Forensic science utilizes scientific principles to support or negate theories surrounding physical evidence found at a crime scene. As such, forensic scientists analyze evidence gathered or received from crime scenes and present their findings based the results of their analyses.
A forensic science job description may appear distinctly different depending on the area of forensic science being practiced. This is because forensic science is a rather broad field and thus encompasses a number of specialties, all of which are rooted in the natural sciences.
Forensic science work generally involves one or more areas of science:
- Chemistry: Involves the study of paint, chemicals, and similar substances and compounds
- Biology: Involves trace and DNA evidence, including blood, hair, fibers, etc.
- Drugs/toxicology: Involves testing for the presence or absence of drugs, alcohol and poisons in blood, urine, and tissues samples
It may also involve specific subspecialties of forensic science, such as botany, anthropology, and odontology (dentistry).
A forensic scientist may therefore take on one or more of the following forensic science jobs:
- Forensic toxicologist
- Forensic pathologist
- Forensic anthropologist
- Forensic odontologist
- Forensic botanist
- Forensic biologist
- Forensic chemist
- Questioned documents examiner
- Fingerprint examiner
- DNA analyst
- Trace evidence analyst
- Medical examiner
The job duties of a forensic scientist may vary according to the field of interest or specialty, but they all have one thing in common: they identify and interpret physical evidence collected from a crime scene.
Forensic scientists generally perform their work inside the forensic or crime laboratory, where they are responsible for comparing and interpreting the physical evidence that was retrieved by crime scene investigators at the scene of the crime. In specific circumstances, forensic scientists may be required at the scene of a crime, usually when the methods or techniques surrounding the collection or preservation of the physical evidence are in question.
Common Job Duties of Forensic Scientists
Common responsibilities of forensic scientists include:
- Carrying out laboratory examinations and analyses submitted by law enforcement agencies and medical examiners
- Serving as expert witnesses in a court of law
- Carrying out tests using scientific techniques, such as infrared spectroscopy, mass spectrometry, and scanning electron microscopy
- Ensuring all laboratory protocols and regulations are followed
- Inputting data into computer programs and utilizing relevant computer database information
- Overseeing the maintenance and calibration of laboratory equipment
- Preparing written reports based on evidence analysis
- Coordinating the activities related to crime scene collection, preservation, and transportation
- Serving as a liaison between the forensic laboratory and crime scene investigators
- Developing, maintaining and updating work quality standards, standard operating procedures, and similar methods and procedures
- Coordinating work with other members of the forensic team and with outside agencies
Forensic Scientist Skills and Education
Although the job duties of forensic scientists will vary according to their discipline or specialty, they must possess similar skills, which include being able to adequately exhibit:
- Critical-thinking skills
- Problem-solving skills
- Verbal and written skills
- Deductive reasoning
They must also be highly perceptive and detail-oriented, and they must be able to spend extended periods conducting meticulous, often painstaking, work.
In addition to possessing a key set of character traits, forensic scientists must complete a specific course of education and training to achieve the skills necessary to perform their jobs.
The most common requirement found on any forensic scientist job description is a bachelor’s or graduate degree in forensic science, biology, chemistry, or a related field. Although specific degrees are generally not required in this field, many employers look for programs that have been approved by the American Academy of Forensic Sciences’ Forensic Science Education Programs Accreditation Commission (FEPAC).
Further, depending on the forensic science specialty, many employers seek candidates who possess specific coursework, such as microbiology, organic chemistry, and physics.
Forensic Scientist Professional Certification
Certification for forensic scientists is commonplace, given the many specialties that exist within this field. Professional certification typically involves specific educational and experience requirements, and many require individuals to pass an exam before certification is achieved. Just a few of the forensic science certification boards include:
- The American Board of Forensic Document Examiners
- The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators
- The American Board of Criminalistics
- The American Board of Forensic Toxicology
A complete list of certification boards can be found through the Forensic Specialties Accreditation Board, which was created with support from the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, the National Forensic Science Technology Center, and the National Institute of Justice.
Other Forensic Scientist Requirements
In addition to detailing the education and experience requirements needed for achieving a forensic scientist job, a job description may also include other requirements needed to achieve employment. Specifically, candidates may need to:
- Undergo a background investigation
- Pass a polygraph examination
- Pass a urinalysis drug test
- Possess a valid driver’s license
- Show proof of a formal training program
- Complete a course of training under the guidance of a seasoned forensic scientist
- Provide proof of education, certification, and experience through original transcripts, diplomas, and certificates