Scientific or forensic evidence no doubt plays a crucial role in the resolution of various crimes. Behind this evidence are forensic scientists, professionals who work tirelessly to place suspects at the scene of a crime. If you have a nose for investigating things and a passion for science, here is what you need to know about pursuing a career in forensic science.
1. What Do Forensic Scientists Do?
The duties of forensic scientists include:
- Finding and collecting evidence at crime scenes
- Selecting the right technique to analyze various pieces of evidence
- Working with lab assistants to examine the evidence – Depending on the nature of a crime and one’s area of specialization, this can include performing DNA testing on blood samples or recovering data from computers and other electronic gadgets
- Verifying the authenticity of information on documents
- Compiling reports detailing their findings
- Presenting evidence in courts of law and serving as expert witnesses (they are allowed to give professional opinions or recommendations based on their findings)
2. Work Environment
Forensic scientists normally work fulltime from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. However, crimes can occur at any time, so you should be ready to work during unsocial hours and over the weekends.
After collecting or receiving scientific evidence, the scientists head to a laboratory, where they conduct various examinations, and later retreat to their offices to write reports.
While in labs, they wear lab coats, safety glasses and other pieces of protective clothing or equipment.
According to PayScale, forensic scientists earn $50,247.
4. Entry Requirements
To join this profession, you need to earn a Bachelor of Science in forensic science. The program, which draws its courses from criminal justice as well as chemistry and biological and physical sciences, will allow you to focus on any of these areas:
- Evidence tracing
- Document analysis
- Latent prints
- Physical evidence
- DNA profiling
- Forensic psychology
- Arson investigations
Here are some of the institutions offering the program:
- American InterContinental University, Texas
- Columbia College, Missouri
- Grand Canyon University, Arizona
As of 2015, no state regulates the practice of forensic scientists.
5. Important Qualities
To succeed as a forensic scientist, you need:
- Strong investigative skills
- Excellent analytical skills
- Excellent problem-solving skills
- Practical and technical skills to use lab equipment
- Strong decision-making skills
- A methodical approach to tasks
- A high-level of accuracy and attention to detail
- Good observation skills
- Personal integrity
- Intellectual curiosity
- Good presentation and skills
- Good report -writing skills
- The ability to be unbiased
- Patience and determination
6. Career Advancement
Because scientific evidence is powerful, forensic scientists must be thorough in their work. The best way to increase your competence is by pursuing advanced credentials. These include:
- Obtaining the Certified Forensic Consultant certification which is offered by the American College of Forensic Examiners Institute (AFCEI)
- Becoming a Diplomate of the American Board of Criminalistics
- Pursuing a master’s degree in forensic science to enhance your professional knowledge
The ACFEI and the American Academy of Forensic Sciences also offer membership opportunities. As a member of either institution, you will have access to industry publications and events.
7. Job Opportunities
The employers of forensic scientists include:
- Law enforcement agencies such as the FBI
- Private forensic labs
- State police departments
- Offices of medical examiners
With vast experience and advanced credentials, you can advance to become the head of forensics. You will be in charge of a forensics laboratory or a forensics department in a police agency.
Lastly, investigative TV shows have generated a significant interest in the forensic science field. As a result, the Bureau of Labor Statistics says aspiring scientists should be prepared to face fierce competition for jobs. The best opportunities will be available to professionals with a master’s degree.
So, if you are naturally curious, you now know how you can turn your curiosity into a successful forensic science career.