be a good starting point for a career as a customs or immigration officer as you will have a number of relevant skills. See http://www.kent.ac.uk/careers/sitesgov.htm