Science Knowlege Hub -

Forensic Science

An introductory guide

A guide to forensic science jobs in the UK

Arguably one of the most prestigious jobs in science, a forensic scientist is a profession which demands commitment, extensive qualifications and the personal drive to succeed.

One of the most competitive fields in the UK, forensic science requires individuals to have a meticulous and analytical attitude, patience, persistence and the ability to work under pressure.

For those individuals who are successful in securing a position, the job is rewarding and fulfilling, and offers a multitude of possibilities.

What exactly is forensic science?

Forensic science draws on the principles of chemistry, maths and biology in order to analyse physical evidence, typically that found at the scene of a crime.

Forensic science is a specialist sector.

A forensic scientist is responsible for identifying, analysing and preparing the smallest traces of evidence from a wide range of sources. This may be used in either criminal or civil investigations.

The job may be evenly split between spending time out on the site, collecting specimens, as well as analysing samples and extracting data back at the laboratory.

Responsibilities

Although the general overall responsibilities of a forensic scientist remain the same, the exact nature of the work can vary. Some Scientist’s specialist in the collection and analysis of certain types of samples, narrowing their choice of career even further.

As a general rule, a forensic scientist may be involved in any one of the following duties:

  • searching for evidence at the scene of the crime
  • collecting traces and samples of evidence
  • DNA profiling
  • analysing splash patterns
  • identifying blood groups
  • comparing and matching various samples and materials
  • analysing fluids or tissues for drugs
  • analysing handwriting and signatures on documents which form part of the investigation
  • extracting data from electronic devices such as mobile phones and computers
  • writing reports and publishing articles
  • giving presentations
  • providing opinion on ballistics and weapons
  • calculating statistics
  • interpreting data
  • developing technologies to be used in the laboratory
  • providing evidence in court

Although a forensic scientist could be asked to carry out any one, or all, of the above duties, there are some fields which typically require further training. Extracting data from an electronic device is one such example of this.

Employers

Because forensic science is primarily concerned with the application of science to the law, the majority of employers are the police forces in the UK.

It is now possible for civilians to hold jobs within the police force, and it's commonplace within the provision of technical services. Forensic scientists are not the only civilians who provide scientific support to the police: vehicle examination, collection of fingerprints and detailed scene of crime examination are all duties performed by civilians.

If forensic scientists are not employed directly from the police force, they may hold positions within the Forensic Science Service (FSS). The FSS has 11 different sites around the UK who provide forensic services to not just the police force, but also HM Revenue and Customs and the Crown Prosecution Service.

The Forensic Explosives Laboratory, a division of the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, also employs scientists to work with explosives.

Make sure you look to further your ability in this field.

Other major employers in the UK may include private forensic laboratories, and occasionally medical schools or universities as well.

Furthering your forensic career

After qualifying, a forensic scientist is required to start in the role as a trainee, gaining valuable experience from a more practiced colleague. After 18 months they will normally be permitted to move to a full forensic scientist position, working on their own authority.

Once this status has been achieved, some forensic scientists opt to further their career by becoming specialists in certain areas. There are a number of courses which have been accredited by the FSS and include divisions such as explosives, fire investigation, document examination and crime scene investigation.

Image credits: West Midlands Police and West Midlands Police

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