Forensic scientists apply science to the legal process, using their knowledge to assist police, lawyers, judges and juries. Often associated with crime scene investigation work, as portrayed on popular television shows such as "CSI," forensic scientists gather and preserve evidence from crime scenes, analyze evidence in crime labs and provide expert testimony in court. Becoming a forensic scientist requires certain qualifications, chief among them a college degree with an emphasis on science.
The first step toward a career as a forensic scientist is to earn at least a bachelor's degree with a major in a scientific discipline. The American Society of Crime Lab Directors, a national association of forensic science professionals, recommends a degree in chemistry, biology, forensic science or molecular biology. Before choosing a major field of study, the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, another national organization, advises investigating the courses offered by a particular program. According to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, an appropriate degree program should include at least 24 semester hours in chemistry or biology, as well as coursework in mathematics. The actual coursework is more important than the title of the degree, the Academy website states.
Because forensic scientists apply science to the law, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors advises students to take elective courses in criminal law, criminal justice and related subjects. In addition, students should develop an understanding of statistics. Because forensic scientists must present analysis results, write reports and offer testimony that conveys complex scientific information in terms that non-scientists can understand, strong communication skills are a vital qualification. The American Academy of Forensic Sciences advises taking English composition courses and developing your public speaking skills through participation in groups such as Toastmasters.
Although a bachelor's degree is the minimum qualification for employment as a forensic scientist, the American Academy points out that some jobs may require a master's degree. In addition, some forensic scientists seek certification through organizations such as the American Board of Criminalistics. Certification in criminalistics or another specialty signifies expertise in a forensic specialty.
The American Society of Crime Lab Directors calls on-the-job training a definite requirement for new forensic scientists, adding that most crime labs face high caseloads and have difficulty finding time to train new scientists. The organization states that on-the-job training for a new forensic scientist is intensive and can take as long as two years.