Forensic science is the application of scientific principles and analysis, in order to help solve crimes or detect criminal activity. It focuses on collecting and analyzing evidence of various kinds. Forensic science has been popularized in television shows, books, and movies. While there is often some scientific background and real information about forensics, the field is much different than is usually portrayed in fiction. Typically, we won’t find the same forensic specialist in the field investigating a crime scene and also in the lab analyzing the information. DNA tests seem to magically get processed within a few minutes, when in reality they take much longer. In many ways, however true forensic science is much more challenging and engaging than it could possibly be portrayed in a 1-hour TV show.
Your career options in forensic science depend on how you choose to focus your degree and how far you decide to take your education. This is something to take into consideration as you choose your degree program and decide whether or not to continue to a graduate degree. Most positions in forensic science require at least a bachelor degree. You may find some entry level positions that require an associate level degree, but you will likely be continuing your education if you wish to advance in your career.
There are many different disciplines relating to forensic science to explore, such as archeology, psychology, accounting, toxicology, crime scene investigation, pathology and digital forensics. As you can imagine, different disciplines may lead to very different career paths. We will examine some of the more popular forensic science fields.
Crime Scene Investigation: In these positions, your job is to analyze a crime scene, take pictures, and collect evidence that is later analyzed in a lab.
Toxicology and pathology: Toxicology is the study of the adverse effects of certain chemicals on the human body. Pathology is the study of diseases and infections, and how they affect the body. A forensic scientist would use these two methods to determine how illness, injury, or death could have been caused by chemicals or diseases.
Psychology: A forensic psychologist analyses the psychology behind crime or criminal behavior. A forensic psychologist could be found working in prisons, rehabilitation centers and other areas helping to treat mental illnesses that led to criminal behavior. They could also use their knowledge of psychology in criminal profiling, or to help victims of crime.
Accounting: A forensic accountant works to analyze financial evidence of criminal activity. This could include investigating corporations accused of financial wrong doing, or looking for evidence of money laundering to fund a criminal operation.
Digital Forensics: This is probably one of the fastest growing fields within forensic science. Many crimes are now occurring in cyberspace. These crimes can involve hacking, identity theft, and financial crimes. A forensic scientist in this field would follow the evidence and attempt to determine how a cyber-crime was committed, and hopefully provide evidence that can convict the perpetrator of the crime.