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Forensic Science - General Questions

What is forensic science?
Forensic science is the application of scientific methods and processes to matters that involve crime or the public. There are many branches of forensic science because almost any science has some applications to public or criminal matters. Some of the main areas of forensic science are listed below:

Chemistry
Biology
Criminalistics
Pathology
Entomology
Psychology
Dentistry/Odontology
Engineering
Geology
Anthropology

What does a forensic scientist do?
A forensic scientist is a scientist who usually works in a laboratory setting analyzing particular types of evidence, writing reports and testifying in court as an expert witness. In some cases, forensic scientists may attend crime or other incident scenes to help reconstruct the crime, or help in the recognition, collection, and preservation of evidence within their specialty. For example, a forensic anthropologist may be called upon to collect skeletal remains found in the woods. A forensic chemist may be asked to help in the processing of a clandestine drug laboratory. A trace evidence examiner may be asked to collect hairs and fibers and other traces from a homicide scene. Usually the crime scene component of the job of a forensic scientist is a relatively minor part of the duties.

Many forensic scientists work in forensic science (crime) laboratories. In the United States, there are more than 4000 crime laboratories, administered by the federal, state, or local governments or private industry. Most crime laboratories employ scientists in the areas of forensic chemistry (drugs, toxicology, trace evidence, explosives, fires, etc.) forensic biology (mainly DNA and body fluids and tissues), and criminalistics (fingerprints, questioned documents, firearms, and toolmarks).


What is the best route to prepare for a career as a forensic scientist?

In order to become a forensic scientist, one must become well grounded in the sciences that are important to that discipline. For example, a forensic pathologist must be educated in medicine and pathology. A forensic entomologist must be educated in the biological sciences and entomology.

If you wish to work in a crime laboratory as a forensic chemist or biologist, you must have a thorough grounding in the basic sciences of chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics. This can be achieved by obtaining a college degree in one of these sciences, making sure that the others are also covered. Courses in criminal justice may be useful to some extent, but a major in criminal justice is not adequate preparation for a career in forensic science. Crime laboratory directors look first for a solid science background in deciding to hire a forensic scientist.

After obtaining this strong, broad science background, it is best to specialize in the areas of forensic science in which you are most interested. You may go on to medical school to become a forensic pathologist. You may wish to obtain a masters degree or Ph.D. in engineering to become a forensic engineer. To prepare for a career as a forensic scientist in a crime laboratory, it is recommended that you pursue a masters degree in forensic science.

Where is forensic science taught in the United States and around the world?
A list of forensic science programs worldwide can be found by going to the American Academy of Forensic Science webpage. There are a wide variety of programs at the bachelors and masters levels, and a few Ph.D. programs are listed as well. You should visit any school you contemplate attending, and discuss the program in detail with the faculty or administrator(s) before making a decision.

Where can I find more information about forensic science laboratories?
You can contact your local crime laboratory or check out the website of the American Society of Crime Lab Directors (ASCLD) website.

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