How to become a Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists apply scientific procedures and techniques to the examination of potential evidence that may assist in legal investigations.

Personal requirements of a Forensic Scientist

  • Good communication skills
  • Able to remain unbiased in the examination of potential court evidence
  • Meticulous and capable of clear, logical and lateral thinking
  • Able to work as part of a team
  • Initiative and motivation
  • Able to persevere
  • Good observation skills

Education & Training for a Forensic Scientist

To become a forensic scientist you usually have to study forensic science at university (preferably at honours level), followed by a postgraduate qualification in forensic science. You may also consider degrees in other relevant areas, which may provide entry into various areas of forensic science. Relevant areas include biology, botany, chemistry, physics, dentistry or medicine. To get into the degree courses you usually need to gain your Senior Secondary Certificate of Education. Prerequisite subjects, or assumed knowledge, in one or more of English, mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology are normally required. Most universities in Australia offer degrees in these areas. Entry to postgraduate courses usually requires completion of an appropriate bachelor degree. Universities have different prerequisites and some have flexible entry requirements. Contact the institutions you are interested in for more information. For full details, refer to the entries on the website at www.goodcareersguide.com.au or university handbooks.

Duties & Tasks of a Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists may perform the following tasks:

  • identify illicit drugs
  • analyse drugs and poisons in human tissue and body fluids, including blood alcohol results
  • examine and compare materials such as fibres, paints, cosmetics, oils, fuels, plastics, glass, metals, soils and gunshot residues
  • examine human and animal biological material to be compared with victims and suspects using DNA profiling
  • conduct botanical identification of plant materials at trace levels and whole-plant identification (cannabis, for example)
  • conduct document examinations, both physical (such as handwriting and typewriting) and chemical (such as analysis of inks and papers)
  • analyse computers and obtain data from other electronic devices such as mobile phones
  • examine crime scenes
  • identify firearms and ammunition (forensic ballistics)
  • detect, enhance, recover and identify latent fingerprints, footprints, tool marks, shoe marks, tyre marks and tracks
  • examine fire and explosion scenes to establish the origin and cause
  • improve the clarity of, and analyse, audio and video recordings
  • produce reports, appear in court and present scientific and/or opinion testimony accurately and in a manner that is readily understood by the court
  • present to a variety of audiences on the work of forensic scientists
  • keep in contact with, and provide advice to, police investigators, legal practitioners, scientists and pathologists across a broad range of disciplines.

Working conditions for a Forensic Scientist

A wide range of expertise is required for forensic investigations. A forensic scientist may specialise in chemistry, biochemistry, molecular biology, botany, pharmacology, toxicology, crime scene examination, firearms examination, fingerprint or document examination.

Employment Opportunities for a Forensic Scientist

A career in crime scene investigation, fingerprint identification or firearms examination may require entry into one of the state or territory police forces and completion of national training in the selected discipline. See the separate entries for Police Officer - State and Police Officer - Australian Federal Police for further details. The main employers of forensic scientists are state and federal government health departments and state, territory and federal police forces. The Australian Federal Police, through its Forensic and Data Centres Division in Canberra, employs forensic scientists in the disciplines of crime scene examination, fingerprint identification, firearms and ammunition identification, document examination, forensic biology and forensic chemistry.

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