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Forensic Science Career
What is Forensic Science?
The word forensic comes from the Latin word forensis: public; to the forum or public discussion; argumentative, rhetorical, belonging to debate or discussion. From there it is a small step to the modern definition of forensic as belonging to, used in or suitable to courts of judicature, or to public discussion or debate.
Forensic science is science used in public, in a court, or in the justice system. Any science used for the purposes of the law is a forensic science. Forensic science can be simply defined as the application of science to the law. In criminal cases forensic scientists are often involved in the search for and examination of physical traces which might be useful for establishing or excluding an association between someone suspected of committing a crime and the scene of the crime or victim. Such traces commonly include blood and other body fluids, hairs, textile fibers from clothing etc, materials used in buildings such as paint and glass, footwear, tool and tyre marks, flammable substances used to start fires and so on. Sometimes the scientist will visit the scene itself to advice about likely sequence of events, any indicators as to who the perpetrator might be, and to join in the initial search for evidence. Other forensic scientist’s analyses suspected drugs of abuse, specimens from people thought to have taken them or to have been driving after drinking too much alcohol, or to have been poisoned. Yet others specialize in firearms, explosives, or documents whose authenticity is questioned.
Forensic scientists can appear for either side – prosecution or defense in criminal matters, and plaintiff or defendant in civil ones. They tend to present their findings and opinions in written form either as formal statements of evidence or reports. Sometimes they are required to attend court to give their evidence in person.
Why Study Forensic Science?
Forensic science is a subject that fascinates most of us. What makes forensic science so exciting to study is the nature of the problems to be solved, and this provides its own intrinsic rewards. Great emphasis is placed not only on developing the skills of forensic examination, but also on their application and on the communication of findings to the lay-person. Forensic science is a rigorous scientific discipline, and as such its graduates are highly employable individuals possessing the knowledge and skills for both subject-related employments, such as in a forensic laboratory, or non-subject-related employment in a wider range of careers.
Where Will I Work?
Forensic scientists work in laboratories, at crime scenes, in offices, and in morgues. They may work for federal, state and local government, forensic laboratories, medical examiners offices, hospitals, universities, toxicology laboratories, police departments, medical examiner/coroner offices, or as independent forensic science consultants.
What Do Forensic Scientists Do?
The forensic sciences form a vital part of the entire justice and ¬regulatory system. Some of the different divisions, or disciplines, of forensic science have become identified primarily with law enforcement — an image enhanced by television and movies. This is misleading because forensic scientists are involved in all aspects of criminal cases, and the results of their work may serve either the defense or the prosecution. The forensic scientist’s goal is the evenhanded use of all available information to determine the facts and, subsequently, the truth. The forensic scientist’s role in the civil justice arena is expanding. Issues range from questions of the validity of a signature on a will, to a claim of product liability, to questions of whether a corporation is complying with environmental laws, and the protection of ¬constitutionally guaranteed individual rights. Forensic science is a rewarding career where the love of science can be applied to the good of society, public health, and public safety.
How Do I Become a Forensic Scientist?
You will need:
- a bachelor’s degree — get one in science; some forensic sciences require advanced degrees; take chemistry, biology, math, and English composition
- good speaking skills — take public speaking, join the drama club, toastmasters, the debate team
- good note-taking skills
- the ability to write an understandable scientific report
- intellectual curiosity
- personal integrity
How Much Money Will I Make?
Income in the forensic sciences varies greatly depending upon your degree, your actual job, where you work, and how many hours you work. You may never “get rich” but you will have a good income. You will be satisfied with your job, knowing you are contributing to justice — keeping the good guys on the street and helping put the bad guys in jail. Forensic scientists work different hours, depending upon what they do. Some work in forensic laboratories and work 40 hours a week, Monday through Friday. Others work out in the field on digs and may work different hours. Still others are “on call” and work after their regular shift and receive overtime or compensatory time. Essentially every branch or forensic science offers opportunity for personal growth, career advancement, and increasing financial compensation.