Are You Cut Out for a Career in Forensic Science?
A career in forensics is one that rewards a patient dedication to a craft. You’ll be learning and exercising the ability to collect clues, notice patterns, and meticulously piece together a timeline of events from the smallest, simplest tells.
That said, people sometimes aren’t quite up to speed on precisely what the field entails. Forensics differs quite significantly from the glamorised way it’s portrayed in crime shows. Some of the day-to-day duties you’ll have are never shown on TV, or the focus is given to the wrong areas.
Forensic specialists will require a keen mind, and an ability to pick up a combination of chemistry (and toxicology), deduction, observational skills and analysis, as well as the conventional things thought of as forensics, such as fingerprinting. If this sounds like you, read on: we’ll be covering the basics of training, common misconceptions, and the sort of tasks that’ll await you in the field.
What really is forensics?
Through a career in forensics, you’ll become an analytical expert. During your training, you’ll learn how to use laboratory tools to identify and analyse evidence, ranging from hair, fibre and fingerprints, to blood spatter and handwriting.
You’ll start at the beginning, learning what to look for at a crime scene, and how to quickly and efficiently identify the most likely areas to explore.
From there, you’ll go over each significant common identifier and commonly used block of evidence, until you can accurately piece together a scene ad hoc.
If you’re looking to specialize, each individual form of inquiry has its own associated professionals: there are computer forensics experts who can find secure stashes, recover wiped evidence, and find incriminating or exonerating information, or there are those who devote their career to understanding DNA, or analysing the crime scene itself as a first responder.
What forensics is NOT
CSI and other shows have one fatal flaw: they combine the role of detective and forensic analysis.
While a police detective reports to the scene of the crime, deals with victims, suspects, and police procedures, the forensics team collects, analyses, and samples the evidence needed for a case. Once they’ve done that, they attempt to piece together the most cohesive timeline of events that they can – or at least, as many pieces as they can into a framework – to the best of their ability.
The closest opportunity that forensics will have to present their work in a way similar to the television shows is in front of a court. A prosecution will quite often attempt to either confirm or discredit the evidence presented against a defendant, and while the findings of forensic scientists are tantamount to the final ruling, they will be called into question, and the claims asked to be defended, until such a decision can be made.
The other thing that forensics is not is the glamorised, peachy-clean atmosphere of procedural shows. You’ll be finding yourself dealing with some very unpleasant situations, such as examining the bodies of victims, spending time on dead ends, and doing mundane analytical passthroughs.
You also might never get to see the ‘result’ of your cases. Since forensics isn’t directly tied to prosecution, you won’t necessarily be chasing a guilty or not guilty verdict, but rather constructing the truth in an abstract sense. You might analyse a sample without ever fully knowing where it ends up, or get half of the knowledge on the case – as much as you need to complete your tasks – without any more.
It’s not all glory, but luckily it’s also not all doom and gloom. There’s plenty of room for a trained professional to make both a fulfilling career and a difference in forensics.
How do I know if forensics is for me?
The sort of person who makes a good forensics expert is the sort of person who would find themselves comfortable in any lab environment. You’ll need a little chemistry, a little biology, a lot of common sense and analytical brainpower, and skill in speaking confidently when you’re asked to defend your work.
The work can be hard, long, and gruelling, but in the end you’ll be serving as the backbone which can implicate or prove the innocence of people who are counting on you to get the truth of the situation.
Ultimately however, it’s not about pursuing verdicts, but about coming to grips with raw data and making it into a statistical model. Your job is not to implicate specific people, but to uncover the entire truth, warts and all. You’re the most integral piece of the puzzle when it comes to the raw evidence that the police will use, but you’re not a detective who cases suspects.
Considering a career in forensics?
People who have an eye for detail will excel in forensics, and, with training, find themselves a fulfilling career that makes a difference in their community.
If you fit that profile, you should consider enrolling in one of our Forensics courses today.
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