How to Become a Forensic Scientist

If you want to become a forensic scientist, you must take a complex career path, but it’s also one of the most highly regarded of all scientific jobs. A forensic scientist is in fact a specialist in the forensics of a particular field of science. It’s common for forensic scientists to have a large number of qualifications, stemming from their fundamental area of specialization. A forensic biologist, for example, may specialize in zoology, entomology, botany or sometimes several related disciplines.

Forensic science is the technical basis of crime investigation, archaeological research, paleontology and in some cases deaths through unknown causes. Forensic scientists are often required to produce evidence in court cases to establish the facts of criminal cases, and are cross-examined by defense counsel briefed by other forensic scientists.

Education and Training

Note: There’s a lot of information on the net in relation to “forensic technicians.” These jobs should not be confused with forensic science specialists.

Basic training for forensic scientists starts early, in high school, with a series of related subjects like the sciences, maths and maybe special studies. The baseline tertiary qualification in forensics is a Bachelor of Science in forensics, chemistry or biology. From this base qualification, you can further develop your training at master's to doctorate levels.

Areas of interest have a major role in the development of qualifications and career paths as you seek to become a forensic scientist.

Career Progression

After graduation in one of the related disciplines, there are two basic methods of entry into forensics:

  • Direct employment: This is based on the entry-level forensic qualifications, starting from the ground up. It's a fairly straightforward career dynamic, but job mobility plays a natural part in career progression.
  • Moving in to the field at levels of specialization: Some scientists are well-suited by experience in other fields to work in forensics, and they move into the field at various levels of seniority from entry-level to specialist. This is a more fluid career progression, because of the expertise in a particular area, and scientists may move in and out of forensics during their careers.

The career paths of forensic scientists are based on their areas of expertise. As a rule, forensic scientists operate in a purely forensic environment, but this environment can vary considerably, depending on the area of employment. Many forensic labs act as consultancies, not merely confined to casework. Others, particularly in major cities, may do nothing but criminal investigations.

In most cases, career progression is based both on hierarchical career moves through organizations and a high level of job mobility created by the area of specialization. Qualifications play a very large part in job mobility, and typically a forensic scientist will progress to higher degrees including post-doctorate levels.

There is also a level of career flexibility available to forensic scientists. Their qualifications in the various disciplines allow them to move into other fields. Their skills are particularly valuable in research because of the extremely high standards of testing involved in forensics.

Career Outlook

There are currently about 13,000 forensic scientists employed in the United States. The expected rate of job growth in this field is 20 percent in the coming decade, or about double the national average. The expansion and development of biological science, particularly DNA testing, is also a factor in this field, with new techniques adding to the range of forensic science investigation.