Forensic science career

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Jane Shepherd is a forensic chemist with a Police Forensic Science Laboratory. She carries out analysis involving drugs, alcohol and other materials.

What exactly do you analyse?

I deal with cases where there may have been drug abuse. I may have to confirm the identity of a particular drug in a person involved in a crime or an incident. I also undertake the analysis of blood samples to determine the level of alcohol present. This is usually after an accident.

In other cases I may be searching clothing for fragments of glass and carrying out subsequent analysis to compare recovered fragments with control samples.

I often have to attend court to give evidence as an expert witness.

Do you have a typical day as a Forensic scientist?

Not really. It all depends on what things I have to analyse. Apart from the actual testing, there are reports to write, equipment to check and researching and preparing material for attending court.

What hours do you work?

I work flexitime, starting time between 8am and 10am and finishing between 4pm and 6pm I do a 36 hour week.

Do you receive any ongoing training?

I get in-house training by other members of staff on how to carry out the case work and I attend external courses to enhance my knowledge on subjects such as giving evidence in court and fire investigations.

Also, I go to fire scenes as training in fire investigation and I help with training of other members of the department and police officers.

What do you like about your Forensic science career?

It is an interesting area of chemistry that actually has an impact on the real world. I also like the fact that interesting and unexpected events outside my control can change a situation and you never know what is around the corner.

Are there any disadvantages?

One is that you always have to be available if needed to give evidence in court. Even if you are planning to be away – or on holiday – you can be called to meet court commitments.

What skills and qualities are needed to work in Forensic science?

Accuracy and an eye for detail are vital. Good inter-personal skills, time management and good general knowledge are useful, along with good communication skills.

Jane's route to her Forensic science career

  • S Grades (GCSEs)
  • Scottish Highers (A Levels)
  • BSc (Hons) in Forensic and Analytical Chemistry
  • PhD in Analytical Chemistry

Jane's Forensic science career tips

  • Try to get a good general chemistry knowledge before specialising in forensic science, to allow you to be flexible.
  • Don't give up, work hard and keep at it.

Forensic science related jobs

Forensic science career salary

  • Pay and conditions vary between each forensic laboratory, but starting salaries for technician/assistant forensic scientist/database scientist is about £11,500 to £18,900.
  • Trainee forensic scientist £13,400 to £18,900, forensic scientist (court officer) £19,500 to £25,000, senior forensic scientist/section head £27,000 to £37,500 and head of department or principal scientist £35,000 to £45,000.

Forensic science career

  • The Forensic Science Service (FSS) covers England and Wales and recruits at two levels. Assistant forensic scientists need at least four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English and either chemistry, biology or mathematics, with at least one A level in a science subject.
  • Forensic scientists need an honours degree in a scientific or mathematical subject or appropriate technology such as metallurgy or an equivalent professional qualification.
  • Support scientist entrants need at least four GCSEs/S grades (A-C/1-3) including English and either chemistry, biology or mathematics. A level qualifications are an advantage.
  • In Scotland applicants for technician/assistant forensic scientist/DNA database scientist grades need at least a higher national award in chemistry or biology or an equivalent qualification. Forensic scientist applicants need an honours degree (class I or II) in chemistry, biology or related subjects or equivalent relevant professional qualifications.

Modified: 16 June 2013

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