What are the educational requirements for a forensic science career?
|Individuals wanting to pursue a career in forensic science should at a minimum, have a bachelor’s degree. It is not required to have a major in science or forensics, however it is helpful. Because it is an extremely competitive field, candidates with an advanced degree do have an advantage. Some forensic disciplines and agencies require specific additional coursework due to national accreditation guidelines. It is best to check with the state agency that you are interested in working for to determine their laboratory requirements.|
Would I be a good forensic scientist?
- Do you enjoy slow, methodical work?
- Are you a stickler for detail?
- Can you communicate effectively?
- Can you stay calm under pressure?
- Do you like solving puzzles?
- Are you patient?
- Do you have a strong stomach?
- Are you confident?
- Are you organized?
- Do you have a logical, scientific mind?
If you can answer yes to all of these questions, then you would probably be a good forensic scientist. Forensic analysis can be very tedious and time consuming. You must be able to consider all possible solutions and leave no stone un-turned. It is important to remain patient, careful and document everything you do meticulously. When testifying in court, you must be calm and confident. You need to be able to handle emotional and trying situations, as you will work with disturbing and violent content on a daily basis. If you possess all of these qualities or think you can be trained to do so, you will be a good forensic scientist and will probably find it a very exciting and rewarding career.
I want to be a forensic scientist. Now what do I do?
Go to school, get your degree. Research forensic science laboratories in your area. Most forensic laboratories are run by the state. On a national level, the Federal Bureau of Investigations also has their own forensic laboratory system. There are also several privately owned and operated forensic laboratories. Once you narrow down where you want to work, contact them to find out their specific requirements for the specialty in which you are interested.
What can I expect during the hiring process?
Most introductory forensic positions are extremely competitive and involve an intensive interview process. Due to the demanding and potentially stressful nature of the position, there is somewhat of a high turnover rate. Unfortunately, crime always seems to be on the rise, so the combination of both of these factors means that the opportunity for new scientist to begin a forensic career is good.
Hiring is usually at least a three step process:
- Oral interview
- Polygraph examination
- Background investigation
Certain disciplines may require specialized testing, for example, microscopists are often asked to undergo a color test, latent print examiners may have to undergo an eye exam and DNA analyst may be given a written scientific test.
Because you will be expected to testify in court and the credibility of your testing, results and interpretation will be challenged, your credibility is the most important characteristic to the interviewers. If you have a history of criminal activity, fraud, or general unreliability, you are probably not a good candidate for a forensic science position.
Almost all agencies require a polygraph examination as a condition of employment. Remember, this is what these people do for a living. Do not try to lie and “beat the system.” If you are nervous or have something that you are concerned about disclosing, that’s ok. Chances are, nothing you have done will be something that the polygraph examiner has not heard before. If you are honest with the examiner before he starts the test, your credibility remains in tact.
What happens after am I’m hired?
If you are new to the field, you will be hired as a trainee. You will undergo a general orientation in which you will be exposed to all the various disciplines handled by the laboratory. If, for example, you are hired as a documents examiner, you will spend some time learning about latent print examination, drug chemistry, DNA and all the other types of analysis. This stage of your training will be very broad, but it could take several weeks. It is important to know a little bit about each field, so that when you begin your own analysis, you can help investigative agencies determine which types of analysis will help their case and the order in which they should be conducted.
Once your orientation is complete, you will begin training in your actual field of expertise. The length of time required for this training depends on the agency that you work for, your skills and the discipline that you choose. Typical training periods range from one to three years. Training will involve analytic techniques, sample handling, research, scientific literature review, interpretive techniques, evidence handling, documentation skills, photography and courtroom testimony.