Careers & Education

Become a forensic scientist

By David Pettebone
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Forensic scientist at work
Interest in forensic science is at an all time high: is it the right career for you
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Due to popular crime shows such as CSI, forensic science is becoming a well-known field. However, television shows do not always depict forensic scientists in a realistic way. Unlike on television, real-life forensic scientists don't do it all. Each branch and office has its specialty, and the scientists work within their own areas of expertise.

If you are interested in a career in forensic science, there are many factors to consider. Read on to find out what it takes to become a forensic scientist.

The Work Forensic scientists use science to help solve crimes, recreate the course of events in accidents, collect evidence, and identify criminals. They analyze evidence from fatalities, accidents and crime scenes and share their findings in court, often serving as expert witnesses during civil and criminal trials. The label of Forensic Scientist actually covers a large number of specialties. Some examine accident or crime scenes, while others spend their time in laboratories examining evidence. The work may take place in the field (at a crime scene or other location where evidence is found), in an office, in a laboratory or morgue. Many are employed by the federal, state, or local government.

Education Requirements for forensic scientists vary greatly from state to state, and even within different jurisdictions within a given state. But in general, the following guidelines are a good place to start.

Entry-level technician/ assistant

To receive an entry-level technician position, you may wish to start with an associate's degree in criminal justice or forensic science. This will allow you to work with scientists, physicians, and law enforcement in evidence collection and analysis.

Professional level general forensic scientist

If you want a career in forensic science, you'll need a bachelor's degree in one of the biological or physical sciences. Many university programs offer concentrations or certificate programs in different areas of forensic science such as pathology or toxicology. Some universities do offer Bachelors of Science degrees in Forensic Science, so check around.

Forensic Specialties

Many forensic scientists continue their studies and obtain a masters or doctorate degree. This allows them to work in a specialized area or to develop new techniques within a specific aspect of forensics, such as blood spatter, ballistics or decomposition.


Strong code of ethics

It is essential for a forensic scientist to possess a strong code of ethics. It is his/her role to find the truth. Since many times forensic scientists testify in criminal cases, their expert opinion could be the deciding factor in the jury's decision. They must be able to gather evidence, perform analysis and present their testimony in an unbiased manner.

Able to present information clearly and accurately

They also need to have strong public speaking skills. This includes being able to present scientific terms in a way law enforcement, judges, and juries can easily understand. To prepare for this, you may consider taking a speech course or public speaking class.

Attention to detail

Forensic scientists must be very attentive to details. This skill enables them to carefully examine and analyze evidence. It also aids them in taking complete and accurate notes to use in developing conclusions and generating useful reports.

Extremely curious

Successful forensic scientists must possess a high degree of curiosity. How and why and when are the questions a forensic scientist needs to address each and every day, in each and every case. An undying interest in learning and developing new and better ways to piece together the evidence is a basic trait any aspiring forensic scientist should possess.

Before enrolling in a degree program, consider carefully the requirements to become a forensic scientist: is it the right career for you? Be sure to have a clear picture of the real life of a forensic scientist rather than expecting to become the next Grissom or Willows.

If you choose to work in the area of forensic science, start by getting a college or university degree. You may also consider further education, such as a master's degree, and certificates from various national organizations.

As the field continues to develop and evolve, the requirements to become a forensic scientist are changing. Many areas are becoming increasingly specialized. Keep this in mind as you begin your career in forensic science. Be open to the areas of speciality that complement your skills and interest.

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