As a Forensic Scientist you will examine scenes of crime and give evidence in court based on your findings. You'll examine things like shoe prints and tyre marks, and traces of soil, glass and paint on a suspect's clothing. You will use different equipment and methods to study evidence.
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Forensic Scientists apply science to the law. You'll provide independent, scientific evidence for use in law courts. Although you'll work closely with the police, your evidence must be impartial - it may be used to support either the defence or prosecution cases.
Most Forensic Scientists respond to police investigations. You'll usually receive evidence collected by a Scenes of Crime Officer. On more complex or high profile cases, you might visit the scene to give advice, for example, on evidence collection.
As a Forensic Scientist, you will be involved in a wide variety of police cases, including crimes against property such as burglary, arson and car theft. In these cases, you will gather evidence by examining shoe prints and tyre impressions, or traces of soil, glass and paint found on a suspect's clothing.
Often, the aim is to establish or rule out a link between someone suspected of committing a crime and the scene of the crime or the victim.
You will often deal with very small pieces of evidence. To examine this evidence, you'll have to use equipment such as electron microscopes. You will also use a wide range of equipment and techniques, including automated machines that can test up to a hundred samples at once. Other tests are more intricate and take longer. For example, you might use gas chromatography to test fire debris. This can identify the presence of substances such as petrol, helping you to understand whether the fire was started on purpose and intended to damage property or harm people.
You will might also use specialist forensic software (such as EnCase and XWAYS) to help you in your work.
You might investigate serious crime against people, including murder and sexual offences.
Other specialist areas include explosives, firearms and establishing the authenticity of documents.
It is likely that you will need to present the results of your examinations in written reports, which may then be read out in a law court. As a reporting officer, you'll go to court to give evidence for some of your cases, answering questions from both the prosecution and defence lawyers.
You might be involved in civil law as well as criminal cases. These often involve similar examinations and analyses but help to resolve disputes between people, such as the cause of a road accident.
Being able to read, write and speak Welsh may be an advantage when you’re looking for work in Wales.
Personal Qualities and Skills
To become a Forensic Scientist, you'll need:
- to be accurate, methodical and thorough in your investigations
- patience, attention to detail and problem-solving skills
- the ability to explain your findings clearly in court, to people like Lawyers and jurors
- report-writing skills
- teamwork skills to work alongside people like the police and Scenes of Crime Officers
Although you'll spend large amounts of time routine testing in laboratories, you must also be prepared to visit crime scenes that can sometimes be disturbing.
Depending on the type of investigation and the laboratory, good colour vision is important.
Pay and Opportunities
The pay rates given below are approximate.
- Starting: £27,500 - £30,000
- With experience: £35,000 - £41,000
- Senior Forensic Scientists earn £44,500 - £50,000
Hours of work
Forensic Scientists usually work 37.5 hours a week, which might include early starts, late finishes and call-outs. Some work a rota system, so they can be available to respond to requests at short notice, day or night.
Where could I work?
Forensic Scientists work for private sector laboratories, and are also civilian employees of forensic science units within local police forces. There can also be opportunities with government departments and agencies such as the Centre for Applied Science and Technology (CAST) and the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL). Some forensic scientists work in university research and lecturing.
Forensic Scientists can become self-employed consultants.
Where are vacancies advertised?
Sources of vacancies include:
- The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences website www.csofs.org/
- official police magazines, and regional police service websites
- specialist job boards for scientific and police recruitment
- general job boards
- scientific journals and magazines such as New Scientist (also, its website)
- private sector forensic laboratory companies' websites
- national newspapers
Entry Routes and Training
Generally, as a Forensic Scientist you'll need at least a good first (undergraduate) degree in biology, chemistry or a related subject. Although most opportunities are related to chemistry or biology, physics also plays an important part in some areas of forensic science, so entry can be possible for physics graduates.
Some universities offer specialist forensic science degrees, often combined with related subjects such as analytical chemistry, biochemistry, criminology or psychology.
However, a first degree in forensic science isn't always an advantage over a degree in a straight science subject. In the last few years, there has been a big rise in university forensic science courses. The result is that there are many more graduates than posts available.
The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences accredits degrees in forensic science, having assessed courses against set standards. This is to ensure the quality of forensic science degrees. Contact the Society, or look at its website, to find a list of accredited courses.
Given the very strong competition for posts, many entrants have a postgraduate MSc in forensic science or can demonstrate that they've developed knowledge and skills through relevant experience.
Some universities offer first degree courses with a foundation year. This is an extra year for students who don't have the specified science A levels for entry.
A great way to get into this career is through an internship. Take a look at our information article '
The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences accredits many postgraduate qualifications, which can be found on their website.
Continuing professional development might involve research, teaching, and going to conferences, workshops and seminars.
Membership of The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences is possible at various levels. Please see their website for full details www.csofs.org/.
Experienced Forensic Scientists can become self-employed consultants, or move into areas such as teaching/lecturing, research or scientific writing.
Previous experience working in a laboratory would be really useful for this career.
Rehabilitation of Offenders Act
Working as a forensic scientist can be an exception to the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act 1974. This means that you must supply information to an employer about any spent or unspent convictions, cautions, reprimands or warnings, if they ask you to.
This is different from other careers, where you only have to reveal information on unspent convictions if you are asked to.
Forensic Scientists usually need at least a good first degree in chemistry, biology or a related subject.
Depending on the course you choose, the usual entry requirements will be:
- 2/3 A levels, including at least one science subject where biology and chemistry are often preferred
- GCSEs at grade C/4 and above in your A level subjects
- a further 2/3 GCSEs (A*-C or 9-4), including English and maths
Alternatives to A levels include:
- BTEC level 3 qualifications (a subject such as applied law will help you to stand out from the crowd)
- the International Baccalaureate Diploma
However, course requirements vary, so please check university websites carefully.
Some universities accept the Welsh Baccalaureate as equivalent to 1 A level.
It is illegal for any organisation to set age limits for entry to employment, education or training, unless they can show there is a real need to have these limits.
If you don't have the qualifications needed to enter a degree course, you might be able to start one after completing an Access course, for example, Access to Science. You don't usually need any qualifications to enter an Access course, although you should check this with the course provider.
A foundation year before the start of a science degree is available at some universities and higher education colleges for students who don't have the science A levels usually needed for entry to the course.
Civil Service Jobs
Skills for Justice
Skills for justice, community safety, armed forces and legal services
Address: Distington House, 26 Atlas Way, Sheffield S4 7QQ
Tel: 0114 2611499
Publisher: Reed Business Information Ltd
Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences
Address: Clarke House, 18A Mount Parade, Harrogate, North Yorkshire HG1 1BX
Tel: 01423 506068
Forensic Science Northern Ireland (FSNI)
Northern Ireland Enquiries
Address: 151 Belfast Road, Carrickfergus BT38 8PL
Tel: 028 9036 1888
Forensic Science Laboratory
Address: Garda Headquarters, Phoenix Park, Dublin 8
Tel: 01 6662910
Scottish Police Authority
Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (DSTL)
Address: Headquarters, Porton Down, Salisbury, Wiltshire SP4 0JQ
Tel: 01980 613121
People Exchange Cymru (PEC)
Public sector recruitment portal for Wales