Careers in science

I was recently asked to write a post for CBBC on their new series on work.

Here it is…

What degrees would you recommend people taking? Is it better to have a forensics degree or a degree in more general science ie biology or chemistry?

You do not have to have a degree to work in Forensic Science. Certain roles need one but other roles do not.

There are now apprenticeship routes as well into the industry although these are limited to being laboratory only roles.

Both Chemistry and Biology degrees are equally as valuable today but so is physics, biomedical science, or any other number of sciences. Forensic Science degrees are now more common and people are accepted into the industry at different levels with it.

I always say a science degree might be better than a forensic science degree. This is because with a science degree you can work in any number of companies and locations. With a Forensic Science degree, you are limiting yourself. Again, there are exceptions and it depends on you to get the job with whatever qualifications you have.

Would people have to do a postgrad after this?

Many people do go onto Post Graduate research but these people generally (not always) remain in academia with few moving into the industry. There are always exceptions obviously but entry level positions are often pitched at a different level of education that postgrad.


What can kids do in their spare time if they are interested?

A young person needs to show the employers they are interested. Groups such as Brownies, Guides, Cubs, Scouts, Army, Navy or Sea Cadets and then into Fire Service Cadets or Police Cadets can help because they enable the young person to get a taste of the softer skills involved in uniformed services. Even if you are not joining the Police (or the others) the skills you gain such as time management, self-organisation and punctuality can really help develop you as a person. And these are some of the softer skills employers are looking for. Being in these organisations helps the employer because they will already know and understand the value of them.

It is never too early to start learning.

Is there anything they can do just now that will help their job prospects? I.e. a portfolio or something?

Joining STEM clubs and being active in groups that increase your knowledge in science whilst having fun such as those run by schools and museums.

For older students, such as those in colleges taking part in programs such as the WorldSkills UK Forensic Science competition can elevate them to a higher level than their peers. This way your CV will be higher on the list than someone who has just completed their course. Extra activities always show the would-be employer that you are keen and serious about entering the industry.

Registering and maintaining links with the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences will also help and increases your network. The more you get to know people the more they will be open to you as and when openings become available.

Other respectable courses should also be included on your CV. Ones like the Complete Forensics Introduction to Mortuary Science course, which is fully Continual Professional Development (CPD) certified, can help land you that job as it shows you have carried on learning, you have maintained your industry knowledge and you are committed to working in the industry. These extra courses also enable you to network with students and professionals and see other roles you man not necessarily think are linked to forensic science.

What school subjects are best for pursuing a career in forensics?

You can get into forensic science with 5 GCSE qualifications if you know where to go. The Army, Navy, and RAF all have forensic investigators and of course you also get many other skills by becoming a service person. The Police will also take people into their organisations with similar qualifications but A Levels or BTEC qualifications are desirable as it shows you can study at a higher level.

Forensic Science laboratories require a degree. These organisations will recruit scientists to carry out roles but they also have many other roles on offer including crime scene investigators, forensic couriers, reception and administration staff, HR and business development, and many more.

Policing agencies also have many roles that require a forensic knowledge or backgrounds. These can include crime scene investigators, crime scene managers, crime scene surveyors, exhibits officers, crime scene co-ordinators, volume crime scene examiners, submissions officers, and forensic intelligence officers to name but a few.


What key skills do you need?

Communication. Both verbal and written communication is key in any forensic science role. You may be asked to brief senior officers or even to attend court where you must be able to speak clearly, precisely and with authority on your chosen subject.

Maths is used in everyday life and forensic science is no different. You do not need to be a mathematician but a good sound knowledge of maths is essential. English is also essential both written and spoken. Obviously, science is a valuable subject.

Other key skills include being smart and neat. Timeliness and punctuality, organisation, and the ability to work both in a team and by yourself.

Points to note:

Police forces and other organisations that recruit crime scene investigators usually open recruiting internally first. As it is such an exciting role these are usually filled from within the organisation. So, try to get a job in the call handling section, or as a PCSO or in another role that you can then use to your advantage when the crime scene investigator roles are available. This also helps show the organisation that you are a capable they will already know you. It is an expensive course to become a CSI and takes several years even after you have your college or university degree (the police like to train you themselves) so they like to know they are not going to waste money.

If in doubt, ask others for help and advice. One good source is Complete Forensics who are a not for profit organisation in the UK.

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