Forensic Science

Are you interested in solving puzzles, or what about mysteries, or how about solving crime mysteries? In short, that is what forensic science is all about in terms of the criminal justice profession. In every day practice, forensic science applies the principles of the natural sciences, such as physics, chemistry, biology, and other accepted scientific means to the issues of law. A forensic scientist is typically called upon in the courtroom to present their findings as an expert witness in the evaluation of physical evidence. It is a complicated science that helps to determine the facts in courtroom cases through various types of scientific investigation methods and analytical problem solving.

It is also very demanding with long hours and detailed work that typically brings a forensic scientist first to a crime scene for evidence collection, followed by a studying of the evidence in the laboratory, and then into the courthouse to present their findings before the judge and jury. Many times modern forensic science combines the newest trends of technology with the common place to solve a crime mystery. Physical articles that can be seen with the naked eye, like hair strands or lint particles down to the microscopic-sized cells of the human DNA, all play a major role in forensic science.

With a Criminal Justice degree, the forensic scientist relies on the intellect, the instincts, and a large dose of critical thinking. It is a fascinating field of crime study that places these individuals on the front line of law enforcement. The 'American Academy of Forensic Science' (AAFS) defines that any scientific field that can be used for the purposes of law is a forensic science. Forensic science is also an encompassing term for many distinct disciplines that are implemented in the proceedings of a court case. As a result, the field of forensics is very wide open and includes such career profiles as:

  • Accident Reconstruction Specialist
  • Crime Scene Investigator
  • Ballistics
  • Fingerprint Technician
  • Forensic Audio Examiner
  • Forensic Chemistry
  • Forensic Biology
  • Forensic Psychiatrist
  • Forensic Surveyor
  • Forensic Medicine
  • Forensic Dentistry
  • Forensic Engineering
  • Many more!

Forensic scientists are in continually high demand. Typical employers provide work at the local level for specialized forensic laboratories, district attorney offices, private law firms, the military branches, colleges and universities, state law enforcement agencies, and for federal agencies such as the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).

From TV to Reality: Forensic Scientist

Thanks to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, forensic science has captured the imagination of the public since the first Sherlock Holmes novel was published in 1887. If you own a television, chances are you have watched at least one program starring a forensic scientist. Among the TV series that focus on criminal forensics are Dexter, Cold Case Files, Law and Order, and Monk. Although a portion of scientists do work closely with law enforcement and the judicial system, the career is much more academic than its TV exploitation would suggest.

The term forensic scientist is a catchall for myriad specialties within the field. Based on your strengths and educational focus, you may work with computers, trace evidence, toxicology, psychology, and many other areas during an investigation. Depending on which career path you choose, you may work in the field where crimes are committed, in a laboratory, morgue, or university, or even as an independent contractor.

Scientists studying criminal forensics, also known as criminalists, use fact-finding and the investigation and scientific research of evidence to help solve a crime. This is the field of the literary Sherlock Holmes - finding and using clues to either serve the defense or prosecutor in seeking truth. However, in this day and age, forensic scientists in the criminal field require at least a bachelor's of science degree in biology, chemistry, or physics. Depending on their career path, they may also require degrees at the master's level. These professionals usually work closely with the law at the county, state, or federal level. A criminalist will have a specialty focus such as blood spatter, toxicology, or trace evidence, to name a few.

Following on the heels of rapid technological advancement, the need for computer and multimedia forensic scientists is escalating. You may spend hours analyzing a computer network or a single hard drive extracted as evidence. Computer forensic analysts work at the state and federal level to unearth evidence stored in smartphones, videos, photos, and even voice recordings. Careers in multimedia forensics are projected to see stable growth as criminals find new ways to use computers and networking systems to perpetrate crime in this century.

Aside from the major categories of forensic specialists, there are innumerable career options within any given field. Engineers, doctors, radiologists, nurses, artists, dentists, and even financial experts may have what it takes to start a career in forensics within their field. An engineer may work in forensics to reconstruct the scene of a disaster, such as a bridge collapse. Doctors and radiologists frequently play a role in forensics in determining time and cause of death during homicide investigations. An experienced registered nurse may veer into the field of forensics when she collects evidence from a suspected rape victim in the emergency room. A professional sculptor may branch off into a career in reconstructive forensics, helping to close missing person cases by using skeletal remains to sculpt or draw a likeness of deceased individuals.

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