Forensic scientists work in the criminal justice system, analyzing evidence and using scientific knowledge for the purposes of the law. They work in a number of environments, from crime scenes and laboratories to colleges and universities. Typically, the basic requirement to become a forensic scientist is a bachelor's degree in forensic science or one of the basic sciences, such as biology or chemistry. Some forensic disciplines, however, require further education. There are a number of core courses a future forensic scientist should take, although a large number of courses should be chosen to reflect the type of forensic science discipline pursued.
Regardless of the discipline chosen, all future forensic scientists take two semesters of general biology for science majors, complete with lab work. The first semester includes introductions to cell biology and DNA, while the second semester typically involves ecology, evolution, and anatomy and physiology. General biology is foundational for all other course work and future forensic science careers, and is also a prerequisite for almost all advanced biology courses.
All future forensic scientists must take two semesters of general, inorganic chemistry with lab work as well. These basic chemistry courses teach essential tools for everyday analysis tasks in a forensic scientist's career. General chemistry courses cover the basic properties and reactions of the elements, and the lab work helps students develop real, qualitative skills for future experimentation and analysis in their own laboratory during their careers.
Organic Chemistry and Biochemistry
Students should expect to take two semesters of organic chemistry and one semester of biochemistry to prepare for a career in forensic science. Organic chemistry deals with the chemical reactions and properties of carbon-based molecules, which are found in living things. Biochemistry examines the properties and functions of molecules, such as amino acids and proteins, lipids and nucleic acids. Because both of these focus more specifically on the chemical reactions of living things, they are heavily relied on in forensic science careers.
Advanced Course Work
Once the core courses are completed, the succeeding courses depend on the student's future plans in forensic science. For example, at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, students may choose between the criminalistics track, which features specific criminalistics internships and laboratory work, the toxicology track, featuring courses such as forensic pharmacology, and the analytical toxicology and the molecular biology track, with courses in genetics and molecular biology. A significant amount of lab work and internship work will be helpful for job prospects.
One semester of statistics and one semester of calculus are essential for a job in forensic science. Forensic scientists handle empirical data and conduct experiments constantly, so having a strong background in data management and interpretation and mathematical formulae is essential. Graduate schools also typically require both of these math courses before admission as well.
Gale Marie Thompson's work has been published in "Denver Quarterly," "Los Angeles Review" and "Best New Poets 2012." Thompson holds a BA in English and creative writing from the College of Charleston, a MFA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and is working on a PhD at the University of Georgia.