Forensic scientists use cutting edge scientific analysis to produce evidence for court. They analyse everything from fabric samples to blood traces, assessing how they relate to a crime scene and providing this information to the police and justice system.
What is a Forensic Scientist?
Forensic scientists take minute samples from crime scenes and analyse them to gather evidence. They utilise a breadth of scientific knowledge and techniques to gather otherwise inaccessible information, such as the blood type of a suspect. This information can be the difference between a conviction and an offender walking away from a crime without prosecution.
A forensic scientist's average salary varies based on experience and location.
Your work could consist of both crime scene and laboratory work. You’ll use your findings to compile evidence for court hearings, writing up reports to be given or even appearing to offer evidence yourself.
Forensic jobs sit across three areas of work: collection, analysis and interpretation. Your main duties could include:
- Analysing computers and digital devices like phones to access encrypted data, previous locations and other important evidence.
- Analysing drug and chemical samples to work out their composition.
- Analysing fluid samples, assessing their DNA profiles and using this information in reporting.
- Analysing weapons to learn more how they might have been used in a crime, as well as gathering any biological material left on them to attribute an owner.
- Collecting evidence from crime scenes with the support of police and crime scene investigators, such as bodily fluids, fabric fragments, drugs and poisons.
- Collecting fingerprints from crime scenes, such as those left on weapons.
- Ensuring you maintain personal and public safety when collecting samples, such as wearing a forensics suit.
- Presenting your findings in a court of law, interpreting evidence to suggest how a crime might have been committed, and who by.
A forensic scientist's average salary varies based on experience and location. The longer you have been in the role and the closer to London you are, the higher your pay will be.
If you begin your work in forensic science as an apprentice, you will receive the national apprentice wage. As of 2022, this is £4.81 per hour for your first year, regardless of age, after which you’ll be on minimum wage for your age bracket.
Some people study for a broad scientific bachelor's degree to build up their laboratory experience.
Graduate forensics jobs are likely to start on a salary of around £20,000. As you increase in your experience, you will be given further responsibilities and move up to around £35,000. If you reach managerial or senior scientist level, you could earn in excess of £35,000.
Forensic science jobs are competitive. While you don’t need a degree to enter the profession, it can be useful to stand out against other applicants. This is especially true if you choose to study for a degree accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences. Undergraduate degrees that would prepare you well for a forensic science role include:
- Computer and Digital Forensics
- Crime and Investigative Studies
- DNA and Forensic Analysis
- Forensic Anthropology
- Forensic Bioscience
- Forensic Science and Criminology (Joint Honours)
- Forensic Science
Some people study for a broad scientific bachelor's degree to build up their laboratory experience. They then take a postgraduate qualification in forensic science. Postgraduate degrees you could take include:
- MSci Forensic Science
- MSci Forensic Science and Computing
- MSci Forensic Biology
Alternatively, you could study relevant science apprenticeships. This would combine academic study with laboratory hours to build up your experience and knowledge at the same time.
Your degree or apprenticeship will cover the key information you need to become a forensic scientist.
You might choose to take on further study at postgraduate degree level. This could give you additional specialisms, such as analysing digital devices or drug analysis.
Training and development
Your degree or apprenticeship will cover the key information you need to become a forensic scientist. You’ll learn a great deal on the job too. Shadowing senior staff members will help you sharpen your collection analytical skills, and you’ll get to see how an experienced forensic scientist compiles evidence reports.
Your time studying towards your degree or degree apprenticeship should help you rack up plenty of hours in the lab.
Many forensic scientists choose to become members of professional bodies such as the Chartered Society of Forensic Scientists. This gives you access to regular webinars, conferences and training opportunities to keep up to date with new developments in the field.
SkillsThe skills you’ll need to become a forensic scientist focus on both knowledge and laboratory experience. Examples include:
- Extensive laboratory experience, either through your previous work, degree or degree apprenticeship.
- Good knowledge of forensic science, as well as any particular specialisms you have interest in like computing.
- Solid reasoning skills - you’ll need to look at evidence and construct an argument for why it explains certain elements of a crime.
- Good written and verbal communication - you’ll write reports summarising your findings and submit these to court.
- Good presentation skills - you may have to be present at court hearing to give evidence, so you’ll need to be confident speaking in front of large audiences.
- Resilience - you’ll have to attend crime scenes which could be upsetting. You’ll need the emotional resilience to not let this affect your performance.
- Sensitivity - you may have to work with a victim of a crime to gather evidence, so you’ll need to be a calm and sensitive figure in doing this.
- Ability to work well within a team of various disciplines - you could work with colleagues in the police force through to law representatives, so you’ll need to be a collaborative team player.
Your time studying towards your degree or degree apprenticeship should help you rack up plenty of hours in the lab. However, nothing quite matches time observing actual forensic scientists, and the wider justice team. If you can access this through connections with your university or employer, do so while you’re studying. It will help you stand out when it comes to applying for jobs.
If you’re going down the apprenticeship route, you’ll want them your course to be connected with police or forensic work. This would ideally be through a company closely connected with the discipline.
Before you apply for study, though, it can be beneficial to have some experience shadowing laboratory scientists. This will really help you stand out when it comes to writing a forensic science personal statement. You could contact local labs, to see if they would accept a potential student shadowing their researchers.
Forensic scientists take minute samples from crime scenes and analyse them to gather evidence.
Alternative settings include observing NHS researchers or those working in private health based labs. Other areas you might like to access experience in include victim support charities. This will give you an understanding of how the work of forensics fits into the wider justice system.
Forensic science is an ever growing and competitive field, so career prospects are varied and exciting. As you establish your career you could take on management responsibilities, overseeing junior scientists. With time, you could work towards more senior forensic investigator jobs like becoming a reporting officer, liaising directly with the police on specific cases.
Alternatively you could specialise in a particular area of research, such as analysing technology or weaponry. If you find the research side of your work particularly rewarding, you could pursue postgraduate study at masters or even doctoral level, and go on to teach in universities.