What Does a Forensic Scientist Do?

Forensic scientists examine evidence from many angles to assist law enforcement officials in solving crimes, sometimes exonerating innocent suspects. Some scientists may be involved in forgery detection while others spend their days examining bodily fluids or fibers through microscopes. Here you'll learn about three members of a forensic scientist team and how they train for their positions. Schools offering Forensic Science degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Career Overview

A lot of people think forensic sciences are used only in murder investigations. Actually, forensic science is used to solve crimes such as extortion, theft, and even criminal menacing. Forensic scientists employ their education and knowledge of technology in their search for truth, regardless of whether their findings agree with circumstantial evidence.

Important Facts About Forensic Science Technicians

Median Salary (2014) $55,360 per year
Job Outlook (2014-2024) 27% growth
Key Skills Composure, critical thinking, problem solving, detail oriented, math and science proficient
Similar Occupations Biochemists, biophysicists, biological technicians, chemical technicians, chemists, material scientists, epidemiologists, medical scientists, police and detectives

Source: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

Duties and Responsibilities

Some forensic scientists perform a wide array of lab work. Other forensic scientists specialize in certain aspects of crimes. There are a couple of required skills that all forensic scientists need. A forensic scientist must have good communication skills for writing reports that will be read by other scientists and laymen. Many of these scientists are called on to give expert witness testimony or present evidence in court and need good public speaking skills.

Forensic Toxicologists

These scientists examine biological tissues and fluids to detect alcohol levels, drug usage, and poisonous or toxic substances. When assisting in postmortem investigations, they work with coroners and medical examiners to determine whether toxic substances were the cause of death. These scientists may also test sports players for performance-enhancing drugs.

Forensic Chemists

Trace evidence examination is performed by forensic chemists. These scientists need a broad education in both biological and material science and often have training in some of the specialization fields in forensic science, such as toxicology. They apply physics to decipher blood spatter patterns. They examine materials for composition and detection of foreign agents. These scientists come closest to the depiction of forensic scientists you see in television crime scene investigation programs.

Medical Examiners and Coroners

This is not a job for the squeamish. These medical scientists are also known as death investigators. They are sometimes required to arrive at the scene of the crime and pronounce the victim dead before the body can be removed for further investigation.

Medical examiners and coroners conduct autopsies to determine the time and cause of death. They also gather evidence to be sent to other forensic team members. For example, they may collect bullets at the crime scene to send to forensic ballistics specialists.

Training and Education

Depending on which branch of forensics you want to specialize in, there are different education paths that can be taken. Some scientists begin with bachelor's degrees in chemistry or toxicology and then pursue forensic degrees. There are also programs that blend science and legal studies into a single program. Internships offer hands-on training, and local law enforcement agencies often offer these opportunities if you're currently enrolled in school.

If you want to be a medical examiner, you'll go through extensive educational training. First, you'll need to get a bachelor's degree in a health-related science field. Then you'll go on to medical school to earn a degree in medicine. This process generally takes about eight years. After you get your medical degree, you'll need to spend another four years in a forensic pathology residency program before you can be certified by the American Board of Pathology.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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