Forensic scientists collect and analyze prints, DNA, bodily fluids, trace materials and other evidence to aid in criminal investigations. These scientists help collect evidence at crime scenes and conduct analyses in crime labs. Contrary to its portrayal in television shows such as "CSI," forensic science is not glamorous. The work is meticulous, complex and requires extensive science education.
Individuals interested in a career in forensic science need a solid understanding of the natural sciences. Entry-level employment in the field requires the minimum of an undergraduate degree in chemistry, biology, biochemistry or forensic science from an accredited university.
In-depth scientific study prepares prospective forensic scientists to analyze trace evidence, such as hair and fibers; DNA and other biological evidence; fingerprints; debris from crime scenes; and toxicological evidence, such as bodily fluids.
To prepare for a forensic science career, students should take courses in chemistry, biology, biochemistry and physics. Other science courses should come from specialized fields of science, including genetics and molecular biology. A student's science training should include laboratory components, where applicable.
Other Courses and Skills
In addition to training in science, forensic scientists need excellent oral and written communication skills, as well as quantitative abilities. Students pursuing a career in forensic science should take a course in scientific or technical writing, developing their public speaking abilities through such groups as Toastmasters, and take courses in calculus and statistics.
Introductory courses in criminal justice and law enforcement may also be beneficial for students interested in forensic science careers, since forensic scientists work closely with police investigators.
Although many universities offer degrees in forensic science, students may find it more beneficial to earn a degree in a specialized science field such as biology or chemistry. A degree in an applied field such as forensic science may place a job seeker at a disadvantage if the job market for forensic scientists becomes tight. A student with a chemistry or biology degree may be able to gain employment in a crime lab or in another setting if job opportunities for forensic scientists are limited.
A typical path for a forensic scientist begins with undergraduate study, followed by the training received in a first job. Beginning forensic scientists may expand their knowledge and skills by pursuing a graduate degree in biology, chemistry or another scientific field.
Science is a developing field in which the knowledge constantly advances. Forensic scientists must stay up-to-date on new scientific developments, usually through continuing education through such professional associations as the American Board of Criminalistics and the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors.