How to become a forensic scientist
Forensic scientists play an important role in our judicial system – bringing perpetrators to justice and righting wrongs. You’ll use a wide range of scientific skills and methods to provide evidence in a court of law and solve crimes.
What is a forensic scientist?
Forensic science is a way of using science in a court of law – both criminal and civil. You could be using your scientific skills to examine evidence from crime scenes or sharing your knowledge to testify as a key witness during a trial.
Although most of your work will be carried out in a lab, the results of your work will play an important role in our society. You could be analysing blood samples from a murder scene one day, and verifying the authenticity of a key document the next. More experienced forensic scientists will also be called to examine crime scenes themselves, making them a vital part of a criminal case.
Should I become a forensic scientist?
Forensic science is the perfect combination of the law and science. If you have a keen scientific mind with a great eye for detail, you could use your skills to help make the world a better place. To be a successful forensic scientist, you will need to be:
- Logical: not everything is at it seems, and it will be up to you to use your expertise and see what others cannot.
- Objective: forensic science covers many sensitives topics which you may be asked to comment on in a court of law.
- Trustworthy: working on active cases means you have access to confidential information which can sway the result of a trial.
- Able to concentrate: working under pressure and to a deadline are part of the job – the evidence you collect may be used within criminal trials.
- Confident: using your knowledge and experience, you must be confident in your findings and sharing your results with the law – sometimes under cross-examination from a lawyer.
If you have these traits, you could have a great career as a forensic scientist. You’ll mostly be working in a laboratory, though occasionally at crime scenes, in court, or in an office. The work can often be long and time-consuming, but the results are important. As a forensic scientist, you are truly making a difference.
The main types of forensic science are chemistry, biology and toxicology. These areas will relate to your expertise and interests – and will affect the type of work you do. You will then use your expertise to examine bodily fluids, hairs, tyre marks, and fibres – before presenting your evidence in either a written report or as a witness in a court room.
How to become a forensic scientist
If you’re interested in a career in forensic science, the below information should you help you to begin your journey.
You will need a university degree to become a forensic scientist. You can either study a forensic science degree, or a more general science-related subject such as chemistry or biology.
Forensic science is a competitive industry, so further study can also help you secure employment as a forensic scientist. If your undergraduate degree is in a more general science subject, a postgraduate degree can be used to develop more specific skills in forensic science. However, if your undergraduate degree is in forensic science, a postgraduate degree can help you focus on a specific subject area as your speciality.
There are many forensic science degrees available to choose from, so it’s important to check your programme is accredited by The Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (CSFS). The University of Strathclyde offers a degree in forensic science, which is accredited by both the CSFS and the Royal Society of Chemistry.
Alongside your academic knowledge, you will also need to:
- Be analytical
- Be able to work well in a team
- Have strong written and spoken communication skills
- Have good colour vision.
Work experience is a great way to impress potential employers and get a boost in your career. Having work experience in a laboratory or research centre can help you to gain the practical skills you will need as a forensic scientist.
What does a forensic scientist career look like in the UK?
Choosing to work as a forensic scientist in the UK means you will typically work between 37 to 40 hours a week. You will most likely have to spend time on call, working shifts at short notice and occasionally on the weekend – as crimes can happen at any time.
According to the National Careers Service, the average starting salary for a forensic scientist in the UK is £18,000. A more experienced forensic scientist may earn around £45,000.
Study forensic science abroad in the UK
UK degrees are recognised and valued all over the world, but especially if you also want to begin your career in the UK. At the University of Strathclyde, you can study an undergraduate degree in forensic science which is certified by the CSFS, making it a great choice for those looking to become a forensic scientist.
If you’re an international student hoping to study and work as a forensic scientist in the UK, the University of Strathclyde International Study Centre’s pathway programme helps you to develop the subject, study and language skills needed to succeed at university and beyond.
Our Undergraduate Foundation Programme in Engineering and Sciences offers progression to an undergraduate degrees in forensic science. This degree will help you to gain the skills needed to find employment as a forensic scientist, or go on to study a postgraduate degree in a more specialised subject.
No matter which route you choose, you’re sure to gain the skills to have an exciting career as a talented forensic scientist.
How many years do you have to study to be a forensic scientist?
An undergraduate degree in forensic science will typically take three years to complete. During this time you will learn everything you need to know to become a forensic scientist.
If you wish to develop your skills and knowledge further you can do so by studying a Masters in forensic science.
Is forensic science hard to study?
Studying forensic science will be tough as there are many skills you need to succeed such as strong problem solving. It is a degree that will keep you on your toes and offer a welcome challenge.
Is forensic science a good career?
Forensic science is a good career for those who love to solve problems and make meaningful contributions to society.
As a forensic scientist you can expect an average salary in the mid to high range with opportunities for advancement as you progress in your career.
The top areas to work in are:
- Forensic chemistry - investigating substances in a crime scene
- Drugs and toxicology - testing for drugs in both humans and at a crime scene
- Forensic biology - testing for DNA and other fibres