If you'd like to put your scientific mind to use solving crime, consider a career as a forensic scientist. Learn more about available courses
Contributing to police investigations by collecting, preserving and analysing scientific evidence, the work of forensic scientists is essential as the reliability of other crime-solving methods such as eyewitness testimony and confession evidence is often dependent on the use of forensics.
With cyber and financial crime on the rise, forensic science will become even more important to the UK justice system.
Dr Esta Bostock, lecturer in forensic science and Dr Anna Williams, principal enterprise fellow in forensic anthropology, both of the University of Huddersfield, believe that forensic science has it all. 'Through a combination of intrigue, rigorous science, detective work and evidence interpretation, it allows students to use their analytical skills, their strong stomachs and their powers of deduction to work out what happened at scenes of crime and to find the truth.'
Forensic science degrees
To become a forensic scientist you'll need a minimum of an undergraduate degree. This could be in a science-related subject such as chemistry or biological sciences, or more specifically a degree in forensic science.
An increasing number of universities across the UK provide forensic science degrees but you'll need to do your research when choosing a programme - as not all equip you with the skills and knowledge needed to work as a forensic scientist. The best advice is to opt for a course that is accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (CSFS).
The topics tackled vary according to the institution's strengths. Forensic science is commonly studied alongside other closely-related subjects, such as chemistry, computer science, criminology, medical science and psychology.
Accredited institutions include:
- Anglia Ruskin University
- De Montfort University
- Liverpool John Moores University
- London Southbank University
- Northumbria University
- Nottingham Trent University
- Staffordshire University
- Teesside University
- The University of the West of England
- University of Central Lancashire
- University of Kent
- University of South Wales.
To gain a place on the BSc Forensic and Analytical Science at the University of Huddersfield, you'll need to achieve BBC at A-level. The course takes three years to complete full time but can be extended to four to include a placement year.
Modules include 'Practical Forensic Science 1', 'Analytical Science 1' and 'Data Handling for Forensic Science' (year one), 'Crime Scene and Forensic Examinations', 'Biology for the Chemical and Forensic Sciences' (year two) and 'Advanced Forensic Biology and Toxicology' and 'Forensic Science and the Law' (year three/four if you opt for a placement year).
'During the course you'll be able to focus not only on the theory that could set you up for a choice of careers, but also on gaining sought-after practical skills,' explain Dr Bostock and Dr Williams.
'You'll get to grips with a wide spectrum of topics in lectures, problem-based tutorials, lab classes and purpose-built crime scene facilities.'
At De Montfort University the three year (four with a sandwich year) BSc Forensic Science includes core modules such as ‘Forensic Imaging and Photography’, ‘Essentials of Forensic Investigations’, ‘Bodies, Tissues and Fluids’, ‘Issues in Criminal Justice’, ‘Fire, Arson and Explosions’ and ‘DNA Profiling’. Graduates of the course have gone to work for LGC Forensics, Orchid Cellmark, GSK and Reckitt Benckiser. Tuition fees for UK and European Union (EU) students cost £9,250 in the 2020/21 academic year.
While postgraduate study isn't essential, it could increase your employability. It also provides a good grounding in the subject if your first degree is in an unrelated area.
'Postgraduate study can really help students to stand out from the crowd. Doing a Masters demonstrates that you are determined, dedicated to the subject and have a thirst for knowledge. It also allows you to specialise and narrow your expertise,' says Dr Bostock and Dr Williams.
Dr Chris Shepherd, senior lecturer in forensic science at the University of Kent agrees. 'The skills gained during postgraduate study better prepare students for future roles. There is greater emphasis on independent study and accountability for work and research, which falls closely in line with what may be expected in the forensic and science sector as a whole.'
To get onto the one-year MSc Forensic Science at Kent, you'll need a 2:1 in forensic science or a forensic-related subject.
'By studying forensic science, students officially learn how science is applied within the legal system,' explains Dr Shepherd. 'Students are trained to become exceptional scientists, who are adaptable, inquisitive and able to transfer their skill set to a range of potential situations.'
Key modules include, 'Contemporary and Advanced Issues in Forensic Science', 'Substances of Abuse', 'Major Incident Management', 'Fires and Explosions' and 'DNA Analysis and Interpretation'.
'The programme has two main focuses,' says Dr Shepherd. 'It teaches high level analytical and drug chemistry, alongside the management skills required to investigate incidents of varying severity, from small misdemeanours to national infrastructure disasters.'
The one-year Forensic Science MSc at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan) costs UK and EU students £6,900. 'There are different routes through the MSc at UCLan, with students all doing the core subjects of 'Research Methods’, ‘The Expert Witness in the Legal Process’, ‘Crime Scene Strategy’ and ‘Research Project’ says Dr William Goodwin, reader in forensic genetics, School of Forensic and Applied Sciences. 'As students move through the course they focus more on chemistry, biology, fire, anthropology or CSI. All routes finish with a three-month research project.' You'll need an upper second class degree in a related subject for entry.
Forensic science jobs
The sector is incredibly competitive and qualifications alone are rarely enough.
'Work experience gives you the opportunity to step out of the classroom and into the real world,' says Dr Bostock and Dr Williams. Look for institutions that give you the option to undertake a placement year, working for an organisation related to your area of interest.
'This is when you'll be able to see your knowledge in action, pick up invaluable skills and boost your employability,' they add. 'Work experience helps you to hit the ground running after graduation. Previous forensic science students at Huddersfield have undertaken placements with West Yorkshire Analytical Services, Yorkshire and Humber Scientific Support Service, BICs Laboratories and the Medical Examiner's Office in Vietnam.'
However, Dr Shepherd cautions that specific forensic science experience is hard to find owing to the sensitive and legally important nature of casework. That said general scientific experience within the wider pharmaceutical, analytical chemistry and science communities will be useful.
While most graduates progress into mainstream forensic science positions, your options are far from restricted. As well as the science and pharmaceuticals sector you could also find employment in law enforcement and security and teacher training and education.
'Graduates of the BSc in Forensic and Analytical Science at Huddersfield have gone on to work for police forces as forensic scientists or crime scene investigators, forensic science laboratories, analytical laboratories or for universities in a teaching capacity,' add Dr Bostock and Dr Williams.
You could also work as a drug analyst, DNA analyst, fire investigator or forensic anthropologist. 'Several of our graduates have gone on to work as DNA analysts in industry and some have also gone on to become forensic biologists and chemists,' says Dr Goodwin. ‘Some get the research bug, while others decide to go into careers such as joining the civil service.’
To impress potential employers, Dr Shepherd offers this advice, 'Be confident, well prepared and be ready to draw on your own work and educational experience to support your answers during the application and interview process. Anyone can have a particular skill but not everyone can back it up with evidence.'
Find out more
- Read an overview of the science and pharmaceuticals sector.
- Learn more about pharmacy courses.