Forensic scientist: job description
The majority of a forensic scientist’s work is laboratory-based; they examine traces of substances such as blood, hairs, textile fibres, paint, glass, explosives and drugs in an attempt to associate or disassociate suspects with victims or crime scenes. Other responsibilities and areas of forensics can include:
- searching for and collecting evidence at the scenes of crimes
- compiling written reports
- gathering evidence
- verifying the authenticity of documents
- testing fluid and tissue samples for the use of drugs or poisons
- analysing tool and tyre marks
- giving and defending evidence in court
- recovering data from electronic equipment such as laptops, computers and mobile phones
- using appropriate analytical techniques such as chromatography, electron microscopy and DNA profiling
The work can require attending unpleasant and disturbing crime scenes in all weathers.
Forensic scientists are employed by specialist private consultancies, police forces , universities and government departments including the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory, the Centre for Applied Science and Technology, and Forensic Science Northern Ireland.
There is strong competition for the small number of vacancies available each year. Consequently, it may be necessary to enter the profession at a junior level (such as assistant forensic scientist). Vacancies are advertised online, in local, national and regional newspapers and in scientific journals such as New Scientist. Speculative applications are advisable.
- If you'd like to find out what your salary might look like, take a look at our article on how much you might earn in science on our TARGETcareers website.
To become a forensic scientist, a degree in forensic science or another science subject is necessary. Postgraduate study in forensic science is often required, especially after studying a general science subject at undergraduate level. A range of degree courses are accredited by The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options and visit the science section of TARGETpostgrad for lots more advice.
Whether you have a forensic science or a general science degree, check potential employers exact requirements as not all science-based subjects guarantee entry into the profession.
Relevant experience can be difficult to acquire as forensic laboratories do not offer placements, so experience gained using similar scientific and analytical techniques can be useful.
- Logical and independent mind
- Meticulous attention to detail
- Excellent written and oral communication skills
- Objectivity and sensitivity when dealing with confidential information
- Ability to work under pressure and to a deadline
- Concentration and patience
- Ability to deal with stressful and emotional situations
- Confidence in your own judgement
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