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What Are the Good & Bad Things About a Forensic Scientist?

by Terri Williams

Forensic scientists provide the evidence needed to identify and either exonerate or convict suspects. This career choice requires a bachelor’s degree in forensic science or another area of science. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that forensic scientist technicians earned an annual mean wage of $55,730 as of May 2012. As with most careers, there are advantages and disadvantages to being a forensic scientist.

Significant Work Contributions

Some people may wonder if their job makes a difference or if they’re just wasting time while drawing a paycheck. However, forensic scientists don’t have to wonder if they’re making a meaningful contribution. Their job entails such tasks as reconstructing crime scenes, determining the trajectory of a bullet, or testing blood and other bodily samples to establish DNA links. They present their findings to detectives and lawyers, and often provide expert testimony during trials. As a result, forensic scientists can find fulfillment in knowing that their work may be the deciding factor in determining guilt or innocence.

Challenging Working Conditions

Forensic science is not for the faint at heart. On a regular basis, these professionals may be exposed to grisly and macabre crime scene material, which can get depressing over a period of time. Also, forensic scientists work under the stress of knowing that often a case may hinge solely on their results. They may be put in a difficult situation if detectives or prosecutors are confident that a suspect is guilty, but the evidence doesn’t support their theory. However, forensic scientists can’t be swayed by the opinions of others - or even by their personal opinions. They must be objective at all times and they must be ethical enough to allow the evidence to speak for itself.

Plentiful Job Opportunities

The BLS projects employment for forensic scientists to grow by 19 percent from 2010 to 2020, which is above the 14 percent projected growth rate for all occupations. Also, the American Academy of Forensic notes that there are several specialty areas for forensic scientists to choose from, although the educational requirements may vary. For example, forensic dentistry identifies human remains in criminal investigations, natural disasters and terrorist attacks. Forensic scientists who work in digital and multimedia sciences analyze photographs and video and audio equipment to establish timelines or authenticate digital material. In addition, forensic scientists may use their skills to determine if the signature on a will is valid, or if a company is breaking environmental laws.

Potential Job Hazards

Forensic scientists handle a variety of bodily fluids, including blood, saliva and sperm. “Forensic Magazine” warns that there’s not one particular type of glove that shields hands from all hazardous materials, so forensic scientists should always know which gloves to use for which application. However, the magazine also warns that no glove provides 100 percent protection against tears or leaks, so extreme care should be exercised when handling hazardous materials. In addition, there are several kinds of forensic lab equipment that use UV light. Forensic scientists should examine UV shields and covers for cracks or other types of damage, in addition to always wearing full lab gear -- which includes goggles -- when working with UV light. Overexposure to UV light can burn the eye’s cornea and also cause burns to other exposed areas such as the face, wrists and neck.

About the Author

Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

Photo Credits

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