CAREER GUIDE FOR FORENSIC SCIENTIST

SOC Code: 19-1000

Pay Band(s): 4,5 and 6          (Salary Structure)

Standard Occupational Description: All life and physical scientists not listed separately.

Commonwealth of Virginia Description: Use science to decide questions rising from crime by analyzing physical evidence found on a victim or at the crime scene. Provide expert testimony in a court of law.

Forensic Scientist positions in the Commonwealth are assigned to the following Roles in the Forensic Science Career Group:

Forensic Scientist I

Forensic Scientist II

Forensic Scientist III

While Forensic Scientists within the Commonwealth are all located within the Forensic Science Career Group, individuals may want to pursue other opportunities within the Commonwealth depending upon individual training, education, knowledge, skills, abilities, and interests.   

Other Career Group(s) that may be of interest are:

Life and Physical Science

Environmental Services

Laboratory and Research Technicians and Specialists

SKILLS, KNOWLEDGE, ABILITIES AND TASKS

(Technical and Functional Expertise)

Skills

Note: The technical and functional skills listed below are based on general occupational qualifications for Forensic Scientists commonly recognized by most employers.  Typically, you will not be required to have all of the skills listed to be a successful performer.  Recruitment and selection standards for an individual state job must be based on the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for that job as indicated in the job announcement and job description in the Employee Work Profile.

  1. Using scientific rules and methods to solve problems.
  2. Understanding written sentences and paragraphs in work related documents.
  3. Communicating effectively in writing as appropriate for the needs of the audience.
  4. Understanding the implications of new information for both current and future problem-solving and decision-making.
  5. Using logic and reasoning to identify the strengths and weaknesses of alternative solutions, conclusions or approaches to problems.
  6. Using mathematics to solve problems.
  7. Determining the kind of tools and equipment needed to do a job.
  8. Identifying complex problems and reviewing related information to develop and evaluate options and implement solutions.
  9. Conducting tests and inspections of products, services, or processes to evaluate quality or performance.

Knowledge

Note: The technical and functional knowledge statements listed below are based on general occupational qualifications for Forensic Scientists commonly recognized by most employers.  Typically, you will not be required to have all of the knowledge listed to be a successful performer.  Recruitment and selection standards for an individual state job must be based on the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for that job as indicated in the job announcement and job description in the Employee Work Profile.

The Knowledge of:

  1. Chemical composition, structure, and properties of substances and of the chemical processes and transformations that they undergo. This includes uses of chemicals and their interactions, danger signs, production techniques, and disposal methods.
  2. Plant and animal organisms, their tissues, cells, functions, interdependencies, and interactions with each other and the environment.
  3. Arithmetic, algebra, geometry, calculus, statistics, and their applications.
  4. Forensic principles, practices, procedures and techniques used to prepare, examine, analyze and identify evidence.
  5. Evidence handling, preservation and identification.

Abilities

Note: The technical and functional abilities listed below are based on general occupational qualifications for Forensic Scientists commonly recognized by most employers.  Typically, you will not be required to have all of the abilities listed to be a successful performer.  Recruitment and selection standards for an individual state job must be based on the specific knowledge, skills, and abilities for that job as indicated in the job announcement and job description in the Employee Work Profile.

The Ability to:

  1. Apply general rules to specific problems to produce answers that make sense.
  2. Read and understand information and ideas presented in writing.
  3. Combine pieces of information to form general rules or conclusions (includes finding a relationship among seemingly unrelated events).
  4. See details at close range (within a few feet of the observer).
  5. Communicate information and ideas in writing so others will understand.
  6. Arrange things or actions in a certain order or pattern according to a specific rule or set of rules (e.g., patterns of numbers, letters, words, pictures, mathematical operations).
  7. Tell when something is wrong or is likely to go wrong. It does not involve solving the problem, only recognizing there is a problem.
  8. Identify or detect a known pattern (a figure, object, word, or sound) that is hidden in other distracting material.
  9. Generate or use different sets of rules for combining or grouping things in different ways.
  10. Quickly make sense of, combine, and organize information into meaningful patterns.

Tasks

Note:  The following is a list of sample tasks typically performed by Forensic Scientists.  Employees in this occupation will not necessarily perform all of the tasks listed. 

TAccording to “My Future” web site, a forensic scientist may perform these tasks:

Tasks

  1. Identify illicit drugs.
  2. Analyze drugs and poisons in human tissue and body fluids, including blood alcohol results.
  3. Examine and compare materials such as fibers, paints, cosmetics, oils, plastics, glass, metals, soils and gunshot residues.
  4. Examine items of human and animal biological material to be compared with victims and suspects using DNA profiling.
  5. Conduct botanical identification of plant materials at trace levels and whole-plant identification such as cannabis.
  6. Conduct document examinations, both physical (e.g. handwriting, typewriting) and chemical (e.g. analysis of inks and papers).
  7. Examine crime scenes.
  8. Identify firearms and ammunition (forensic ballistics).
  9. Detect, enhance, recover and identify latent fingerprints, footprints, tool marks, shoe marks, tire marks and tracks.
  10. Examine fire and explosion scenes to establish the origin and cause.
  11. Increase the clarity of and analyze audio recordings.
  12. Produce reports, appear in court and present scientific and/or opinion testimony accurately and in a manner which is readily understood by the court.
  13. Make presentations to a wide variety of audiences on the work of forensic scientists.
  14. Keep contact with, and provide advice to, police investigators, scientists and pathologists across a broad range of disciplines.

INTERESTED?

Like people, occupations have traits or characteristics.  These characteristics give important clues about the nature of the work and work environment, and give you an opportunity to match your own personal interests to a specific occupation.  When you choose a job in an occupation that matches your own interests you have taken an important step in planning a successful and rewarding career.

The occupation of forensic scientist has the characteristics described below:

Investigative — Investigative occupations frequently involve working with ideas, and require an extensive amount of thinking. These occupations can involve searching for facts and figuring out problems mentally.

Realistic — Realistic occupations frequently involve work activities that include practical, hands-on problems and solutions. They often deal with plants, animals, and real-world materials like wood, tools, and machinery.

LICENSURE, REGISTRATION, OR CERTIFICATION REQUIREMENTS

Generally this is not required for forensic scientist positions in state government.

 A valid driver’s license may be required.

While there are no mandatory licensing requirements, most forensic scientists receive certification from one or more of the forensic specialty boards such as the American Board of Criminalistics, the American Board of Forensic Entomology, or the American Board of Forensic Document Examiners. The American Board of Forensic Toxicology and the National Registry in Clinical Chemistry both certify Forensic Toxicologists. The American Board of Medicolegal Death Investigators (ABMDI) confers the title Registered Medicolegal Death Investigator.

Entire forensic laboratories may prove their competence by becoming accredited by organizations such as the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board.

Certification is encouraged to enhance professional qualifications, growth and career progression.

EDUCATIONAL, TRAINING, AND LEARNING OPPORTUNITIES 

A wide range of expertise is required in forensic investigations. A forensic scientist may specialize in chemistry, physics, biochemistry, molecular biology, botany, geology, metallurgy, pharmacology, toxicology, crime scene examination, firearms examination, fingerprint and document examination.

The American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS) provides the following information:

http://www.aafs.org/?section_id=resources&page_id=choosing_a_career

The minimum requirement is a bachelor's degree in chemistry, biology, physics, molecular biology, or a related science. In the future, a master’s degree may be required. Many colleges and universities offer degrees and courses in forensic science. In deciding whether to get a degree in chemistry or biology, or one in forensic science, study the courses offered. At least 24 semester hours of either chemistry or biology is required and math is a must. The title of the degree is not as important as the courses taken.

The American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD) provides the following information: http://www.ascld.org/forensicstudents.html

The majority of positions within a crime lab require a bachelor's degree in a physical science. Some universities offer a degree in Forensic Science. However, if the university you are attending does not offer such a program there are other majors that you can consider. The major that you choose should reflect the forensic discipline in which you wish to work. For example, drug analysts should have a degree heavy in chemistry while DNA analysts should have an emphasis on molecular biology. If you want to work in forensic DNA analysis, you must have coursework in molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry. Courses in statistical analysis would also be helpful.

While graduate degrees are not necessary in most disciplines, they are useful in career advancement. For example, DNA Technical Leaders (usually Supervisors) are required to have a master's degree in a related field such as molecular biology. If you choose to undertake a graduate degree in Forensic Science, it is important that the program provides laboratory courses. Some programs provide an overview of the career and are intended for those in criminal justice or law. They will not help gain employment in drug or DNA analysis unless your undergraduate degree is in a physical science.

Most laboratories require applicants to undergo some sort of background evaluation prior to employment. This may include polygraphs, drug screens, or background investigations. Drug use, alcohol abuse, theft, and even excessive traffic violations are often the cause for dismissal from the application process.

To keep up with the many advances in science, forensic scientists must take continuing education courses all during their career. The Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine offers course work for continuing education. Their web site is:

http://www.vifsm.org/education/faculty.html

COMMONWEALTH COMPETENCIES

Competencies are a set of identified behaviors, knowledge, skills, and abilities that directly and positively impact the success of employees and the organization. Competencies can be observed and measured.  When consistently demonstrated, competencies make employees particularly effective in their work.  Competencies help lay out a road map to career success.  You can use the Commonwealth Competencies to help improve your individual performance by adopting behaviors that make high performing employees successful in their jobs. In this way, you can use the Commonwealth Competencies for your further professional development.

The Commonwealth Competencies are:

  1. Technical and Functional Expertise
  2. Understanding the Business     
  3. Achieving Results
  4. Serving the Customer
  5. Teamwork
  6. Interpersonal and Communication Skills
  7. Leadership and Personal Effectiveness

The above competencies may be applied to employees throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia.  They can be rank-ordered by agencies and hiring managers to represent the needs of a specific job.  The rank ordering will change depending upon the occupation, an organization's priorities, the actual job requirements, and the supervisor's preferences. 

Career success is both about what you do (applying your technical knowledge, skills, and ability) and how you do it (the consistent behaviors you demonstrate and choose to use) while interacting and communicating with others.  Hopefully, by studying the Commonwealth competencies, identifying your developmental opportunities, and working to refine your own competence, you can take charge of your career!

For additional information about the Commonwealth Competencies go to: http://jobs.state.va.us/cc_planningctr.htm.  For the competencies, we first list the competencies and then define each.  Finally, we list competency indicators; to describe what successful performance looks like. 

COMMONWEALTH CAREER PATH

Career opportunities in the Commonwealth are not limited to moving “up” to the next highest role and pay band, changing positions, or to becoming a supervisor.  That’s because most roles describe a broad group of occupationally related positions that perform a range of work that requires increased knowledge and skills.  For that reason, Commonwealth roles describe the career paths within the same or higher-level role for the same or different Career Group.  The broad salary range and the Commonwealth’s pay practices provide flexibility in recognizing career development and advancement. (Salary Structure)

For example: Forensic Scientist

PAY BAND

PRACTITIONER ROLES

 

PAY BAND

MANAGER ROLES

4

Forensic Scientist I

 

7

Forensic Science Manager I

5

Forensic Scientist II

 

8

Forensic Science Manager II

6

Forensic Scientist III

     
         
         
         

Sample Career Path

Forensic Scientist I

The Forensic Scientist I role provides a career track for forensic scientist trainees that follow a prescriptive program leading to certification to independently perform forensic science analyses within a specific forensic discipline. Duties include examination and analysis of legal evidence, preparation of reports of examination results, maintain chain of custody and protect the integrity of evidence.

Forensic Scientist II

The Forensic Scientist II role provides career tracks for forensic scientists who independently examine physical evidence and conduct appropriate analysis of a wide variety of samples, prepare certificates of analysis, provide expert testimony in criminal courts regarding evaluation and interpretation of the evidential material, and conduct peer review of other examiner’s work.

Forensic Scientist III

The Forensic Scientist III role provides career tracks for forensic scientists who are either technical experts or supervisors. The first career track is for technical experts who perform quantitative and qualitative analysis work including: analyses of human body fluids and tissues to determine the presence, concentration and effects of chemical substances; conducting research and methods development on new DNA methodologies and techniques; evaluating alternative DNA methodologies and procedures for use on casework and convicted offender samples. The second career track is for supervisors who provide: supervision and guidance to staff conducting methods development and research on new forensic DNA technologies; or, supervise a forensic work unit within a discipline by assigning work, evaluating performance, training and supervising examinations, proficiency testing and special research, and supervising unit safety and quality assurance activities.

Forensic Science Manager I

The Forensic Science Manager I role provides career tracks for technical managers in a forensic science discipline having statewide responsibility, for managers of all forensic disciplines within a regional laboratory, or for deputy directors of a statewide forensic science program. Technical managers establish protocols; develop, implement and interpret objectives, policies and procedures; manage safety, quality assurance and training programs and provide consultation to central and regional laboratories for a forensic discipline. Regional laboratory managers are responsible for the operation of a forensic science regional laboratory including the development and implementation of policies and procedures; directing forensic examination operations; recommending allocation of staff and resources; and managing fiscal and administrative activities. Deputies administer and manage statewide operational issues of the forensic science program activities including maintaining ASCLD/LAB accreditation, budget development and implementation, capital outlay project planning and implementation, development and implementation of uniform data automation systems and administration the lab information management system, inter-laboratory coordination of procedures and training, and quality assurance/quality control.

Forensic Science Manager II

The Forensic Science Manager II role provides a career track for directors of a statewide forensic science program. Managers are responsible for long range forensic science goals and objectives, legislative and funding/policy issues involving the General Assembly or the Virginia State Crime Commission, representing the agency on regional and national forensic task forces and associations, and responding to legal orders for production of information, data and/or personnel.

ADDITIONAL OCCUPATIONAL INFORMATION CAN BE FOUND AT: 

O*NET (Occupational Information Network) 

http://online.onetcenter.org/gen_search_page

Virginia Employment Commission 

http://www.alex.vec.state.va.us/

Career One Stop

  http://www.careeronestop.org/

Virginia Career Resource Network

 http://www.vacrn.net/

American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors

http://www.ascld.org/aboutascld.html