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Forensic Scientist


Description

Forensic science has been crucial in helping police officers and detectives solve crimes. Applying natural sciences, genetics and toxicology to matters of law, forensic scientists usually work as a part of a team investigating crimes such as homicides or impaired driving. Forensic scientists are skilled and knowledgeable in recognizing, identifying, individualizing and evaluating physical evidence. Their findings will often make or break a criminal case.

Physical evidence found in crime scenes, such as blood stains, hairs and fingerprints are useful for establishing or excluding an association between a suspect of a crime and the crime scene or between the victim(s) and the crime scene. Forensic scientists often visit a crime scene to determine the sequence of events, any indicators as to who the perpetrator might be, and to join in the search for evidence.

Most forensic scientists specialize in a type of forensics such as fingerprints, ballistics, drug and poison toxicology, blood and other body fluids, hairs, fibers, paint, explosives and arson. Police detectives will often call upon a specialist in certain cases. Biochemists in forensic science may specialize in the use of DNA fingerprinting techniques for identification purposes, or in the analysis of small molecular weight compounds such as alcohol and drugs. Forensic toxicologists look for drugs and poisons in suspicious, unexpected and certain other types of deaths. They are concerned with the medical and legal aspects of drug-related deaths.

Proper collection and storage are important to protect the evidence. For example, scientists collect trace evidence using latex gloves and a pair of jewellers' tweezers. They must carefully place it in a folded paper cone, and then into a sealed envelope.

Those who focus their forensic research on DNA are often called DNA analysts. These analysts test DNA samples to interpret whether of not a bodily fluid or hair matches a defendant to the crime scene. Because of the importance of their work, detailed double checking and peer reviewing are imperative. All DNA analysts review their peer's findings, checking that all results are 100 percent accurate. They also follow strict quality control procedures to ensure accuracy within the laboratory. People who are on trial for crimes like murder, whether innocent or guilty are entitled by American law to a fair trial.

Forensic scientists regularly appear in courts to give their opinion on evidence relating to forensic investigations. Forensic scientists present their findings as expert witnesses. Also, they sometimes present their results and opinions in written form either as formal statements of evidence or reports.
 
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Saint Joseph's University

Founded by the Society of Jesus in 1851, Saint Joseph's University (SJU) has been developing the minds and abilities of men and women in a challenging academic environment steeped in the enriching Jesuit tradition of cura personalis (care of the entire person).

Programs Offered:
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  Average Earnings  
Lowest 10% of Earners:
n/a
 
Median Salary:
$41,038
 
Highest 10% of Earners:
n/a

  Interests and Skills  
What does it take to be a forensic scientist? First, they must be willing to work in unpleasant and highly emotional situations, such as going to a crime scene or testifying in a courtroom. Forensic scientists need to understand the chemical make-up of everyday things, such as paint or textiles, as well as human secretions, blood, body tissues and DNA. They also need to know about poisons and drugs, firearms and explosives.

Forensic scientists should be honest, responsible and able to keep information private. Forensic scientists should also be thorough, methodical, accurate and careful in their research and results. Often a person's freedom and life depend on their test results, therefore they are obliged to be as accurate as possible and to continually update their knowledge in the field of forensics.
 

  Typical Tasks  
  • Collect and preserve physical evidence, using proper collection and storage methods
  • Reconstruct crime scene to determine relationships among pieces of evidence
  • Visit crime scenes to find evidence
  • Examine, test, or analyze physical evidence such as fibers, fingerprints, bullets or shoe impressions
  • Analyze fluid evidence from bloodstains or saliva
  • Identify drugs found on people, in body fluids or at crime scenes
  • May specialize in one or more types of evidence
  • Interpret laboratory findings to identify physical evidence and provide a link to the suspect
  • Confer with other experts about the interpretation of evidence
  • Prepare reports of findings, investigative methods, or lab techniques
  • Testify as expert witness on evidence or laboratory techniques in trials or hearings
  • Forensic scientists spend the majority of their time in a laboratory setting, often for about eight hours each day. Some may go to crime scenes to collect evidence and recreate a crime scene, where the hours can be quite irregular (obviously depending on when the crime was committed and the type of crime). Forensic scientists may come into contact with tainted human body fluids, firearms, explosives and chemical hazards. Crime scenes may be very unpleasant and distressing.

  Workplaces, Employers and Industries  
  • Forensic scientists often work for crime labs such as those run by commercial entities, the FBI, the postal service and local law enforcement agencies. Universities and biotechnology companies also offer employment opportunities in research.

  Long Term Career Potential  
What does the future hold for forensic scientists? Since crime is sadly an aspect of our society, forensic scientists will always be needed to help investigate crimes. Without their scientific evidence, most court cases have no legitimate ground to stand on. Forensic scientists can advance to supervisory positions and lead forensics teams. Others may decide to specialize further and focus their work on developing DNA or toxicology tests to further clarify and eliminate any doubt in criminal investigations.
 

  Educational Paths  
Forensic scientists must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree in forensic biology, toxicology or a related field. For those who wish to conduct experiments and teach at the university level, a master's degree and PhD in forensics is recommended and often required. The more specialized education a forensic scientist receives, the more qualified and likely they will be to get a research position.
 

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2014-15 Edition, http://www.bls.gov/ooh/
Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Employment Statistics, 2002, http://www.bls.gov/oes/2002/oes_nat.htm

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