Forensic scientists collect and analyze data from a crime scene using the natural sciences. Usually a forensic scientist specializes in a specific form of evidence including DNA, hair, weapons and firearms, tissue, fiber, and body fluids. A good forensic scientist must have excellent decision making skills, written and oral expression skills, inductive reasoning, information ordering, critical thinking and the ability to identify patterns and details. It is a relatively safe career. However, safety precautions do need to be taken when working with chemicals, fluid samples and firearms. In addition to their primary duties, some of a forensic scientists other duties can consist of crime scene reconstruction, DNA collection and analysis, report investigative findings, examine firearms and bullets, analyze textual evidence, take fingerprints, interpret laboratory findings, keep logs and records, operate all laboratory equipment.
It is estimated that by 2012 job openings for forensic scientists will grow by as much as 19 percent. The employment rate is dependent on field development, government spending abilities, local population growth, and the local crime rate. Employers often hire applicants that have obtained certification, completed training in specific courses, or an associates degree but some will require a bachelors degree. Training and certificates can take as little as two years to complete. Prospective applicants looking to specialize as forensic consultants, fingerprint technicians, forensic investigators, laboratory technicians, or fingerprint examiners should take programs that focus on criminal investigations and criminal justice. Courses in chemistry, computers and electronics, law and government, public safety, mathematics, writing and communications are valuable to qualify as a forensic scientist technician. Entry level trainee positions or an internship offered by a school are common ways to gain job experience. Expect to start out as a forensic laboratory technician, and once those skills are developed, advancing to a crime scene technician position.
A medical examiner is the highest paid career in forensic science due to the fact that the medical examiner works directly with dead bodies. You will be cutting up dead bodies so this is not a job for the squeamish. The procedures are often routine. However, boredom and monotony are never an issue since the cause of death varies and offers constant problem solving challenges. A medical degree is often a requirement to become a medical examiner. Appropriate undergraduate majors include chemistry and biology. Also consider taking classes in crime detection and investigation.
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Crime Laboratory Analyst
A crime laboratory analyst deals with repetition and routine much more than a medical examiner. However, the pay is still good and you work with clean samples. The section with the most variety is the micro-analysis section. Unfortunately most crime laboratories are either phasing out or at least scaling down this section. For any of the specialties you will need a bachelors degree in a natural science. Overall, chemistry with electives in crime detection and investigation is the best choice for any of the specialties. Biology with genetics and biochemistry is a requirement if your interest is in DNA testing. For trace evidence examination take electives should include optical mineralogy, microbiology, botany and textile courses. Specialties in zoology, botany, entomology, and anthropology can occasionally help with evidence that is encountered. The best combination to ensure a job as a crime laboratory analyst is a background in DNA and forensic archeology. A forensic science major is neither required nor recommended at the undergraduate level. A traditional chemistry is sufficient to get a job in a crime laboratory.
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Crime Scene Examiner
There is almost nothing routine about working as a crime scene examiner. A crime scene examiner works whenever and wherever a crime has occurred regardless of time or location. It can be messy work, you will have to deal with dead bodies and the pay is not as good as other fields, but is rewarding in its unpredictable nature. A bachelor’s degree either in a natural science with emphasis in law enforcement and crime scene processing or a criminal justice degree with emphasis in natural science should be obtained for a crime scene examiner. Forensic archeology would be a good way to prepare for this field. Combining crime scene investigation and psychology creates the job known as psychological profiling.
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Working as a forensic engineer is similar to working as a crime scene examiner except there are less bodies, better hours, and better pay. Cases involve traffic accidents, fire investigations, and wrongful injury. An engineering degree is required. Among the common specialties are electrical engineering, mechanical engineering, civil engineering, materials engineering and traffic engineering.