Become a Forensic Scientist

Do You Want To Be At The Forefront Of Solving Crime?

It is fair to say that interest in forensic science has increased over the past few years with TV drama shows such as Silent Witness and CSI. However they aren’t always totally accurate in their portrayal of the job as they tend to glamorise the role. In essence the term ‘forensic science’ is the application of scientific procedures to help in the application of the law. So what exactly does it involve, and how do you get into it?

What does a forensic scientist do?

Primarily forensic scientists are involved in collecting evidence of any nature and then using scientific approaches, they either discount or link that evidence to a particular crime scene. This ties in closely to the principle that every contact leaves some sort of a trace (no matter how small) and it is up to the forensic scientist to find that trace. Clearly the role is highly scientific so an interest in this area is a must. It often involves painstaking analysis which can be extremely detailed and time consuming.

Areas of the job

There are 3 main areas of Forensic science and they are as follows:

Biology

This involves testing swabs of blood, examining strands of hair, body fluids and fibres of clothing that make up cases such as murder, rape and violent assault.

Chemistry

Close analysis of contact traces such as chemicals, paint and glass that are key findings in crimes such as burglary or arson.

Toxicology and drugs

Testing drink and drug driving samples, examining tissue specimens and any criminal activity due to poisoning, drugs and even overdoses.

Daily Job Role

Although these are separate areas that make up forensic science as a whole, typically people will stick to one discipline. Having said this, there is a pattern of ‘cross over’ in the job and a typical day would include:

Sample analysis
Applying scientific techniques such as electron microscopy scanning, infra-red spectroscopy, genetic finger printing and mass spectrometry
Sorting and sifting evidence. This is often held in tiny amounts
Examining scenes of crimes and collecting and recording findings
Inputting data onto computers
Preparing presentations of their findings
Liaising with the police about findings

So what attributes do you need?

If you think that a career as a forensic scientist is the right kind of job you are looking to get into, let’s look at the kind of attributes you may need.

Patience and concentration
Attention to detail
A distinct love of science
Open and inquisitive mind
Methodical and logical approach
Strong presenting and communication skills
A strong stomach

How do you get into it?

Okay, so you have decided that you may have all the attributes needed for this job, so what qualifications do you need to get into it?

The Academic way

Firstly you need to hold a degree. A good honours degree in a science based subject is a must. So degrees such as chemistry, biology, pharmacology, biomedical science, physiology and crop and soil/plant science are favorable. Degree holders can apply to the Forensic Science Service (FSS) where if they are lucky enough they will be able to enrol in the Trainee Forensic Scientist Recruitment Scheme. Courses are generally advertised in the autumn. Initial training usually lasts for 18 months in which time a trainee will learn all aspects of forensic science. After this period, if successful, they can be given their own cases. Over a period of time trainees also go through a series of research and development work which will hopefully lead to a PhD or MSc.

The non academic way

Unfortunately, because it is a highly scientific job, there is no alternative way to get into this profession, so you have to at least hold a degree and a science based one would be more favorable.

What does it pay?

Generally speaking, starting salaries usually range from £16,000 – £18,000 when training. After a person is fully qualified and holds a PhD or an MSc then this (coupled with around two to three years experience) can see salaries increase to between £25,000 – £30,000. A senior Forensic scientist who operates in a managerial role can see wages in excess of £50,000.

Although a job as a forensic scientist can be varied and interesting, it can also be very demanding particularly when working on an important case. However, as many crimes are now solved on the basis of forensics, this is a job that will be continuously in demand in the future. Therefore the prospects for a long and satisfying career could be good.

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