37 per week
£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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Forensic Science Society
18A Mount Parade
Skills for Justice
Court Atlas Way
Forensic Science Northern Ireland
151 Belfast Road
Scottish Police Services Authority
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.