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 for 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. 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.


Duties & Tasks of a Forensic Scientist

Forensic scientists:

  • 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.

Tasks

  • Investigates the chemical structure and function of living cells and their isolated components, organs and tissues in humans, animals, plants, and micro-organisms..
  • Examines objects of interest and uses the knowledge gained to create and develop new, and improve existing, products, materials and processes..
  • Studies the forms and structures of parasites and toxins by systematic observation, dissection and microscopic examination..
  • Designs and conducts experiments, makes observations and measurements, researches information, analyses data, prepares or supervises the preparation of laboratory reports and scientific papers, presents findings at scientific meetings and conferences, and may supervise the work of staff..

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.


Specializations

Forensic Scientist

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

  • Average age
    Average age
    37 years
  • Future Growth
    Future Growth
    Moderate
  • Gender Share
    Gender Share
    63% female
  • Average full-time
    Average full-time
    42 hours
  • Weekly Pay
    Weekly Pay
    $1,794
  • Skill level rating
    Skill level rating
    Very high skill
  • Unemployment
    Unemployment
    Average unemployment
  • Full-Time Share
    Full-Time Share
    70% Full-Time
  • Employment Size
    Employment Size
    1,000 workers
  • Employment Size
    Employment by state
    ACT: 3.9%
    NSW: 26.9%
    NT: 1.5%
    QLD: 17.4%
    SA: 7.4%
    TAS: 2.6%
    VIC: 32.1%
    WA: 8.2%
  • Employment Size
    Age brackets
    15-19: 0.3%
    20-24: 5%
    25-34: 35%
    35-44: 30.8%
    45-54: 16.9%
    55-59: 5.5%
    60-64: 3.9%
    65 and Over: 2.6%
  • Employment Size
    Education level
    Advanced Diploma/Diploma: 3.4%
    Bachelor degree: 40.9%
    Certificate III/IV: 4.1%
    Post Graduate/Graduate Diploma or Graduate Certificate: 48.5%
    Year 10 and below: 0%
    Year 11: 0%
    Year 12: 3%
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