Forensic scientists are needed in a variety of settings and if you'd like to use your passion for science to uncover the truth, you'll need a degree as a minimum. Learn more about available courses and how they can prepare you for the working world
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.
'For scientifically minded, logical and inquisitive types, a degree in forensic science is a fantastic option,' says Dr Eleanor Graham, senior lecturer in forensic science at Northumbria University.
'With a sound footing in the traditional disciplines of biology, chemistry and mathematics, forensic science courses allow students to learn in a practical and applied way, bringing the theory to life with real-world scenarios, from the crime scene to the court.'
Dr Jennifer Miller, associate professor of forensic science at Nottingham Trent University highlights the variety of opportunities a degree in forensic science can afford 'Normally seen as working on criminal cases, forensic science can also be used in range of industries where quality management and investigations to resolve challenges or fact find after incidents or accidents is needed. A forensic expert is a scientist whose knowledge and opinions can be used and applied to any type of investigation.'
Which are the best universities for 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).
Accredited institutions include:
- Anglia Ruskin University
- De Montfort University
- Liverpool John Moores University
- London Southbank University
- Keele University
- Northumbria University
- Nottingham Trent University
- Robert Gordon University
- Staffordshire University
- Teesside University
- The University of the West of England
- University of Central Lancashire
- University of Derby
- University of Lincoln
- University of Kent
- University of South Wales
- University of Strathclyde
- University of Wolverhampton.
The Universities of Bradford, Dundee, Greenwich, Kent, Staffordshire and Strathclyde, as well as Nottingham Trent and Northumbria University all feature in highly in 2023 subject rankings.
This is not an exhaustive list. To see if your institution of interest is accredited see the CSFS.
Do I need to do a forensic science degree?
To become a forensic scientist you'll need an undergraduate degree as a minimum. This could be in a science-related subject such as chemistry or biological sciences, or more specifically a degree in forensic science.
Forensic science is commonly studied alongside other closely related subjects, such as chemistry, computer science, criminology, medical science and psychology.
To gain a place on the BSc Forensic Science course at Northumbria University Newcastle you'll need to achieve 120 UCAS points - grade B in A-level biology, chemistry or applied science. The degree takes three years to complete but you can opt for a four-year sandwich option, which includes a placement or a period studying abroad. Core modules include:
- Practical skills in forensic science
- Cell biology and genetics
- Trace analysis
- Body fluids and blood pattern analysis
- DNA profiling
- Complex casework
- Advanced forensic investigation.
Tuition fees for UK students in 2023/24 currently stand at £9,250.
'Forensic science courses at Northumbria place a strong emphasis on practical experience to enhance and consolidate the more theoretical learning done in the traditional classroom,' explains Dr Graham. 'Students are able (and encouraged) to get hands-on experience using industry standard instruments and specialist forensic equipment. In additional to laboratory-based work, we also have a dedicated crime scene facility, allowing us to generate some very authentic scenes for students to visit. We also have a mock courtroom where we deliver expert witness training.'
The BSc Forensic Science at Bournemouth University takes four years to complete, with an optional placement year. You'll need 104-120 UCAS points for entry including a minimum of two A-level passes or equivalent. If you don't meet these criteria the institution offers a foundation year to help prepare you for degree-level study.
Can I study a postgraduate course in forensic science?
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.
'For those who wish to become a forensic scientist, or scientists working in other commercial laboratories, there is no requirement to hold a postgraduate degree, however the experience gained during the Masters dissertation project could convey an advantage over those with a Bachelors level qualification,' says Dr Graham.
Dr Miller agrees 'Postgraduate study allows you to consolidate and expand knowledge gained during your BSc and explore career opportunities you may not have considered before. You will study subjects in greater depth and may focus on specific areas. You'll acquire new technical skills and greatly improve key transferrable ones such as communication, teamwork, self-reliance and attention to detail.'
On the one-year, full time MSc Forensic Science at Nottingham Trent University you'll be taught six modules including Forensic expert, Analytical toxicology, Bioarchaeology and Advance topics in forensic science before completing a research project in your chosen specialism. Full-time fees for UK students in 2023/24 cost £9,300. Learn more about your postgraduate funding options.
'The course focuses on three main specialist areas, bioarchaeology, toxicology and biometrics,' explains Dr Miller. 'Students undertake forensic analysis as toxicologists, or recover human remains as forensic archaeologists, and are cross examined as experts on their reports in a mock Crown Court setting. Work-like learning is embedded across the MSc degree, from the use of industry-standard paperwork to scenario-led practical exercises. Academic staff are either current or previous practitioners, so students learn from industry specialists.'
To get onto the one-year (two part time) MSc Forensic Science programme at the University of the West of England (UWE) you'll need a minimum of a 2:2 in a related subject. Core modules of the course include Crime scene investigation, Advanced forensic analysis, Interpretation, valuation and presentation of evidence and Forensic research project. For full-time UK students in 2023/24 the course costs £,9,500.
What are my career options?
The sector is incredibly competitive and qualifications alone are rarely enough for forensic science jobs.
Work experience gives you the opportunity to step out of the classroom and into the real world. Look for institutions that give you the option to undertake a placement year, working for an organisation related to your area of interest.
Dr Graham points out that due to the sensitive and legally important nature of casework, forensic science providers do not offer work experience to students. However, Masters level students often have the opportunity to complete their final dissertation project within a commercial forensic laboratory.
'For those seeking to boost their CV ahead of graduating, experience in any laboratory environment would be beneficial,' she adds.
Dr Miller provides the following examples. 'Look for work experience in laboratory settings including those in schools, colleges and the NHS. Approach police forces, museums, commercial archaeology and archive companies.'
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. Remaining in academia to pursue a PhD is also an option.
Studying forensic science, you'll gain a number of transferable skills such as:
- attention to detail
- problem solving
- communication (verbal and written)
- time management
- methodical thinking
- the ability to follow guidelines and procedures
- working within a team
These can all be put to use within law enforcement (Criminal Justice agencies, police force support work, crime scene investigation, forensic laboratory analysis,) general science analytical laboratories, pharmaceutical companies, the toxicology and analytical chemistry sector and the insurance industry.
'Graduates are well prepared to pursue a career in forensic science directly but will also be eligible to apply for jobs in different scientific areas such as environmental science, analytical chemistry and molecular biology,' explains Dr Graham.
Recent graduates of the course at Northumbria now work for Cellmark, Eurofins, Key Forensic Services, Procter and Gamble and Akzo Nobel. They've also been recruited to police forces and the Prison and Probation Service, as well as the National Crime Agency (NCA).
Graduates of the MSc at Nottingham Trent University are now police officers, crime scene managers, fire investigation officers and fingerprint identification officers.