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Personal Qualifications & Qualities for a Forensic Scientist

by Ellie Williams

Forensic scientists need extensive science knowledge and an in-depth understanding of how to apply scientific principles to a criminal investigation. The job requires far more than strong technical skills, however. These law enforcement professionals must also thrive in a team environment, adapt to the sometimes strenuous and taxing demands of the job, and set their emotions aside as they investigate brutal and sometimes gruesome crimes.

Emotional Fortitude

Working as a forensic scientist requires a strong stomach and the ability to cope with emotional and physical stress. They often investigate violent crimes such as murder, rape and assault, and might examine bloody clothing or view a victim’s body or even visit the crime scene. In addition, they frequently analyze evidence contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids.These items are often unsightly and unpleasant. Forensic can’t be squeamish and can’t let their emotions get the better of them, no matter how distressing the crime scene or evidence is.

Excellent Communication Skills

While much of their job revolves around conducting experiments and running tests in the crime lab, they don’t spend all of their time in front of a microscope. As a key part of their role in a criminal investigation, they must document all of their findings and explain them in a way a lay audience can understand. They explain their results in written reports that become part of the case file and are referred to by detectives, prosecutors and other members of the investigative team. They also sometimes testify as expert witnesses in criminal trials. They need strong written and verbal communication skills and the ability to speak in front of an audience.

Commitment to Collaboration

Solving a crime requires a team effort. Forensic scientists often work closely with other law enforcement professionals, including members of the police department and sheriff's office, crime scene investigators and attorneys for the prosecution and defense. They also sometimes work with federal agencies such as the CIA, DEA and FBI and with immigration agents. Forensic scientists must work well with officials from diverse areas of the criminal justice system, and must be able to put aside their own egos and interests for the good of the investigation.

High Ethical Standards

A forensic scientist’s work can steer the direction of the investigation, by proving or disproving a suspect’s guilt, determining cause and manner of death, and guiding detectives as they look for suspects and clues. In addition, juries consider forensic evidence when considering a defendant’s guilt, and may be heavily swayed by these findings. It’s imperative, then, that forensic scientists place the truth above all else. During their analysis, they must be thorough and accurate, and when presenting their findings they must focus solely on the facts and take care not to misrepresent their meaning or assign them more significance than they have.

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