The life of a forensic scientist is extremely interesting, rewarding and sometimes really frustrating but it is far from the glamour of CSI Miami – although some bits are the same. They do gather evidence from crime scenes and analyse it in labs but there are the helicopters and fighting crime agents like on TV.
Forensic scientists are also known as forensic science technicians and crime scene investigators and most of them work for the government. There are a number of routes that you can take in order to become a forensic scientist including apprenticeships, where you can gain experience in a scientific lab setting; degrees in biology, chemistry or forensic science. There are also training programmes that are available that combine the teaching and the working practice of a forensic scientist.
In order to become a forensic scientist, you must be able to work and communicate well with others and you must have the knowledge and experience to analyse scientific lab results. Most crime scene investigators start work as a trainee doing general day to day tasks and as they gain more experience and knowledge they are given more responsibility and not monitored quite so closely.
Forensic scientists earn a much higher than the average British wage – £26,500 – starting at about £31,800 and rising with experience. The number of jobs for forensic scientists is also expected to rise much quicker than it is for any other job, and when jobs are hard to find that is a huge benefit.
The typical day of a crime scene investigator involves collecting, examining, testing and analysing tissue, chemicals and DNA in order to help the police solve crimes. They don’t just analyse the exhibits that you’d associate with science like blood and saliva, they also analyse recordings and ballistics evidence for any clues.
Once they’ve found and analysed the specimens they then have to interpret the results and put them into a format that non-scientists will understand. Once they’ve used a certain piece of evidence they can’t just get rid of it, it has to be preserved in case it’s needed again in the future.
They also have to contact other specialists that may be working on a case too such as voice experts, ballistics, fingerprinting, handwriting, medical and chemical experts to analyse their findings too. Next they all have to work together in order to reconstruct the crime scene and work out how all of the bits of evidence fit together. After this they have to make up reports in order to present the evidence and they may even have to stand up in court to give evidence too.
Although all of this sounds like a fairly quick and easy process, it can sometimes take weeks, months and even years to get to the end of one case, so you should be sure that you’re committed to the job before you take it on.
Isla Pierce shares her knowledge on forensic science on behalf of www.forensicequity.com.