Popular television programmes can make some careers seem fun and almost frivolous, and forensic science is one of them.
Popular television programmes can make some careers seem fun and almost frivolous, and forensic science is one of them. We have the impression that people walk around in baseball caps, flashing torches and spotting minute strands of hair on a coffee table edge that is metred away.
The truth can be very different. Before you opt for forensic science courses on the strength of an American TV series or what you see on a British crime drama, make sure that you know exactly what you are stepping into.
It can be gruesome
Undoubtedly, there are times when a forensic science officer or Scenes of Crimes Officer (SOCO) as they are sometimes known, will see some pretty gruesome sights. This could be anything from a dead body to a scene of a crime where a violent crime has apparently taken place. Being able to deal with blood and other bodily fluids is important, along with the ability to process the difficult scenes you have witnessed.
Forensic psychology is examining the behaviour of and criminal acts committed by someone. This information is invaluable when the police are on the hunt for someone, and trying to understand the pattern of the crime. Often, understanding why something happened is important for the victims and their families too.
What other personal qualities do you need to have?
An analytical mind and a problem-solving approach are just two of the personal qualities that forensic scientists need. As people go about their daily lives, they leave clues in all kinds of places as to where they have been, why they were there and what they did.
The ability to uncover these clues and generate this information is crucial but often what can happen is that we can be swayed by some of this evidence. SOCOs present the evidence from the crime scene and not an opinion.
What does a forensic scientist do?
SOCOs and other forensic personnel assist legal proceedings by analysing the evidence given to them, including a crime scene and presenting this evidence to the police or another authoritative body. Some forensic scientists will also be called upon to give this evidence in court as part of a case.
It can be an exciting and varied career in which you could work in some interesting spheres, as well as criminal proceedings. There are times when findings are called into question and thus, it is not a job that can be done half-heartedly.
For example, at a crime scene, you will need to follow a strict protocol to prevent cross-contamination between one piece of evidence and another.
Not all forensic scientists work for the police like SOCOs do. Some people go on to work for private agencies and companies who either work with defence counsel (for court proceedings) or are used as expert witnesses. In other words, they are asked to examine a piece of evidence and to produce a report with their findings.
Training is essential
A good level of education is necessary for all kinds of forensic science work but if you don’t have the GCSEs and the A levels in the right subjects, there are ways of accessing courses that can ensure you have some of these ‘basic’ subjects and groundings in scientific knowledge. You may find that to progress further in this line of work; you will also need a degree in a science based subject.
You also need to be articulate, both verbally and in writing. Being able to communicate what you found in unequivocal terms is essential. Your words cannot be open to interpretation when you are providing evidence or information.
There are some practical skills. However, that can help with forensic work:
• Photography – close up photography that captures certain aspects of the evidence in detail is a vital part of what a forensic scientist will do.
• Attention to detail – there is no doubt that being able to concentrate and focus on the job in hand, for a prolonged period is also important. It can be many hours to process a crime scene or work on an object, carrying out various tests.
• Being fit and active – in most cases, being a forensic officer is not a job that is desk based or stationery. Travelling to a crime scene is common but not all of these are inhospitable, easy to access place. There may be times when you are working under pressure, and in a location that is far from pleasant.
Start your career and progress
This is an exciting field and one that many people choose to work in. Basic qualifications are a springboard into the profession, with many serving a few years in an assistant and supporting role so that they gain invaluable experience across a wide variety of aspects and forensic work.
With determination and the right qualifications, you can progress far within this field, becoming a member of the Council for the Registration of Forensic Practitioners. This is the body that oversees the professional standards within this important field of work.
Find out more about becoming a CSI with our guide.
A rewarding career, forensic psychology and science are an area that attracts many people. With the right qualifications matched with the personal skills, you too could enjoy this job.