Forensic scientist: job description

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

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Forensic science is the application of science to the law by gathering and examining evidence to be used in a legal case.

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

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.

Typical employers of forensic scientists

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.

Qualifications and training required

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.

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.

Key skills for forensic scientists

  • 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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