Why study forensic science?

Dominic Claeys-Jackson, Editor
June, 2016

As technology continues to advance, the forensic science landscape continues to evolve. Discover how you can capitalise on this exciting development by studying for a postgraduate qualification

While working as a forensic scientist isn't the only option available to forensic science graduates, it's certainly among the most popular. In this role, you'll collect, preserve and analyse scientific evidence during criminal or civil investigation - contributing immeasurably to the justice system.

What's more, the number of opportunities is growing. The profession is broadening its horizons, with the reliability of two other crime solving methods - eyewitness testimony and confession evidence - often dependent on forensics.

'Postgraduate study in forensic science offers students the possibility to work in an exciting field where they can make a difference,' explains Jose Gonzalez-Rodriguez, reader at the University of Lincoln.

What are the benefits of studying forensic science?

Until recently, most postgraduate courses in forensic science built on the traditional undergraduate degree in chemistry or biology.

Now, however, they're geared towards supporting specific undergraduate forensic science qualifications - focusing on more advanced topics than previously, from an applied point of view.

Robert Green OBE, director of undergraduate studies in forensic science at the University of Kent, says that it's inconceivable that we won't require forensic science in the future, especially given the sizeable increase in cyber and financial crime.

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

What do courses involve?

While all forensic science programmes include a significant piece of independent research, the advanced topics that are tackled will vary according to the institution's strengths. Robert says that these could range from biosciences to physical sciences.

Students at the University of Kent, for example, are introduced to facial recognition and other forms of biometrics, with the aim of widening their appreciation of more traditional aspects of forensic science.

'To be a forensic scientist, one has to be a scientist first - this is one of the primary reasons why our programme is heavily focused upon sciences,' explains Robert.

The University of Lincoln also offers a postgraduate programme in forensic science, and Jose says that students acquire skills and experience in practical science-based subjects.

'The multidisciplinary nature of the course gives forensic science graduates a unique understanding of how to solve problems considering different angles and perspectives,' he says.

'Problem solving, a tight and rigorous working philosophy and the ability to offer logical argumentations are the key skills that graduates from a forensic course can offer to future employers.'

Robert offers one key tip when choosing a course: ensure that it's accredited by the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences (CSOFS), and become a member yourself once you're enrolled. This, alongside the development of a professional portfolio, will help you to stand out to employers.

The University of Kent provides students with free CSOFS membership, giving them access to professional journals, webinars and conferences - allowing them to gain continuing professional development (CPD) credits along the way.

What do graduates do?

Graduates progress into a variety of positions - most often those within mainstream forensic science and law enforcement. Many alumni from the University of Kent and the University of Lincoln work as drug analysts, DNA analysts, fire investigators and forensic anthropologists. Others work across numerous professions within the criminal justice sector.

Some enter the teaching and education sector, or become PhD students - while one graduate even works in the European Space Agency (ESA) studying Martian soils using forensic techniques. 'Private and public sector employers will look favourably upon well-trained, ambitious and highly motivated forensic scientists,' says Jose.

As an alternative the University of Kent offers extremely specialist modules taught by professionals in law and archaeology. Students pursuing these topics may become paralegals, or enter the police service or security and intelligence services as intelligence analysts or crime scene specialists.