Do you fantasize about growing up to become the real version of CSI’s crime-solving forensic scientist, but aren’t sure if the job is really as exciting as it seems on TV? Although you’re right to be skeptical (and many of the law enforcement processes depicted on fictional crime shows are inaccurate or flawed), forensic science is truly an exciting field to work in. Sure, there are boring branches of forensic science like odontology, which takes a bite out of crime by studying teeth.
Crime lab analyst, on the other hand, provides diverse job duties and is similar to the experts seen on crime television shows. Forensic science careers are typically low in boredom and high in pressure — these experts are responsible for deciphering evidence which can condemn or exonerate a man. Some forensic scientists visit the crime scene, while others are required to testify in high-profile court cases. Here are some of the most exciting jobs in forensic science.
Crime Lab Analyst
The forensic science job of crime lab analyst is exactly what it sounds like: analyzing evidence in a crime lab. There are a number of different types of evidence that the analyst must study, and one or two people are typically responsible for most of them. There are some experts, however, that may only specialize in in-depth DNA analysis or highly complex toxicology studies.
The lab analyst will most likely have to examine DNA, trace evidence, tool marks, toxicology, and serology (the study of blood). Not only is it somewhat thrilling to be playing a real-life version of the game Clue, but analysts are under high pressure to deliver information with complete accuracy. The answers given by the crime lab analyst will play a major role in solving the crime and determining the suspect’s verdict. DNA findings and trace evidence can literally make or break a case.
As an unhappy example, just look at the Houston crime lab which was shut down for repeatedly producing inaccurate DNA results — one of which put an innocent man behind bars for almost 20 years. That’s the kind of pressure that can give a person nightmares.
Crime Scene Investigator
This job can be somewhat trying on the examiner’s patience and family life, considering that they have on call hours during which they may be summoned to a crime scene anywhere, at anytime (during those hours). This branch of forensic science is very much like the forensic science jobs seen on CSI and SVU; the investigator must brave hazardous weather conditions and landscapes to collect the most amount of physical evidence possible.
The investigator, ideally in good health (qualifications: one chin, lack of motorized scooter), must climb, crawl, or strain to reach every part of a crime scene in search of important clues. They are then responsible for collecting the evidence correctly, taking special care not to damage it and preserving its integrity for later examination at the crime lab. The findings (bullet casings, blood, semen, hair follicles) are recorded in a notebook and sent off to the lab, where the lab analyst will examine them thoroughly.
The investigator may be summoned to testify about his or her findings in trial, which can be particularly disturbing since the investigator has just faced the crime and then faces the person who may have been responsible for committing it. A person interested in forensic science who is considering the career of crime scene investigator must also remember the other dangers besides merely hazardous weather or situations — they will also possibly be exposed to dangerous chemicals and blood borne diseases.
While this job is definitely exciting, gory might be a better word to describe it. Just imagine bending over a mangled corpse to collect drops of semen off its mutilated, broken body. Or don’t.
Ever wanted to be Scully from the X-Files? Well that’s impossible, so you should just get over it. You can, however, get a degree in forensic science and become a forensic pathologist, which is pretty similar, only less sexy. This branch of forensic science incorporates the duties of the crime lab analyst into the extremely helpful procedure that is the autopsy.
The pathologist will perform the autopsy, exploring every crevice of the victim’s body inside and out to determine the time of death, cause of death, and to collect any evidence from the body (semen, gun powder residue, etc). This often means removing evidence from the corpse and shipping it off to a lab for further examination. The pathologist must accurately and carefully document his or her findings — which means you can have a cool tape recorder just like Scully did, bringing you just a little closer to your hopeless dream. Like other employees working in different branches of forensic science, the pathologist may also be asked to testify in court.
While spending your days trapped in a room with a dead body may sound daunting, the search for evidence and the responsibility of making important decisions (determining cause of death, making other inferential conclusions about the possible crime) which makes this career an exciting one. Even if you can’t be Scully.
Forensic Lab Director
Being the boss of things is always at least a little exciting, even if you’re just working at a hot dog factory. Make those dogs faster! Quit eating dogs on the job! It’s a combination of titillating perks: the power over others, the elevated pay, and the privilege to casually and cleanly stand over your employees while they do all the dirty work.
The forensic lab director must have incredible knowledge of forensic science to do the job correctly. The lab director oversees all the forensic scientists working there; not only does the director assign duties to each employee, but he or she is responsible for reviewing their findings after the autopsy or other research has been done. The lab director is under an immense amount of stress. Examining a report for mistakes is just as imperative as editing an article for a national newspaper; everything should be double checked to ensure that the document is as accurate as possible.
An entire crime lab — and the director’s job — can be in jeopardy as a result of inaccurate forensic data produced in the lab and sent out to trial.