The word “forensic” basically means related to a court of law - from the Latin forensics, meaning before the forum. Forensic science refers to the use of various disciplines to investigate crimes, and is one of the most interesting jobs in genetics.
The Forensic Scientist
Contrary to popular belief forensic science is not a new discipline but has been used for thousands of years. For example, the detection of impurities in the golden crown (commissioned by Hiero king of the Syracuse) by Archimedes was a forensic examination of sorts. Of course these days the tools and techniques are a lot more high-tech than a tub and some water.
Most people believe that the job profile of a forensic scientist just revolves around corpses, yet this is just half the truth; there are many other branches of criminal investigations that require the skills and expert analysis of a forensic scientist.
Investigating Murders/Deaths – When murder and foul play has been suspected or even when there’s been a sudden unexpected death a forensic scientist will be called on to try and determine time, cause, and nature of the incident surrounding the death. This involves many different techniques such as DNA fingerprinting, chemical analysis of fluids, and taking impressions such as fingerprints, footwear, and tire tracks.
One on the most famous forensic cases concerns the murder of Helle Crafts in1986. It is a gruesome tale, but her body was dispatched into a wood chipper machine, leaving hardly any remains. Her husband told friends several different stories about her absence, and eventually an investigation was launched and police found tiny pieces of metal, bone, blond hair and blood samples in a lake. The blood group was the same as Helle’s. Her husband was prosecuted and found guilty of her murder.
Digital Forensics – with the increasing use of computers and the rise of networking, it is possible to steal data or valuable information sitting thousands of miles away from the crime scene. There could be other issues as well such as a person might be accused of visiting prohibited sites in certain countries and his/her computer might need to be investigated for evidence. All this comes under the job description of a digital or computer forensic scientist.
The list of forensic jobs is quite large and includes several other areas such as toxicology which deals with studying the effects of poisons and their role in crimes, and carrying out lie detection tests and interviews to determine the truth. Principally the job of a forensic investigator revolves around the laboratory; field work actually represents a small percentage of the work time.
Requirements to become a forensic scientist
If reading about forensic science fascinates you and you want such a job in genetics, then you might be interested to know what sorts of qualifications are required for the role. Well as you might have intuitively imagined by now, since the job profile is so diverse, so the range of qualifications can be equally as wide.
A person with a medical degree would be aptly qualified for performing autopsy and pathology tests, while digital forensics would require a person proficient in computer technology and tools. Mostly students prefer to have a generic education background which leaves them ample scope to switch jobs later on if they want a change in their career. A post graduate degree in the relevant field is certainly helpful and a doctorate might be recommended to advance to a senior level such as say a director of a forensic laboratory.
Apart from the academic qualifications, there are other skills and aptitudes which are a must for a forensic scientist. A passion for investigation is certainly an added advantage and so are excellent writing and communicating skills. The latter is also necessary since forensic scientists often have to present themselves as expert witnesses in courts.
Last but not least, irrespective of the initial qualifications most employers do provide training to their employees to deal with specific issues that will arise in their chosen field.