What Is Forensic Science? Definition and Career Guide

Indeed Editorial Team

Updated 27 March 2023

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

With technological advances, the use of forensic science in criminal investigation proceedings has become increasingly common. Forensic scientists use various methods to collect and examine evidence and prove how a crime took place. By understanding the role and responsibilities of forensic scientists, you can decide if it is a career that might suit you. In this article, we will discuss what forensic science is, why it is important, what its different disciplines are, what forensic scientists do, what skills they need and how to become one.

What is forensic science and why is it important?

Forensic science is a scientific discipline that involves the use of scientific methods and processes to investigate crimes. It is important because it enables forensic scientists to examine and analyse evidence from the crime scene and use it to understand how the criminal committed the act and what their motive might have been. Through their investigative, forensic work, they may be able to come up with leads that can assist the police in catching the culprit.

Related: A Guide to Forensic Science Careers (With Salary Information)

What does a forensic scientist do?

A forensic scientist examines crime scene evidence and performs various analytical tasks. They try to determine how the crime happened, what the motives were and who committed it. They may also investigate accidents, fires and acts of vandalism. These professionals may work as independent consultants or hold full-time jobs with the police department, government agencies, laboratories, hospitals or university research centres. Some of their work responsibilities include the following:

  • visiting and examining the crime or accident scene

  • collecting, cleaning, sorting and storing evidence samples

  • using advanced digital techniques to analyse evidence samples

  • documenting the results and writing detailed reports

  • collaborating with other forensic scientists, police and legal teams

  • attending court proceedings to testify about forensic findings

  • conducting forensic science research and developing new techniques

  • complying with legal rules regarding forensic science procedures

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What skills should a forensic scientist have?

Forensic scientists must have specific skills that can help them to carry out their forensic investigations. These essential skills include the following:

  • Attention to detail: When investigating a crime or accident scene, they must pay attention to minute details since these can make a significant difference to the outcome of the case.

  • Patience and persistence: To find the correct solution to a forensic issue, they must have the patience and persistence to carry out multiple tests and use various techniques.

  • Communication: Forensic scientists must have exceptional written and verbal communication skills to be able to explain complex scientific details in terms that are understandable to people not familiar with the science.

  • Analytical thinking: They must be able to evaluate the gathered evidence and use the data to come up with verifiable conclusions about how the crime happened.

  • Problem-solving: Forensic scientists need to have problem-solving skills to find solutions to challenging or puzzling evidence samples.

  • Time management: The ability to manage their time is essential since they often have to work to strict deadlines and have to have forensic reports ready for court proceedings.

  • Teamwork: They must be open to collaboration and teamwork as they have to work regularly with other forensic scientists, police investigators, laboratory technicians, lawyers and various other professionals.

  • Ability to withstand stress: Forensic science can be a stressful profession since it deals with crimes and criminals, and forensic scientists must be mentally resilient and able to handle the stress that comes with the job.

  • Confidence: They must be confident about using their knowledge and capabilities to undertake forensic investigations and get accurate answers.

Related: What Is a Lab Technician? (Definition, Skills and Education)

What are the disciplines of forensic science?

The American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS), which is the largest forensic science organisation in the world and promotes advancements in forensic science, recognises 11 disciplines in forensic science. They are:

  1. anthropology

  2. general science

  3. criminalistics

  4. jurisprudence

  5. questioned documents

  6. psychiatry & behavioural Science

  7. toxicology

  8. pathology/biology

  9. odontology

  10. engineering & applied sciences

  11. digital & multimedia Sciences

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Do forensic scientists get paid well?

The average salary for a forensic scientist is ₹24,152 per month. The exact pay may differ depending on whether you work for the state government, the central government, other public bodies or private institutions. Your forensic science skills, knowledge and experience may also influence the salary you receive.

What are the examples of forensic science?

Some examples of forensic science work are:

  • blood splatter analysis

  • anthropological analysis

  • DNA analysis

  • toxicological analysis

  • conducting autopsies

  • facial reconstruction

  • creating image composites

  • handwriting analysis

  • document analysis

  • ballistics analysis

  • financial records investigation

  • cyber crime investigation

How to become a forensic scientist

You can become a forensic scientist by following these steps:

1. Complete 10+2

It is essential to clear the 10+2 Higher Secondary Certificate (HSC) exam in the science stream, with physics, chemistry and biology, from a recognised board. You must get more than the minimally required 55% marks to be eligible for admission to colleges offering forensic science courses. The college admissions may be merit-based or based on the passing score of competitive entrance exams.

2. Pass competitive exams

You can become eligible for admission to various colleges offering forensic science courses after passing various competitive college entrance exams. Some of the entrance exams you can take are:

  • All India Forensic Science Entrance Test (AIFSET)

  • Indian Institutes of Science Education and Research Aptitude Test (IAT)

  • BHU UET or Banaras Hindu University Undergraduate Entrance Test (BHU UET)

  • Odisha University of Agriculture and Technology (OUAT) Entrance Exam

  • Jain Entrance Exam (JET)

  • Lovely Professional University National Entrance and Scholarship Test (LPUNEST)

  • Sharda University Admission Test (SUAT)

  • Integral University Entrance Test (IUET)

3. Earn a bachelor's degree

A four-year bachelor's degree can prepare you for entry-level forensic science positions such as forensic science technician, forensic pathologist or crime scene investigator. You may use forensic lab technologies, analyse crime evidence and perform dissection work. Some courses you can take are:

  • Bachelor of Forensic Science

  • Bachelor of Forensic Science (Forensic Biology)

  • Bachelor of Arts (B.A.) in Chemistry (Biochemistry)

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Laboratory Technology

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.)in Biomedical Sciences

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Anatomy and Human Biology

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Genetics and Biochemistry

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Policing Studies and Forensics

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Forensic Science and Criminology

  • Bachelor of Science (B.Sc.) in Biology

4. Acquire a master's degree

A bachelor's degree in forensics or a related field is necessary for admission to a master's degree program. With a two-year master's degree, you may be able to advance to senior forensic science positions. The subjects covered at the master's level can include DNA analysis, drug analysis, toxicology and criminalistics. You can do the following courses:

  • Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Forensic Science

  • Master of Medical Laboratory Science

  • Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Forensic Archaeology and Crime Scene Investigation

  • Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Human Anatomy with Education

  • Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Quantitative Biology and Bioinformatics

  • Master of Science (M.Sc.) in Forensic Science and Law

5. Obtain a doctorate

After getting a master's degree in forensics or related disciplines, you can consider going for a doctorate programme. You can also complete a Bachelor of Medicine and Bachelor of Surgery (MBBS) and then get a Doctorate of Medicine (MD) in forensic medicine. You can specialise in different fields such as forensic ballistics, forensic toxicology and forensic biology. A doctorate can help you with research, teaching or leadership jobs in forensic science. The course may cover subjects like advanced forensics, forensic laboratory management and law and forensic sciences. You can do the following programmes at the doctorate level:

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Forensic Science

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Analytical Chemistry

  • Doctor of Philosophy in Criminology

6. Do an internship

Internships can help you test your theoretical knowledge, gain valuable field experience and important industry contacts. Look for paid or voluntary internship positions while studying for your bachelor's degree. That can give you plenty of time to find in-depth information on forensic science jobs and decide which one you want to pursue. You may be able to find internships on online job sites or with police and fire departments, detective agencies, medical laboratories, hospitals, banks, law firms and universities.

7. Seek job opportunities

As a qualified forensic scientist with internship experience, you can work in different forensic science fields. You can work as a hands-on investigator at crime or accident scenes or work in a laboratory setting. You can decide to pursue any of the following jobs with various public and private employers:

  • crime scene examiner

  • forensic pathologist

  • forensic chemist

  • forensic toxicologist

  • forensic serologist

  • forensic medical expert

  • forensic anthropologist

  • forensic psychologist

  • forensic IT specialist

  • cyber forensic analyst

  • digital forensic analyst

  • fire investigator

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