Training (World of Forensic Science)
As a rule, the training for a forensic scientist involves the attainment of at minimum, a bachelor's (four year college or university degree) in criminal justice, biology, chemistry or the physical sciences, psychology (or one of the behavioral or social sciences), or forensic technology. Many colleges and universities have begun to offer degrees in forensic science, with concentrations in areas such as toxicology, pathology, or criminalistics. Many forensic scientists choose to pursue a master's or doctoral degree in their specialty area. In the United States, there are currently no mandatory requirements for specific licensure in forensics. Most forensic scientists, however, choose to obtain professional certification or accreditation from one or more of the nationally recognized forensic specialty boards, such as the Forensic Toxicologist Certification Board, the Association of Forensic Document Examiners, the American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators, the American Board of Forensic Odontology, the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners, the American Board of Forensic Anthropology, the American Board of Criminalistics, and the American Board of Forensic Sciences.
The activities of forensic scientists all stem from the concept of using science in its myriad forms to attempt to answer questions regarding the who, what, where, when, why, and how of crimeor all avenues of the law enforcement and legal justice systems. During the investigation of a crime, or at a crime scene, they may identify and collect samples, package and preserve evidence, photograph and measure, sketch, draw, and model, estimate timing, stage, and reconstruct events, and help to develop a literal and psychological picture of the crime and its perpetrator.
In laboratory settings, forensic scientists examine blood, fingerprints, fiber, clothing, serum and tissue, saliva, semen, and other substances that may contain DNA or other physiological identifiers in order to create a unique physiological profile. They assess weapons, drugs, paint, and other materials for their relationship to the criminal event. Forensic scientists examine decomposed or fragmented human remains and build models of their likenesses in order to facilitate identification; they gather and synthesize physical and behavioral evidence to create offender psychological profiles; they examine and identify questioned documents; they construct, conduct and analyze polygraph, galvanic skin response, and other physiological tests; they conduct forensic psychological and psychiatric assessments and evaluations for both criminal identification and culpability (fitness to stand trial, competency, criminal responsibility, assessments relating to the sentencing process, etc.). Part of the job of a forensic scientist is to document, analyze, interpret, and report findings and the measures used to achieve them, for the criminal justice and legal systems. Forensic scientists are often called to courtrooms as expert witnesses.
Forensic scientists may work in the field at crime scene investigations. They may also be employed in the private sector, state, federal, or military crime or toxicology labs, in law enforcement agencies, at hospitals and other emergency or trauma centers, in universities or training academies, at medical examiner's or coroner's offices, or at private forensic science consulting firms.
In addition to careers within the legal, criminal justice or law enforcement systems, a small sample of specialty areas within forensic science include: forensic nursing (may work in many areas of forensic science, from emergency wound and trauma care to coroner's offices, to crime scene investigation, to victim and offender counseling to consultation to expert witness work); forensic psychiatry and forensic psychology (can run the gamut from psychological profiling to psychodiagnostics to competency and culpability assessments and evaluations to psychological autopsies to expert witness testimony); criminalistics (the analysis, comparison, identification, and interpretation of physical evidence); crime scene investigation (all aspects of documenting, identifying, collecting, preserving and transporting evidence from the location of occurrence); document examination (all aspects of identification and authentication of handwritten, typed, printed, and electronic documents); forensic engineering (crash, blast, accident, and structural failure analysis); forensic anthropology (using physical anthropology techniques to locate, recover and identify human, and sometimes, animal remains, and to reconstruct models or likeness from decayed, decomposed or fragmented remains); forensic entomology (estimating time of death, or time since death, and studying corpse decay and decomposition via analysis of insect populations and insect larvae); forensic linguistics (studying the legal aspects of written and spoken communication, evaluating confessions and the results of interrogation, courtroom use of linguistics, etc.); forensic photography (use of cameras for recording all possible aspects of a crime scene, from all available angles, in order to create a minutely detailed pictorial documentation of the event); and forensic odontology (examination of the teeth of corpses for the purposes of identification; making casts and models of bite marks on victims and at crime scenes in order to identify the person who inflicted the bite).
No matter what the area of specialty, the objective of a forensic scientist is to apply the rules and methodology of science to the criminal justice and legal systems. Forensic scientists may do their jobs anywhere from actual crime scenes to laboratory settings, to hospitals, to medical examiner's offices, to computers, to consulting offices, to courtrooms and beyond. They may be employed by local, state, military, or federal law enforcement or criminal justice systems. They may be trained in criminal justice or in the physical, biological, social or behavioral sciences. They may come from other fields of undergraduate work and then pursue graduate training and specialization in forensics, or they may have academic training specifically in the forensic sciences. They may begin in law enforcement or criminal justice, and then pursue academic training in forensic science. The occupational world of the forensic professional is ever expanding, and will continue to keep pace with advances in science and technology.
SEE ALSO Archaeology; Autopsy; Casting; Crime scene investigation; Identification; Medical examiner; Photogrammetry.