Careers in forensic science

Information about employment in the forensic science sector, FSNI and careers, appropriate qualifications, working as a forensic scientist and where to find out about job vacancies.

Forensic science sector

Employment in the Forensic Science Sector has grown at an unprecedented rate over the last ten years, due largely to advances in technology such as the National DNA Database, and an increased reliance on forensic techniques by police forces for serious and volume crime. Forensic science is fast becoming a popular career choice for students. There are now more than 100 forensic science courses on offer at universities.

Qualifications

Entry Level post (Assistant Scientific Officer) minimum requirements are usually GCSE level, to include Maths, English and a science subject and for posts at Court Reporting Officer level we require a science based Honours Degree. For both these roles you would receive on the job training but would be expected to demonstrate knowledge of biology or chemistry techniques and practices.

It is worthwhile gaining experience within any laboratory environment. This could include work experience in a local hospital or in a school as a laboratory technician.

The majority of work carried out by FSNI is biology or chemistry based. However FSNI do offer services that would require qualifications in electronics or mechanical engineering.

Third level education

It should be noted however that a degree in Forensic Science is not the main route into forensic science in an organisation such as ours, and that we generally recruit people with good degrees or post graduate qualifications in Chemistry, Biology, Electronic Engineering, Mechanical Engineering or other related disciplines who are then trained up by us in the forensic aspects of the science.

FSNI and careers

FSNI receives many enquiries from people seeking advice or information about careers opportunities and work placements. Unfortunately, we cannot give careers advice. Owing to the sensitive nature of the work involved, FSNI is unable to offer work experience or laboratory visits. FSNI does occasionally offer placements to students studying for an MSc. However this will be dependent on the needs of the business for that year and placements cannot be guaranteed. We work closely with Universities and the Civil Service Appointments Branch to manage this. We do not accept CVs or applications directly from students.

For more information on the NICS policy on work experience and internships please go to the work experience page .

Forensic science and crime scene investigation

Don't imagine that popular TV programmes, such as CSI Miami, are a true representation of the work of a forensic scientist. The reality is very different and nowhere near as glamorous.

Forensic Scientists are separate / different from Crime Scene Investigators (CSI) or Scene of Crime Officers (SOCO). Most of the work of Forensic Scientists is carried out in laboratories where they search for, recover and analyse the trace evidence on items submitted by our customers. The scientists then interpret and report on their findings. CSI in Northern Ireland are employed by the police (PSNI) and carry out the initial examination and recovery of evidence at a crime scene. If / when further specialist or interpretive examination is required the Forensic Scientist will be contacted and requested to attend the scene of the crime.

Forensic science covers a wide range of disciplines, but its main function is to provide impartial, scientific evidence for use in courts of law.

Working as a forensic scientist

Work as a forensic scientist can involve:

  • collecting trace evidence from scenes of crime or accidents and recording findings
  • analysing samples such as hair, body fluids, glass, paint and drugs in the laboratory
  • applying various techniques as appropriate; e.g. DNA profiling, mass spectrometry, chromatography

You need a strong stomach, as some of the scenes of crime can be gruesome. Confidence is also required as reporting officers have to present evidence in court and be cross-examined by barristers. It helps if applicants have business skills as well as being technically capable. Crimes may happen at any time, so evening and weekend call outs happen regularly.

FSNI provides a broad range of services, and currently employs forensic scientists in the following disciplines:

  • alcohol, drugs and toxicology
  • biology
  • DNA
  • electronics
  • fires and explosives
  • firearms
  • microchemistry
  • physical methods
  • questioned documents
  • road traffic collisions
  • specialist fingerprints

Job vacancies

Vacancies for staff, including scientific staff are advertised in the regional press and on occasion in industry journals such as New Scientist.

Alternatively you can find current vacancies at NICS recruitment website.

Applications will only be considered in response to an advertised vacancy. FSNI does not accept general CVs.

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