Does investigating gory crime scenes like the CSI crew or analysing blood stains like Dexter sound like a great (if grizzly) way to spend your days?
Okay, so being a forensic scientist isn’t exactly like it’s made out on the telly box. But forensic science jobs can be fascinating, allowing you to apply your curious mind, communication skills and methodical approach.
What do forensic scientists do?
A forensic scientist uses different methods and techniques to study material connected to crimes. This material can include blood, hair, clothing fibres, glass fragments, and tyre marks.
These are some of the tasks a forensic scientist might tackle in a typical day:
- Analyse samples of body fluid in the lab.
- Use different techniques to analyse evidence – these include DNA profiling (a way of using skin cells, blood, saliva or hair roots to find out whose DNA it is) and chromatography (used to separate chemical substances into individual parts so they can be analysed)
- Go to crime scenes and collect evidence.
- Analyse handwriting and ink.
- Give expert advice on guns and bullets.
- Research and develop new forensic science technologies and techniques.
- Give scientific evidence in court.
- Work with colleagues and other professionals like the police.
What are the different kinds of forensic science jobs?
“Forensic scientist” is actually quite a broad term. There are three main areas that they work in:
- Chemistry: this often means working with property crimes such as burglary and arson (setting fire). You would be analysing materials like glass and paint.
- Biology: this usually means working with crimes against people like murder, assault and rape. You would be analysing bodily fluids, hair and clothes.
- Drugs and toxicology: this involves examining drink and drug driving samples, and investigating deaths due to overdoses and poisoning.
There are also different types of forensic science jobs that you could specialise in. Here are just a handful of them:
- Bloodstain pattern analysts examine blood samples to gather clues about crime scenes.
- Forensic ballistics experts help detectives find out what type of gun was used in a crime.
- Polygraph examiners use “lie detectors” to gather information.
- Forensic anthropologists identify human remains. Read our interview with forensic anthropologist Dr Catriona Davies.
What skills do I need to become a forensic scientist?
Here are some of the abilities and know-how you will need to work in forensic science:
- Exceptional attention to detail and patience.
- Logical, fair and methodical approach to work.
- Dedicated and persistent attitude.
- Curious and enquiring attitude.
- Able to work well in a team, as well as on your own.
- Strong communication skills and able to explain complicated things to non-experts.
- Flexible approach in case you need to work evenings and weekends.
- You may also need a strong stomach!
- Aptitude for science.
Tell me how to become a forensic scientist!
To get a forensic science job, you will usually need a degree in a science-based course, such as chemistry, biology, life sciences, applied sciences or medical sciences. You may also need a post-graduate degree in forensic science.
Check out this video to see what a week in the life of a forensic science student is like:
It’s worth checking the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences website to make sure the course you’re interested in is accredited.
Another option is to start your career as a forensics lab support assistant. For that role you will need A-levels, a BTEC or an HND in science. In order to work as an assistant forensic scientist, you will need at least four good GSCEs, including English and either science or maths, plus at least one A-level or equivalent in a science subjects.
Having work experience under your belt will help you out when it comes to applying for courses and jobs. You could do a work placement in a lab, hospital or research centre. Shadowing opportunities in the police is also a good option.
Does a forensic science job sound like it could be for you? Check out our Science & Research Career Zone to learn more.