Forensic science degrees

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
January, 2017

As technology advances, the field of forensic science continues to broaden its horizons and you can capitalise by studying for an undergraduate or postgraduate qualification

Forensic scientists make a major contribution to police investigations by collecting, preserving and analysing scientific evidence. What's more, the reliability of the other main crime-solving methods - eyewitness testimony and confession evidence - is often dependent on the use of forensics.

With cyber and financial crime on the rise, forensic science will inevitably become even more important to the UK justice system in future.

'Forensic science is here to stay,' says Robert Green OBE, director of undergraduate studies in forensic science at the University of Kent. 'The challenge is to ensure that we in academia keep a close eye on the forensic landscape as it develops, and continue to produce graduates with the necessary skillsets.'

Undergraduate study

Opportunities begin at foundation degree and Higher National Diploma (HND) level. Further education colleges such as Bridgend College, City College Plymouth, Cornwall College and Gower College Swansea, as well as higher education institutions including Nottingham Trent University, the University of South Wales and the University of Wolverhampton, offer qualifications in this field.

Bachelors degrees are on offer at a growing number of institutions. Among them are Abertay University, the University of Bedfordshire, Coventry University, De Montfort University, Keele University, Kingston University and the University of Winchester.

The topics tackled vary according to the institution's strengths. Indeed, forensic science is commonly studied alongside other closely related subjects, such as chemistry, computer science, criminology, medical science and psychology.

Most students at the University of Kent, for example, are introduced to facial recognition and other forms of biometrics, to widen their appreciation of more traditional aspects of forensic science. However, they also have the option of pursuing specialist modules taught by professionals in law and archaeology - which may lead to graduate roles such as paralegal, intelligence analyst or crime scene specialist.

Whichever university you choose, Robert offers this key piece of advice for selecting a course: ensure that it's accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (CSOFS).

Postgraduate study

Traditionally, postgraduate courses in forensic science followed undergraduate degrees in chemistry or biology.

However, most now build upon undergraduate forensic science qualifications, allowing students to focus on selected advanced topics in greater detail from an applied point of view.

Postgraduate certificates and diplomas, as well as Masters degrees, are offered by many of the institutions mentioned above, with others including the University of Huddersfield, Liverpool John Moores University, University College London (UCL), Northumbria University, Queen Mary University London (QMUL), the University of Strathclyde and the University of York.

Meanwhile, several institutions - such as Anglia Ruskin University, Staffordshire University, King's College London and Teesside University - provide specialist MPhil and PhD options.

The University of Lincoln is another institution that offers numerous programmes in the field, at several different levels of study. Jose Gonzalez-Rodriguez, reader in forensic science, encourages his students to acquire skills and experience in practical science-based subjects.

'Forensic science postgraduates gain a unique understanding of how to solve problems considering different angles and perspectives,' he explains. 'Problem solving, a tight and rigorous working philosophy and the ability to offer logical argumentations are the key skills that they can offer to future employers.'

Graduate destinations

While the majority of graduates in this subject progress into mainstream forensic science positions, but their options are anything but restricted.

For example, alumni from the University of Kent and the University of Lincoln are most commonly found within the law enforcement and security, science and pharmaceuticals, or teaching and education sectors, employed as drug analysts, DNA analysts, fire investigators or forensic anthropologists.

One University of Lincoln graduate even works at the European Space Agency (ESA) studying Martian soils using forensic techniques.

'Forensic science offers students the possibility to work in an exciting field where they can make a difference,' says Jose. 'Private and public sector employers will look favourably upon well-trained, ambitious and highly motivated forensic scientists.'

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