Job profile – Become a Forensic Scientist

Entry requires a good Honours degree in biology, chemistry, forensic science or a related subject. The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences accredits university courses so it might be worth looking out for these at an early stage. For degree entry you will usually require at least 2 A levels/3 H grades, including Biology and/or Chemistry, and 5 GCSE/National 5s at grade C or above, or 4-9 in England, including Maths, English and a science.

Many entrants to this profession have a postgraduate diploma, master’s or doctoral degree in forensic science or a related subject. This is becoming increasingly important to employers, who may also expect you to have at least 6 months’ experience working in a laboratory. Some employers may accept an equivalent professional qualification.

To enter as an assistant forensic scientist in England and Wales, you will need 4 GCSE passes, including English, Biology, Chemistry or Maths, and an A level in Chemistry or Biology. In Scotland, an H grade in Chemistry, Biology or a related subject is normally required. Assistant forensic scientists usually cannot progress to a higher level without at least a degree or postgraduate qualification.

Once you secure employment as a trainee forensic scientist, you will receive on-the-job training from experienced colleagues. The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences also offers continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities. If you want to specialise in electronic casework, you need a qualification in computing, electrical engineering, physics or electronics.

A Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) check may be required.

What the work involves

You will use your skills to provide important scientific information and help resolve legal and criminal cases. By analysing samples and assessing accident and crime scenes, you will support the work of police and lawyers.

Your role will involve identifying anything that may be used as evidence from a crime scene, including organs, blood, bodily fluids, illegal drugs, firearms and explosives, DNA and even paint or fragments of glass. You will carry out the necessary tests to extract the information required by the police.

You will use techniques including photography, DNA profiling, chromatography and metallurgy.

You may also be required to give evidence in court.

Type of person suited to this work

You need strong scientific skills and the desire to help solve crimes. Confidence is essential, as you might have to make court appearances.

You should be able to handle distressing situations well. You will need to pay great attention to detail whilst in the field, in the laboratory and when producing reports. Good colour vision is required.

You will require the ability to clearly explain scientific findings to people without a scientific background. You should be able to use statistics to interpret your findings. You must be an excellent communicator.

Working conditions

You will spend the majority of your time in the laboratory but you will also need to visit crime scenes. You might have to deal with unpleasant or upsetting sights.

You may also be outdoors in all weathers. You could be standing or crouching for long periods of time to examine evidence. You will need to wear protective clothing when visiting crime scenes. You might have to travel with some absences from home. A driving licence may be useful.

You will normally work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. You may also have to spend time on-call.

Future prospects

The job market is highly competitive, with scientists being employed by organisations such as the Centre for Applied Science and Technology, the Defence Science and Technology Laboratory and some of the police forces.

Promotion to management is generally based on appraisal reports, experience and developing an area of expertise. You may need to move locations in order to progress. You could become self-employed by working as a forensic consultant. You could also move into research.

Advantages/disadvantages

You will be using your scientific knowledge and applying it to real life situations in order to help the police catch criminals, which would be extremely rewarding.

This is a varied job and no two cases will be the same.

This job comes with a lot of responsibility as your evidence may be the reason behind someone’s conviction or acquittal.

Due to the nature of the work, some aspects of the job may be distressing.

Money guide

Earnings vary according to employer and location.

Starting salaries for trainee or assistant forensic scientists are between £16,000 and £20,000.

Once you have gained 2–3 years’ experience, earnings can increase to between £25,000 and £35,000 a year.

As a senior forensic scientist you could achieve £45,000 to in excess of £50,000 a year.

Further information

Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences www.csofs.org

Skills for Justice www.sfjuk.com

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