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Career Spotlights ~ Forensic Scientist
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The Work

Forensice Scientists locate, examine and prepare traces of physical evidence for use in courts of law. They used the principles of Biology, Chemistry and Maths to obtain and analyse evidence from a variety of sources, including blood and other body fluids, hairs, tectile fibres, glass fragments and tyre marks.

As a Forensic Scientist, the main focus of your work would be looking for evidence to link a suspect with a crime scene. However, your duties could vary depending on your specialism and may include some or all of the following:

  • Blood grouping and DNA profiling
  • Analysing fluid and tissue samples for traces of drugs and poisons
  • Identifying, comparing and matching various materials
  • Examining splash patterns and the distribution of particles
  • Analysing handwriting, signatures, ink and paper (known as questioned documents)
  • Providing exper advice on explosive, firearms and ballistics
  • Researching and developing new technologies
  • Recovering data from computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment (known as 'electronic casework')
  • Attending crime scenes, such as a murder or fire
  • Giving impartical scientific evidence in court (if you have been trained as a 'reporting officer')
  • Supervising assistant forensic scientists in the lab

You would use a variety of techniques and equipment to examine evidence, ranging from photography to infra-red, ultraviolet-visible and fluorescence spectroscopy.

Hours

You would typically work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Some employers operate a shift or on-call system to deal with high-priority work. Flexible or part-time hours may also be available.

You would be based mainly in a lab, however, you may also visit crime scenes, which could involve dealing with unpleasant and challenging situations. You would wear protective clothing to prevent contamination and protect you from hazardous subtances.

Income

Starting salaries can be around £20,000 a year. With experience, earnings may reach £25,000 to £35,000. Senior Forensic Scientists may earn £45,000 or more.

Entry Requirements

Before you can start as a trainee Forensic Scientist, you are likely to need an honours degree (2:2 or above) in a Biology or Chemisty related subject. It is important to check details with potential employers because not all Science-based subjects provide the right level of knowledge needed for the job. You may be in competition with candidates with Postgraduate, Masters and PhD qualifications.

It would also be an advantage to have at least six months' relevant work experience, for example in a Hospital laboratory or as a lab technician in a school. If you wish to specialise in electronic casework, you may be accepted and qualifications in Computing, Electrical Engineering, Electronics or Physics.

Normal colour vision is usually required.

Skills and Knowledge
  • An enquiring mind
  • A logical and analytical approach
  • Patience and concentration
  • Highly-developed observational and scientific skills
  • Objectivity and personal integrity
  • A high degree of accuracy and attention to detail
  • The confidence to justify your findings when challenged
  • Strong written and spoken communication skills
  • The ability to work alone and in a team
  • The ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure
Opportunities

You could also work for an independent organisation that provides forensic science services to the Police. Public health laboratories, Universities and Companies that deal with specialised areas (such as fire investigation or examining questioned documents) also recruit forensice scientists.

You may also find jobs advertised in the press (for example, The Times and The Guardian), and on the New Scientist website.

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