Career Options in Forensic Science

Forensic science is the application of a science or technology to a criminal or civil investigation. Therefore, any science or technology that is used in daily life can also be observed in a forensic investigation. While the career fields are numerous, there are some forensic careers that are a 24/7 job, i.e. traditional (T), and others that are consultants (C). Forensic consultants often work in their primary, non-forensic field, as their daily career. But when criminal investigators need their expertise on a specific case, these consultants are brought in a forensic consultant.

Below is a list of several careers that are commonly observed in forensic science. A brief description of the discipline is presented for each field.  Next to the discipline, either a T or a C is listed to indicate if this is a career field that you can apply for as a daily job (T) or if this is primarily a forensic consultant field (C) or both (TC).

Accountant (TC): Forensic accountants “combine their accounting knowledge with investigative skills in various litigation support and investigative accounting settings. They are usually employed by public accounting firms’ forensic accounting division; by consulting firms specializing in risk consulting and forensic accounting services; or by lawyers, law enforcement agencies, insurance companies, government organizations or financial institutions. They conduct forensic research to trace funds and identify assets for recovery and conducts forensic analysis of financial data.” [1]

Anthropologist (TC): Forensic anthropology is the application of the anatomical science of anthropology and its various sub fields, including forensic archaeology and forensic taphonomy, in a legal setting.” [Wikipedia] “The primary task of a forensic anthropologist is to gather and interpret evidence to assist in the identification of human remains and determined he cause of death.” [2] They are usually employed by government, i.e. FBI, and state crime labs.  Sometimes, forensic anthropologists can be employed by museums, such as the Smithsonian Institution, to help preserve and examine new specimens.

Archaeology (C): Forensic archaeologists may help the police located the site of the victim’s body or personal items through “geological and geophysical surveying techniques” and imaging or photography. They also assist in excavation and they collect and preserve anything found during the excavation for subsequent analysis. They often assist in mass casualty cases, such as mass graves during war times or bombing explosions. They can date items found in grave sites, including bones, using techniques like carbon dating. Items, such as clothes, are also dated by forensic archaeologists to determine how long the human body as been in the grave. They have knowledge of how materials degrade or decompose over time and under specific environmental conditions. [3]

Artist (TC): Forensic artists assist law enforcement by developing visual aspects of a case, such as witness descriptions and video footage. They are graphic artists that renders free-hand or computerized drawing, enhancements, and reconstructions for the criminal investigators. [4]

Biologist or Biochemist (T): Forensic biologists and biochemists use their knowledge of biology and biochemistry to assist criminal investigations. There are several sub disciplines of forensic biology:

Botany: Study of plant life in order to determine what happened at the rime scene. This is especially true when leaves, seeds, and/or pollen is found on the deceased or the suspect.

DNA Examiner: Analyze blood, skin cells, and other biological materials to determine the DNA profile of the unknown sample. They also search fabrics, i.e. sheets and clothing, to identify and collect samples of biological stains for DNA analysis.  Very often, many DNA examiners are also serologists.

Entomologist: Study of the invasion of bugs and the succession pattern of bugs and insects found on decomposing human remains. Very often different species of arthropods are attracted to different stances of decomposing remains, and an entomologist can use the information of the bugs and or their eggs to determine an approximate length of time that the remains have been decomposing. Also, Forensic Entomologists can be used to determine if a human, especially the elder population, are being neglected if specific bugs are found in their mouth.

Serologist: Analyze blood samples to determine the blood type of the sample.

Ornithologist: Study and identify the remains of birds using feathers and other distinctive items.

Taphonomy: The study of how organisms decay and turn into fossils. They study degradation events between death and burial as well as events that occur after burial.

Chemist (T): Forensic chemists use their knowledge of chemistry to assist criminal investigations. Most often forensic chemists are analytical chemists by training. Many of these sub-disciplines will utilize the same instrumentation for analysis where both the known and the unknown samples are analyzed by the same analytical techniques to determine if they may come from similar or different sources. Many of these sub-disciplines are commonly found in the Trace Evidence section. There are several sub disciplines of forensic chemistry:

Drugs: The identifying of an unknown substance that is considered an illicit or illegal drug.

Explosives: The analysis of explosives, before and after detonation, to identify which explosive was used and to identify any unique identifiers of the bomber.

Fibers: The microscopic analysis and comparison of fibers collected in order to make a determination if two fibers are from the same source or from different sources.

Fire Debris: The analysis of fire debris vapors emitted from samples collected after a fire. The primary task of a fire debris analyst is to 1) determine if there is an ignitable liquid present on or in the sample and 2) if an ignitable liquid is found then what is its classification.

Glass: The analysis of glass samples to determine the composition of trace elements in the sample and it’s refractive index. Unknown and known glass samples are then compared to determine if they are from a similar source or not.

Gunshot Residue: The chemical or morphological analysis of inorganic gunshot residue particles, which is often conducted using scanning electron microscopy-energy dispersive spectroscopy. The analysis of organic gunshot residue is often conducting using wet chemistry techniques or instrumental analysis.

Hair: The microscopy analysis and comparison of hair samples. Based on hair features, individual hair strands are often characterized. Unknown and known hair samples are compared to determine if they come from a similar source or not.

Ink Analysis: The analysis of inks found written on paper can be analyzed using spectroscopic techniques or mass chromatographic techniques. Spectroscopy techniques easily visualizes different inks that once extracted can be analyzed by mass spectrometry to determine if the known and unknown ink samples have the similar chemical formulations.

Lubricants: The chemical analysis of lubricants collected from sexual assault cases to determine the chemical formulation for subsequent sample analysis and comparison. Lubricant samples collected from the victim and/or suspect is usually collected using sexual assault kits.

Paint: The chemical analysis of paint chips and smears commonly collected from automobile crashes. Using international paint databases, analysts can often narrow down the manufacturer and/or brand of the paint sample based on their spectroscopy or spectrometry profiles.

Physical Comparisons: This is a type of comparison deals with fracture matches, such as a broken fender off of a motorcycle that is matched back to the motorcycle. Other physical comparisons would include, cuts and tears or clothing or duct tape.

Soil: The microscopic and chemical analysis of soil samples to determine if a known and unknown soil sample come from similar sources.

Miscellaneous: Anything else that does not go into any of the other disciplines will often be submitted to the Trace Evidence Section for analysis, characterization, or comparison. This could include anything like: glitter, shimmer, oil, etc.

Crime Scene Investigator (T): A crime scene investigator goes to the crime scene, after it has been secured by the police, to search for and collect probative evidence, i.e. footprint casting, latent prints, and other trace evidence, to submit to the forensic crime laboratory. These investigators will also evaluated blood spatter, body positioning, and other clues to determine what happened at the crime scene.

Digital Evidence Examiner (aka Computer Forensic Examiner) (T): Digital evidence examiners analyze information on computers, audio files, video recordings, and other digital images. [5] They analyze any piece of a equipment that stores data as 0’s and 1’s. While digital evidence examiners are commonly employed at forensic laboratories, they are also often employed by Fortune 500 companies to ensure that their data is safe.

Engineer (TC): Forensic Engineers investigate structural failures that may have been intentional and may lead to legal activity.

Medical Examiner/Forensic Pathologist (T): A medical examiner is a trained medical physician who investigates the manner and cause of death. They perform post-mortem examination of the body to determine if the death was suspicious, accidental, natural, or intentional murder.

Meteorologist (C): Forensic meteorologist “reconstruct events related to weather” that occurred in and around the time of the crime. They also solve civil crimes such as property loss and insurance claims. [6]

Odontologist (C): Forensic odontologists, i.e. dentists, help law enforcement identify degraded human remains by examining the teeth in relation to dental remains.

Patterned Evidence Examiner (T): The is one of the mainstays of forensic science and one of the oldest components of the discipline. Patterned evidence examiners have been trained to recognize patterns in to match the patterns in known and unknown forensic evidence.  There are several types of patterned evidence examiners.

Document Examiner: While document examiners have been trained to analyse shredded sample and writing impressions. But they are also trained to recognize and compare handwriting samples, such as often seen is fraudulent checks. They determine if the signature was authentic or fraudulent by comparing the signature to several known signatures.

Firearm and Toolmark Examiner: Firearm and toolmark examiner compare the striations made when a projection is fired from a gun. They also compare the toolmark impressions made by a tool on a surface, such as when a crowbar is used to open a safe, the examiner would compare the impressions made on the safe with impressions made by the suspected crowbar.

Latent Print Examiner: Latent print examiners will use chemicals and latent print powders to raise latent prints from a surface.  Once they have located a latent print, the examiner will compare the latent print to a known fingerprint to determine if the latent print came from that known fingerprint. Latent prints are considered the transfer of a visible of invisible impression of a fingerprint when someone holds/touches a surface.  These are commonly seen on glass winders, especially when the hand was oily prior to touchy the surface.

Polygraph Examiner: Polygraph examiners prepare and examine individuals to determine if they are potentially lying about an event. They report on their opinion regarding the truth and accuracy of the individual or the presence of deception. [6]

Tenprint Examiner: Tenprint examiners will compare fingerprint reference cards with an intentionally recorded fingerprint impression made by the suspect.  This is commonly useful to identify the person who recorded the fingerprint impression by comparing the intentional fingerprint with the fingerprint reference card. [7]

Photographer (aka Crime Scene Photographer) (T): Forensic photographers are professional photographers who are skilled at producing the “most exact, detailed photographs that record the crime scene” and the location of and state of any physical evidence prior to collection by the crime scene investigators. [8]

Psychiatrist (TC): A forensic psychiatrist works at the interface between law and psychiatry, where they determine if an individual is competent to stand trial. Since they are professional psychiatrists they can provide treatment via medications as well as provide psychotherapy services to criminals.

Psychologist (TC): A forensic psychologist works at the interface between psychology and the law. They understand the mindset of criminals and can provide a psychological assessment of the “suspect” to criminal investigators, which can be used to narrow down a suspect list or provide a motive for the crime. They are commonly referred to a criminal profilers. [10]

Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (aka Forensic Nurse) (TC): Sexual Assault Nurse Examiners (SANE) are registered nurses who care for patients who have experienced a sexual assault or sexual abuse. They will help the victim through the aftermath of a sexual assault and collect evidence for forensic assault using a sexual assault kit.

Sexual Assault Physician (aka Forensic Physician) (TC): Sexual Assault Physicians (SAPh) are medical physicians who are trained to collect “forensic evidence from patients reporting a sexual assault”. [9]

Toxicologist (T): Toxicologists use toxicology, chemistry, pharmacology, and clinical chemistry to understand if someone died due to poisoning and/or drug use. They often work with both the legal and the medical community.

Veterinarian (C): Forensic veterinarians will work with criminal investigators who investigate animal cruelty as well as the “examination of live and deceased animals”. [11]

Voiceprint Analyst  (C): Forensic voiceprint analysts will examine and compare the graphic representation of a person’s voice which were analyzed by a sound spectrograph. [12]

 


References

[1] Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, “Forensic Accountant,” Association of Certified Fraud Examiners, [Online]. Available: http://www.acfe.com/career-path-forensic-accountant.aspx. [Accessed 03 08 2018].

[2] Criminal Justice Degree Schools, “Forensic Anthropologist,” [Online]. Available: https://www.criminaljusticedegreeschools.com/criminal-justice-careers/forensic-anthropologist/. [Accessed 01 08 3028].

[3] Explore Forensics, “Forensic Archaeology,” [Online]. Available: http://www.exploreforensics.co.uk/forensic-archaeology.html. [Accessed 01 08 2018].

[4] Crime Scene Investigator Edu, “Forensic Artist,” [Online]. Available: https://www.crimesceneinvestigatoredu.org/forensic-artist/%5D. [Accessed 03 08 2018].

[5] National Institute of Standards and Technology, “Digital Evidence,” NIST, [Online]. Available: https://www.nist.gov/oles/digital-evidence. [Accessed 03 08 2018].

[6] Emergency Management Degree Program Guide, “What is Forensic Meteorology,” 31 05 2015. [Online]. Available: http://www.emergency-management-degree.org/faq/what-is-forensic-meteorology/. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[7] The Balance Careers, “Polygraph Examiner Career Profile,” [Online]. Available: https://www.thebalancecareers.com/polygraph-examiner-career-profile-974652. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[8] D. R. Cotton, “FIU National Forensic Science Technology Center,” [Online]. Available: https://projects.nfstc.org/ipes/presentations/Cotton_modern-tenprint.pdf. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[9] Crime Scene Investigator EDU, “What is Forensic Photography,” [Online]. Available: https://www.crimesceneinvestigatoredu.org/csi-photographer/. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[10] J. T. Ward, “What is forensic psychology?,” American Psychological Association, 09 2013. [Online]. Available: http://www.apa.org/ed/precollege/psn/2013/09/forensic-psychology.aspx. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[11] L. Morales, “Training physicians to conduct sexaul assault forensic exams,” United States Army, 06 06 2011. [Online]. Available: https://www.army.mil/article/58987/training_physicians_to_conduct_sexual_assault_forensic_exams. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[12] M. Merck, “Veterinary Forensics,” Veterinary Forensics Consulting, LLC, 2017. [Online]. Available: http://www.veterinaryforensics.com/. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

[13] Dictionary, “Voiceprint,” Dictionary, [Online]. Available: https://www.dictionary.com/browse/voiceprint. [Accessed 05 08 2018].

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