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Forensic Scientist

  • Hours

    37 per week

  • Starting salary

    £20,000 + per year

If you enjoy science and want to help solve crimes, this job could be perfect for you. This type of scientist prepares traces of physical evidence for use in courts of law.

Before you can start as a trainee you are likely to need an honours degree in a biology or chemistry-related subject.

As well as a degree, you will need to have an enquiring mind. You’ll need to have a high degree of accuracy and attention to detail. Often you’ll have to meet deadlines and work under pressure.



 

The work

Forensic scientists use principles of biology, chemistry and maths, and a range of techniques, to obtain and analyse evidence from a variety of sources - including blood and other body fluids, hairs, textile fibres, glass fragments and tyre marks.

As a forensic scientist, your main role would be to look for evidence to link a suspect with a crime scene. However, your duties could vary depending on your specialism, and may include some or all of the following:

  • blood grouping and DNA profiling
  • analysing fluid and tissue samples for traces of drugs and poisons
  • identifying, comparing and matching various materials
  • examining splash patterns and the distribution of particles
  • analysing handwriting, signatures, ink and paper
  • providing expert advice on explosives, firearms and ballistics
  • researching and developing new technologies
  • recovering data from computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment
  • attending crime scenes, such as a murder or fire
  • giving impartial scientific evidence in court
  • supervising assistant forensic scientists in the laboratory.

Hours

You would usually work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Some employers operate a shift or on-call system for dealing with high priority work. Flexible or part-time hours may also be available.

You would be based mainly in a laboratory, however you may also visit crime scenes, which could be unpleasant and challenging. You would wear special clothing to prevent contamination and protect you from hazardous substances.


Income

Starting salaries can be around £20,000 a year.

With experience, earnings may reach £25,000 to £35,000 a year. Senior forensic scientists may earn £45,000 or more.

Figures are intended as a guideline only.


Entry requirements

To start work, you would usually need a degree or postgraduate award in forensic science. You can also get into this career with a science-based degree. Degrees related to chemistry, biology, life sciences, applied sciences or medical sciences are likely to be the most appropriate, depending on the type of forensic work you want to do.

If you want to specialise in electronic casework (recovering data from computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment), you may be accepted with experience and qualifications in computing, electrical engineering, electronics or physics.

There may be opportunities to start with a company as a forensics lab support assistant if you have qualifications, such as HND, BTEC or A levels in science, together with relevant work experience. As with all forensics vacancies, there will be tough competition for jobs.

It would also help you to have at least six months' relevant work experience, for example as a medical laboratory technician in a hospital or a research centre.

Colour-normal vision is usually required.

It is important to check potential employers' exact requirements as not all science-based subjects provide the right level of knowledge needed for the work. You can find more information about how to become a forensic scientist and a list of courses on the Forensic Science Society (FSS) website.


Training and development

Once working, it is important to keep up to date with developments in technology and practice through continuing professional development. This could be in-house training through your company or organisation and by attending external training courses, seminars and workshops.

You could go on to take further specialist qualifications, for example the Forensic Science Society Diploma course, in an area such as Identity Documents, Fire Investigation or Firearms Examination. See the FSS website for details of their courses.


Skills, interests and qualities

To become a forensic scientist, you would need to have:

  • an enquiring mind
  • a logical and analytical approach
  • patience and concentration
  • highly developed observation 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 alone and in a team
  • the ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure.

More information

Forensic Science Society (Opens new window)
18A Mount Parade
Harrogate
North Yorkshire
HG1 1BX
www.forensic-science-society.org.uk (Opens new window)

Skills for Justice
Court Atlas Way
Sheffield
S4 7QQ
www.skillsforjustice.com

Forensic Science Northern Ireland (Opens new window)
151 Belfast Road
Carrickfergus
Northern Ireland
BT38 8PL
www.fsni.gov.uk

Scottish Police Services Authority (Opens new window)
www.spsa.police.uk


 

Opportunities

With experience, you could progress to become a forensics manager or casework examiner with responsibility for co-ordinating forensic work within you area of expertise. There may also be opportunities to work as a reporting scientist, acting as an expert witness in court. 

Forensic work is carried out in-house by some police forces such as the Metropolitan Police, government departments like the Centre for Applied Science and Technology, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, and Forensic Science Northern Ireland. In Scotland, forensics services are provided by the Scottish Police Services Authority.

Vacancies can also be found with commercial companies that supply forensic services to the police and other agencies.

Other opportunities for work would be with public health laboratories, university research departments, and companies that deal with specialised areas, such as fire investigation or document analysis.

You may also find jobs advertised in the press (in The Times and The Guardian, for example), with member companies of the Association of Forensic Science Providers and in journals like New Scientist.



Job market information

This section gives you an overview of the job area that this profile belongs to. You can use it to work out your next career move. It can help if you’re looking for a job now or want to do some further training.

The 'Market statistics' charts are based on figures from the UK Commission for Employment and Skills (UKCES) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The list of job vacancies under 'Apply for jobs' is from the Universal Jobmatch database. The vacancies are not from the National Careers Service.


Median income: Sci & eng profs
Avg Inc
UK Sector
27017 39027
Gender: Sci & eng profs
Percentages
Female Male
23 77
Working pattern: Sci & eng profs
Percentages
Part-time Full-time Self-employed
9 78 13
Gaps in sector due to skills shortages: Sci & eng profs
Percentages
This sector All vacancies
31.7 16.2
Employment forecast: Sci & eng profs
Forecast Employment Figures
Year Predicted nos. employed
2014 1440000
2015 1460000
2016 1481000
2017 1502000
2018 1524000
2019 1544000
2020 1562000

Jobs available on Universal Jobmatch

DateJob TitleCompany NameLocation
10/04/2014Forensic BiologistJobs.co.ukBridgend
18/03/2014Laboratory Research BiochemistMars UKMelton Mowbray
16/04/2014BiologistUniversity of DundeeCity Campus
17/04/2014Senior Scientist / Molecular BiologistMonster (Job Warehouse)Stevenage
14/04/2014Molecular Biologist (Extraction and Purification)SRGLondon

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