Are you fascinated by TV shows like CSI that feature specialists using science to solve crimes? Forensics is not for the squeamish, but will definitely get your pulse racing as you help bring criminals to justice.
What They Do
Forensic specialists take the methodology of science and apply it to finding and interpreting crime scene evidence, in an attempt to prove how a crime was committed and who did it. They may work for the government, police departments, hospitals, coroner’s offices, or independently.
Forensic specialists look for, analyze, and categorize criminal evidence. They work in forensic laboratories conducting scientific tests on physical evidence. They also work at the scenes of crimes, sometimes gathering evidence from violent crimes or homicides.
Forensic specialists may test for levels of poison, or use the principles of mathematics and engineering to interpret crime scene events. They gather fingerprint evidence and collect DNA samples from crime scenes to see how they match up with databases. As a forensic specialist you will do some or all of the following:
- Visit crime scenes to gather and preserve evidence for analysis.
- Work in a lab analyzing evidence.
- Catalog evidence using a computer database.
- Theorize about what happened at a crime scene.
- Work in tandem with law enforcement officers.
- Appear in court to give evidence.
- Stay current with new forensic techniques.
Who is Likely to Succeed
Forensic specialists must be well versed and knowledgeable about their scientific specialty, as well as general principles of science. They have a great deal of nerve, and the ability to deal with disturbing situations or violent crime scenes without letting their emotions get too involved.
Forensic specialists are both logical and creative thinkers. They are precise, orderly, and thorough in their work. They are extremely observant people who have a knack for interpreting human behavior. They are curious, and don’t always accept the obvious answer as the right one.
How to Learn It
To break into this field, you’ll want to start with an education in science and criminology, since you will likely cross over into forensics after some experience in one of these two areas. A Bachelor of Science degree is a great start, if you have the time and money — emphasize courses in chemistry, physics, and biology.
You can also see what is available at your local community college — many have courses in criminology, and may even offer training in forensic science. You can find a list of educational programs at the Canadian Society of Forensic Science website at www.csfs.ca.
While pursing formal training, you can also learn more on your own. The American Academy of Forensic Science (www.aafs.org) publishes the Journal of Forensic Sciences, and hosts the Young Forensic Scientist Forum, designed to help new and beginning forensic scientists establish themselves in the field.
Depending on where you study, it may be possible to get hands-on experience as a forensic specialist by working as a forensic intern. Colleges and law enforcement agencies offer a variety of internships, some paid, some unpaid. For example, the New York State Division of State Police offers intern positions for beginning forensic specialists.
No matter where you live, you can develop your observation skills in everyday life. Take mental notes on each person on the bus on your way home, or try to figure out where your roommate went based on what they left lying around before you read the note they left. Ask a friend to test your memory of small details in a movie after you watch it. You can carry a notebook with you to improve your shorthand as well.