Forensic investigation is an important part of the justice system. People who work in forensic science careers collect, organize, and interpret evidence that may be used in criminal or civil cases. While forensics is commonly associated with law enforcement, evidence collected by people in forensic science careers may be used for the defense as often as for the prosecution.
Anyone interested in a career as a forensic scientist should aim to complete at least a Bachelor’s degree. Some of the most specialized forensic sciences may even require a graduate degree. Forensic science careers are wide-ranging, and include specialties such as pathology, odontology, entomology, and toxicology.
Forensic pathology is perhaps the most well-known of the forensic science careers. The main role of a forensic pathologist is to conduct autopsies on people who have died unexpectedly or in suspicious circumstances. When examining a body they must determine a cause of death, examine wounds and injuries, identify any disease conditions present, and also collect samples of body fluids and tissues for more extensive examination.
Toxicology is another of the forensic science careers which has become well-known to the public. The forensic toxicologist is concerned with detecting toxic substances in body fluids and tissue, and putting those results into a legally relevant context. Usually they will examine the samples collected by a forensic pathologist, to determine if any toxic substances contributed to the person’s death.
A forensic odontologist applies dental science principles identify bite marks and human remains. More than any other forensic science, odontology is important in identifying victims of natural disasters, airplane crashes, and other catastrophic events where there are very large numbers of casualties. The work involves collection of evidence such as teeth and jaw fragments from an investigation site, followed by analysis and comparison with dental records to make an identification.
Forensic entomologists use insect evidence to gather information about a person’s death. Often they examine the types of insects that are found in and around a deceased person and use this information to determine a time of death. Insect evidence is also important because insects can disturb crime scenes by feeding on or traveling through pooled blood. In these cases, a forensic entomologist can detect where evidence has been altered by insect activity.
In legal terms, the collection of psychological evidence is often just as important as collection of physical evidence. The forensic psychologist is someone who collects and analyzes psychological information that is used for judicial purposes. This type of work is often part of civil law cases, such as psychological evaluations in child custody disputes.