Forensic scientists locate, examine and prepare traces of physical evidence for use in
courts of law. They use the principles of biology, chemistry and maths to obtain and
analyse evidence from a variety of sources, including blood and other body fluids, hairs,
textile fibres, glass fragments and tyre marks.
As a forensic scientist, the main focus of your work would be looking for evidence to link a
suspect with a crime scene. However, your duties could vary depending on your
specialism and may include some or all of the following:
blood grouping and DNA profiling
analysing fluid and tissue samples for traces of drugs and poisons
identifying, comparing and matching various materials
examining splash patterns and the distribution of particles
analysing handwriting, signatures, ink and paper (known as questioned documents)
providing expert advice on explosives, firearms and ballistics
researching and developing new technologies
recovering data from computers, mobile phones and other electronic equipment
(known as 'electronic casework')
attending crime scenes, such as a murder or fire
giving impartial scientific evidence in court (if you have been trained as a 'reporting
supervising assistant forensic scientists in the lab.
You would use a variety of techniques and equipment to examine evidence, ranging from
photography to infra-red, ultraviolet-visible and fluorescence spectroscopy.
Before you can start as a trainee forensic scientist, you are likely to need an honours
degree (2:2 or above) in a biology or chemistry-related subject. It is important to check
details with potential employers because not all science-based subjects provide the right
level of knowledge needed for the job. You may be in competition with candidates with
postgraduate, Masters and PhD qualifications.
It would also be an advantage to have at least six months' relevant work experience, for
example in a hospital laboratory or as a lab technician in a school. The Forensic Science
Service (FSS) occasionally offer work experience to graduates; see the FSS website for
Forensic Science Service (career opportunities page)
If you wish to specialise in electronic casework, you may be accepted with experience and
qualifications in computing, electrical engineering, electronics or physics.
To work with the FSS (the biggest employer of forensic scientists in England and Wales),
you will also need to be a citizen of the UK, EU, EEA or Commonwealth, and have been
resident in the UK for at least three years. See the FSS website for more details about
Forensic Science Service
Alternatively, you may be able to start as an assistant forensic scientist if you have four
GCSEs (A-C) including English and biology, chemistry or maths, plus one A level in
chemistry or biology. Once you are in post, you may be able to study on a part-time or
distance learning basis for a relevant biology or chemistry-based degree.
Normal colour vision is usually required.
You would typically work 37 hours a week, Monday to Friday. Some employers operate a
shift or on-call system to deal with high-priority work. Flexible or part-time hours may also
You would be based mainly in a lab, however, you may also visit crime scenes, which
could involve dealing with unpleasant and challenging situations. You would wear
protective clothing to prevent contamination and protect you from hazardous substances.
Skills and Knowledge
an enquiring mind
a logical and analytical approach
patience and concentration
highly-developed observational and scientific skills
objectivity and personal integrity
a high degree of accuracy and attention to detail
the confidence to justify your findings when challenged
strong written and spoken communication skills
the ability to work alone and in a team
the ability to meet deadlines and work under pressure.
Training and Development
As a trainee forensic scientist, you would receive on-the-job training from experienced
scientists. This would usually combine in-house courses with practical casework.
If you join the Forensic Science Service (FSS) as a trainee forensic scientist or reporting
officer, your training would take around 18 months and lead to a forensic scientist post.
You could go on to take further specialist qualifications, for example the Forensic Science
Society diploma course, in an area such as crime scene investigation, document
examination, fire investigation, and firearms examination.
Forensic Science Society
18a Mount Parade
Skills for Justice
Forensic Science Northern Ireland
151 Belfast Road
Forensic Science Service (FSS)
Gooch Street North
You will find most job opportunities with the Forensic Science Service (they have 11 sites
around the country). You could also work for an independent organisation that provides
forensic science services to the police. Public health laboratories, universities and
companies that deal with specialised areas (such as fire investigation or examining
questioned documents) also recruit forensic scientists.
You may find jobs advertised in the press (for example,The TimesandThe Guardian), on
the Forensic Science Service website, and New Scientist website.
Forensic Science Service
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Starting salaries can be around £20,000 a year.
With experience, earnings may reach £25,000 to £35,000.
Senior forensic scientists may earn £45,000 or more.
Figures are intended as a guideline only.
Anatomical Pathology Technician
Criminal Intelligence Analyst
Road Traffic Accident Investigator
Scenes of Crime Officer