Forensic Scientist

    If you are wondering how to become a forensic scientist, below are tips and advice on training for and beginning careers in this area of biology and chemistry, as well as science and research job prospects in the UK.

    The Job Description
    Forensic scientists locate, examine and prepare traces of physical evidence for use in courts of law. They use the principles of biology, chemistry, and maths to obtain and analyse evidence from a variety of sources, including blood and other body fluids, hairs, textile fibres, paint and glass fragments, footwear and tyre marks.

    As a forensic scientist, your work will vary according to your specialism, but can include:

    blood grouping and DNA profiling
    analysing fluid and tissue samples for drugs and poisons
    identifying, comparing and matching various materials
    examining splash patterns and the distribution of particles
    analysing handwriting and questioned documents
    being expert in explosives, firearms and ballistics
    researching and developing new technologies
    recovering data from computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment (known as ‘electronic casework’)
    advising at crime scenes
    giving evidence in court (if you have been trained as a ‘reporting officer’).
    You would use sophisticated techniques and equipment to examine evidence. Liquid and gas chromatography, infra-red, ultraviolet-visible and fluorescence spectroscopy, and polarising, fluorescence and scanning electron microscopy are used alongside more traditional methods such as photography.

    Person Specification
    The key personal attributes of good forensic science professionals include:

    an enquiring mind and a logical and analytical approach
    patience and concentration
    highly-developed observational and scientific skills
    objectivity and personal integrity
    a high degree of accuracy and attention to detail
    the confidence to justify your findings when challenged
    strong written and spoken communication skills
    the ability to work well alone and in a team
    the ability to meet deadlines.

    How to become a forensic scientist
    You will usually need a degree in scientific subject to become a forensic scientist, although this can vary between some employers.
    You could start as an assistant forensic scientist if you have four GCSEs (A-C) including English and biology, chemistry or maths, plus one A level in chemistry or biology. You would need a scientific degree to be able to progress to forensic scientist.

    You would usually start as a trainee forensic scientist. For this, you will need a good honours degree (class 2:2 or above) in a biology or chemistry-related subject. Many trainee forensic scientists also have a postgraduate qualification. You should check entry requirements carefully, as not all degrees provide the right level of scientific knowledge needed for the job.

    Employers are likely to look more favourably on your application if you have at least six months’ relevant work experience in a laboratory. If you wish to specialise in electronic casework, you may be accepted with qualifications in computing, electrical engineering, electronics or physics, plus relevant work experience.

    To work for the Forensic Science Service (FSS), which employs most of the forensic scientists in England and Wales, you must be a citizen of the UK, EU, EEA or Commonwealth, and you must have been resident in the UK for at least three years.

    Training and Development
    As a trainee forensic scientist, you would learn on the job from experienced scientists, through a combination of in-house courses and practical casework (similar to a professional apprenticeship).

    Some trainee posts with the Forensic Science Service (FSS) are for trainee reporting officers, who are trained to provide impartial scientific evidence to support the prosecution or defence in criminal and civil cases. Training as a reporting officer takes around 18 months.

    You could also choose to take Forensic Science Society diploma courses in areas such as crime scene investigation, document examination, fire investigation, firearms examination and forensic imaging.

    It is possible to progress from assistant to forensic scientist by completing a relevant scientific degree part-time.

    Working at any level in forensics, it is essential you keep up to date with the latest developments in research and lab techniques.

    The Pay (a rough guide)
    Starting salaries are usually around £20,500 a year.
    With experience, earnings may reach £25,000 to £30,000.
    Senior forensic scientists may earn £45,000 or more.

    Job Prospects
    Most forensic scientists in England and Wales work for the Forensic Science Service, at one of its 11 sites around the country. Some scientists work for independent organisations that provide forensic science services to the police, or in public health laboratories, universities and companies that deal with specialised areas such as fire investigation or examining questioned documents.

    In Scotland, police forces recruit their own forensic scientists, while in Northern Ireland the regional government is the main employer.

    Jobs may be advertised in the local and national press, on the Forensic Science Service website, and in scientific journals such as the New Scientist.

    Useful research and science resources:
    Forensic Science Society
    18a Mount Parade
    North Yorkshire
    HG1 1BX

    This page is for forensic scientist careers advice and training opportunities.

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