If you are naturally curious, are well versed in science and technology, want to help solve crimes and believe in true justice, then forensic science may just be the degree you’re looking for.
A career as a forensic scientist is challenging and yet so rewarding. Barry Fisher, a crime lab director with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said in a PayScale interview that his favorite part of the job was uncovering the truth. “You’re working to make society a little better by trying to help out the criminal justice system,” said Fisher. “The thing that I really enjoy is telling the police, ‘You got the wrong guy. You arrested the wrong person.’ I think that’s really gratifying. A lot of people think we’re here to just rubber stamp whatever the police find, but I always argue that we follow the thread and it takes us wherever it takes us”.
Fisher said the most challenging part of being a forensic expert is testifying in court, especially when defense attorneys keep you on your toes. For Edward Strimlan, formerly Allegheny County’s Office of the Medical Examiner’s chief forensic investigator, the toughest part of the job was determining the identity of a body and then having to tell his or her loved ones. “In death investigations, I had no idea what I would see when I came into work each day. It could be a motor vehicle accident, a high profile case or a homicide,” said Strimlan in an interview with Point Park University where he is the coordinator of the forensic science department.
Both Strimlan and Fisher met these challenges head on because of the importance of their roles as part of the criminal justice process. You too might have it in you to be a successful forensic scientist. According to Ashworth Community College, prospective forensics students should be detail-oriented, precise, problem solvers, communicators and have a “strong stomach” as “you will encounter blood, dead bodies, or other gory sights”. Patience is also important as, unlike popular television programs portray, it may take weeks or months to finish a particular investigation. (You should also know that forensic experts don’t typically make arrests or interrogate suspects).
Your preparation to take a forensic science degree should start in high school. (Or alternatively you can take distance or part time classes to upgrade your skills). The University of North Texas Forensic Science faculty recommends taking numerous math and science courses, gaining experience in public speaking, report writing and laboratory procedures and becoming familiar with courtroom procedures and criminal investigations before enrolling in a college or university program.
Once you begin your forensic science degree, your classes will be highly interactive in laboratory and field settings. Expect take a range of courses, such as in biology, physics, chemistry, psychology, evidence analysis, crime scene investigations and profiling.
Once you complete your degree, numerous job opportunities await you. What you decide to specialize in will often dictate what specific positions you may pursue. “There are so many different fields to specialize in for forensic science,” advises Strimlan. “Start with the basic sciences and find the discipline that is right for you. Pathology, ballistics, serology, toxicology, entomology, anthropology, investigations and odontology are some areas to consider”.