Forensic science can be simply defined as the application of science to the law. In criminal cases forensic scientists are often involved in the search for and examination of physical traces which might be useful for establishing or excluding an association between someone suspected of committing a crime and the scene of the crime or victim.
In civil cases forensic scientists may become involved in some of the same sorts of examinations and analyses but directed to resolving disputes as to, for example, the cause of a fire or road accident for which damages are being claimed.
Forensic Medicine & Forensic Dentistry
Forensic medical examiners, who deal with the living and forensic pathologists, who deal with the dead, are qualified medical practitioners who, having completed their training as doctors, choose to specialise in either field. Forensic odontologists are qualified dentists who have undergone additional training and who provide expert evidence on dentistry.
Scientific Support within the Police Forces
Civilians are now employed by many police forces to provide a variety of technical services. These include photography, the collection and comparison of fingerprints, vehicle examination and the detailed examination of scenes of crime. Scene examiners often referred to as SOCOs (Scenes of Crime Officers), will normally have some scientific training.
Training to become a forensic scientist
There are two main elements in the training required to become a general forensic scientist. The first involves an academic course, and the second, on the job training usually with one of the main suppliers of primary services to the police.
Requirements in respect of academic qualifications depend on the ultimate goal. For instance, to become an assistant scientist or equivalent to a technical specialist, you are likely to need at least four good passes at GCSE including English and either science (biology / chemistry) or maths, and at least one A level in a science subject. To become a case reporting forensic scientist and / or a forensic science researcher, you will usually require at least a good first degree in biology, chemistry or related subject, followed up, in many cases by postgraduate/MSc qualification in forensic science or direct employment
Training on the job
On the job training tends to be best catered for by suppliers of forensic science services to the police and other law enforcement agencies as it is in these organisations that there is the breadth and depth of casework to provide the necessary experience. Such training generally includes a combination of specialist in-house course and practical casework – all forming part of a professional apprenticeship.
Types of Jobs
-Criminologist: Study physical evidence to link it to suspects
-Digital/Multimedia Scientist: Assist in documenting a crime scene and study digital forensic evidence
-Toxicologist: Determine any substances in a victim’s or suspect’s system (drugs, alcohol, poison, and more)
-Engineering Scientist: Analyze accidents and crime scenes to determine how, when, and why things happened (a car running off the road, a building collapsing, etc.)
-Odontology: Identify remains, usually using dental remains, and assist with determining cause/time of death
-Pathology: Study diseases and assist with determining cause/time of death
-Physical Anthropologist: Study the bones of a victim and assist with determining cause/time or death
-Behavior Scientist: Understand a victim or suspect from a mental health standpoint
-Document Examiner: Answer questions regarding documents, such as whether or not a signature is real and if a document has been altered
You could work in the field, collecting evidence and analyzing a crime scene, or you could work primarily in a lab. Since investigations are often under time restraints, your work hours might not be typical. A growing industry in the forensic science field is forensic computer examiners or digital forensics analysts.
This job is not without risks, since you could come in contact with diseases and poisons, as well as need to talk to dangerous suspects in some cases. Keep all of this in mind before deciding to become a forensic scientist, but definitely don’t let it deter you from chasing the career of your dreams. The work environment usually provides a wealth of professionals to work with, all of whom can help ensure that the evidence is processed in the most efficient way to solve crimes and help the communities. By becoming a part of these teams, you will invest significant time developing strong bonds with other members and working more effectively as a unit. It’s important to note that while much of the work is done in the lab, by no means will you never see the sun. You’ll have ample opportunities to get out and about when it comes to evidence processing and working to attain more samples.
All the best!!