Everyone has an interest in living in a safe environment and while we cannot control what people do per se, there are ways to circumvent certain behaviours. One such way is with the use of robust methods to find culprits of illegal activities. This is where forensics play a huge role. If you’ve ever watched series like CSI or NCIS, or even admire how Barry Allen works his genius in the lab to “catch bad guys” outside of The Flash suit, and you thought that you’d like to do that, then keep on reading because Forensic Science may just be for you.
What is Forensic Science?
Forensic science refers to the application of any science to matters of law. Interestingly, forensic science does not only deal with criminal investigations, but it is also used to resolve civil disputes such as paternity, product liability, negligence and insurance investigations.
Careers in Forensic Science
Given the above explanation, there is no shortage of careers in this field. Below is a list of some of these careers:
- Forensic science technician – in this role, you would work with law enforcement to analyse evidence and investigate crimes. You would also work with crime scene investigators who would provide you with evidence that requires analysis in a laboratory setting.
- Forensic psychologist – You would use the principles of psychology to work with attorneys, judges, and other legal specialists to analyse and understand the psychological details of various cases.
- Bloodstain pattern analyst – Bloodstain pattern analysts, also known as blood spatter experts, collect and analyze physical evidence—specifically, blood. In this role, you would examine the location and shape of blood drops, stains, puddles, and pools sometimes to determine the type of weapon used, the possible direction of travel of a victim or suspect, the number of wounds a victim suffered, and how events unfolded during a violent crime.
- Forensic DNA analyst – DNA analysts work primarily in a laboratory setting, examining evidence gathered by police officers, crime scene technicians, and investigators. The aim in this role is to identify, isolate, and even copy small amounts of DNA within biological evidence to compare those strands to strands from a known source to determine whether or not there is a probability of a match.
- Forensic engineer – Forensic engineers are those who are able to expertly analyse performance problems through using the principles and concepts of engineering. A forensic engineering definition centers around the application of scientific methodology to investigate the failures of materials, components, products and structures. You would typically study materials, devices, and structures in order to investigate why these fail when they do.
- Forensic entomologist – Forensic entomologists are scientists who help solve forensic investigations by studying the life cycle of insects and arthropods found on dead bodies to determine how long a person has been dead. They work primarily on cases of murder and death, estimating time and location of death by observing insect colonization on the body.
- Forensic pathologist – Aa a forensic pathologist (aka medical examiner) you would investigate the cause of sudden and unexpected deaths through the performance of autopsies and studying tissue and laboratory results.
- Forensic accountant – As a forensic accountant, you would utilise your accountancy skills to investigate financial discrepancies and inaccuracies such as fraudulent activity, financial misrepresentation or misconduct and disputes. The role involves an integration of accounting, auditing and investigative skills.
- Forensic odontologist – Forensic odontology is the application of an odontologist’s work toward the legal sphere, such as in criminal cases. Forensic odontologists are called upon by detectives and investigators to provide crucial clues whenever dental evidence is available.
For the sake of brevity, we cannot mention every career in this field and so some honourable mentions are forensic toxicologist, forensic documents examiner, polygraph examiner, and forensic ballistics expert. There are also some related careers that would benefit from knowledge in forensic science such as police officers, detectives, and border control officers.
From the list above, it is clear that the careers in this field can vary considerably and so will the requirements depending on which career you choose.
Firstly, a strong background in science (e.g. biology or chemistry) is necessary to become a forensic science technician. In terms of degrees, a degree in forensic science is preferable as a starting point for this career, but degrees in biology, chemistry, or other related fields can also serve as entry points to becoming a forensic science technician.
To become a forensic psychologist it is mandatory that you complete studies up to the postgraduate level (in some cases, doctoral studies) and obtain chartered status or board certification. In the UK, all degrees must be accredited by the British Psychological Society (BPS). In addition, you would then have to obtain a minimum of two years’ supervised practice that requires you to provide evidence of applying psychology in forensic practice.
In the US, you would also have to complete a bachelor’s and master’s degree in psychology/forensic psychology followed by a doctoral degree in forensic psychology from an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited institution. This would be followed by gaining licensure through passing the Examination for the Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). You may also consider becoming board certified with the American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP).
For forensic pathology, you would have to complete medical studies and often study up to the doctoral level (in either medicine or osteopathy).
If you would like to become a bloodstain pattern analyst, a bachelor’s degree in one of the natural sciences, such as chemistry or biology, is usually required. Other options could also include forensic science or criminal justice.
To become a forensic DNA analyst, a master’s degree or doctorate is sometimes necessary. However, as a start, undergraduate degrees in forensic science, genetics or molecular biology would all prove beneficial. To gain knowledge in forensics and criminal justice, you may also consider studying forensic science at undergraduate level and then biology as a master’s or vice versa.
For a forensic engineer, because the role is based on the field of engineering, you’ll need at least an undergraduate/bachelor’s in engineering to begin with. Additionally, you would need to become licensed as an engineer which typically requires several years of experience and the successful completion of a licensure exam (Principles and Practice of Engineering exam in the US). Once this is done, you can certify your specialty in forensic engineering by completing a series of tests and exams.
A Ph.D. in Entomology is usually required to obtain employment as a forensic entomologist. However, in some cases, a master’s degree in entomology may be sufficient. In terms of undergraduate studies, there is no compulsory subject to study but some good options include entomology, biology, zoology and forensics.
With forensic accounts, you can get into the career with a degree in a number of subjects, although a degree in accounting can give you a good foundation to work from. You will also need to undertake a training contract with an employer and complete a qualification from a recognised professional body in order to then specialise in forensics.
The Institute of Certified Forensic Accountants is a global professional body committed to the development of the multidisciplinary profession of forensic accounting. They offer a certificate in forensic accounting, and the higher-level Certified Professional Forensic Accountant (CPFAcct).
Forensic odontologists must hold either a Doctor of Dental Surgery (DDS) or Doctor of Dental Medicine (DMD) degree. This means completing a degree in either medicine or dentistry at undergraduate level and then continuing to postgraduate. The British Association of Forensic Ondontology (BAFO) provides a useful list of appropriate courses here. It is sometimes a requirement to receive training in forensic identification which can be from organizations such as the American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS), the American Board of Forensic Odontology (ABFO), or the American Society of Forensic Odontology (ASFO) for the US. (See the link to BAFO for a similar course in the UK).
The single forensic science association body in the Caribbean is the Caribbean Association of Forensic Sciences and they represent a wide variety of forensic disciplines.
Other skills and competencies that would benefit you in this field include:
- Excellent attention to detail
- Communication skills
- Analytical and problem-solving skills
- Critical thinking
- Sound judgement
- Objectivity in some cases
- Computer skills
- Fine motor skills
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How to Stand Out
Certifications are a great way to distinguish yourself from others and increase your chances of climbing the ladder at work or securing a job to begin with. There are several you can choose from to enhance your career in Forensic Science. Some of these are certifications in crime scene investigation, forensic identification, forensic investigation, drug analysis, molecular biology, hairs and fibers analysis, and fire and debris analysis. You can seek certification courses in your specific field like forensic anthropology.
Get Hands-On Experience
Work experience is always an excellent way to not only set yourself apart but also to give you a head start in the industry. For this reason, we highly recommend taking advantage of available volunteering and/or internship opportunities wherever possible. The most ideal organisation to seek experience at would be the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police Force (RTCIPF). You can try visiting the police headquarters to inquire on opportunities. Apart from the police force, other useful organisations that you can consider approaching for work experience include the Ministry of Immigration and Border Services which houses the Costal Radar Unit and the Immigration Department.
While it is difficult to get hands-on practice in this field at home, you can still get theoretical or virtual practice. You can get your hands on informative forensic science magazines, newsletters and journals to become familiar with terminologies and processes and to stay abreast on news in the industry. Some such magazines include Forensic Magazine, The Forensic Panel, Digital Investigation, or the Journal of Forensic Research. You can subscribe to each (or either) of these to receive publications as they become available or you can simply visit their websites and social media pages regularly to read the latest information.
If you have already taken the plan or you are not looking to start a subscription, you may find the links at the bottom of this post useful in getting started. Alternatively, feel free to browse our other career topics if you are still undecided or send us a message if you would like more personalised advice. An excellent way to help you stand out regardless of your industry or career is to have a professional and tailored CV/resume so feel free to contact us to help you make your recipe for success once you are ready to take the next step in your career.
Fun fact – Koalas have fingerprints that are almost indistinguishable from human fingerprints.
Learn how to pursue a career in Forensic Science within these regions
Resources: Use the links below to sign up for the free courses at Coursera and get a certificate upon completion (NB. there is a small fee to obtain the certificates). You can also watch the video on the real science of forensics.
Introduction to Forensic Science course at Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/learn/forensic-science?
Forensic Accounting and Fraud Examination course at Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/learn/forensic-accounting
Toxicology 21: Scientific Applications course at Coursera: https://www.coursera.org/learn/toxicology-21