Job descriptions and industry overviews

Forensic scientist: job description

21 Jun 2023, 15:38

Forensic scientists use analytical and scientific techniques to examine evidence from crimes and prepare legal statements for court cases.

Forensic scientist working in a lab

What does a forensic scientist do? Typical employers | Qualifications and training | Key skills

Forensic scientists analyse evidence from crime scenes and create detailed scientific reports for legal proceedings. They spend much time in laboratories examining traces of evidence; their findings can then be used to associate or disassociate suspects with victims or crime scenes. They may also spend time in court and in offices writing reports. Occasionally they may need to visit crime scenes.

Typical duties include:

  • carrying out tests on evidence such as blood, hairs, textile fibres, paint, glass, explosives and drugs; this could involve testing fluid and tissue samples for the use of drugs or poisons, examining firearms and tyre marks, or analysing handwriting samples
  • recovering data from electronic equipment such as laptops, computers and mobile phones
  • liaising with other professionals, such as police officers and solicitors
  • keeping records of findings in specialist software packages
  • reviewing the work of other forensic scientists
  • compiling written reports
  • giving and defending evidence in court.

The work is likely to involve attending crime scenes in all weathers and at unsociable hours. You could also be on call or need to work shifts.

Graduate salaries

Starting salaries tend to be around £21,000, according to Your earnings will increase with experience: experience forensic scientists (who often have to go to court to present evidence, and to answer questions from lawyers) can earn around £35,000.

Typical employers of forensic scientists

  • Specialist private consultancies and laboratories.
  • Universities.
  • Government departments including the Defence, Science and Technology Laboratory and the Centre for Applied Science and Technology, and Forensic Science Northern Ireland.
  • Forensic Services, Scottish Police Authority.

With experience, you could become self-employed and work as a forensic consultant.

Vacancies are advertised via university departments, by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences, and by individual employers.

Qualifications and training required

To become a forensic scientist, you need a degree in forensic science or another science subject. Some employers may have specific degree requirements, so check carefully – for example, not all science-based subjects guarantee entry into the profession, and not all forensic science degrees are accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Science.

This is a competitive field, so postgraduate study in forensic science is often required, especially if you have studied a general science subject at undergraduate level. Read our article on scientific postgraduate study to explore your different options.

There are a number of specialist fields within forensic science, including drugs and toxicology, forensic biology and chemistry. You can focus on a specialism or take a more general route depending on your background, interests and career plans.

Relevant experience can be difficult as forensic laboratories do not offer placements. However, experience gained through laboratory, medical or pharmacy work will help you build relevant skills and demonstrate your commitment to this field.

Key skills for forensic scientists

  • Meticulous attention to detail.
  • Excellent written and oral communication skills.
  • Objectivity and sensitivity when dealing with confidential information.
  • The ability to work under pressure and to a deadline.
  • The ability to deal with stressful and emotional situations.
  • The ability to work in a multidisciplinary team.

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