THIS ARTICLE WAS TAKEN FROM THE YAHOO! (education.yahoo.net) SITE. CREDITS TO MR. GREG KENNERSON.
Forensics Expert Tells All
A chat with the head of a crime lab on the reality of forensics.
By Greg Kennerson
Ronald L. Singer, Crime Lab Director of the Tarrant County Medical Examiner's Office in Fort Worth, Texas, answered our questions about careers in forensics.
What are the ideal temperament and characteristics (both intellectually and personally) of someone considering a career in forensic science?
Obviously, we're looking for someone who enjoys, and excels at, science and math. However, the ideal candidate needs to have a much broader background. He or she should have an outgoing personality and be an excellent communicator.
Much of what we do ends up becoming a part of a legal proceeding - a trial before a jury, a hearing before a judge, or a deposition involving lawyers. The forensic scientist must be able to communicate his or her findings to these different groups, all with different backgrounds and education levels, in a manner that will be easily understood.
In addition, the person needs to have a fairly thick skin. Many times questioning by the opposing attorney becomes personal, and if this disturbs you, you need to find another line of work.
Is it absolutely necessary to have a bachelor's degree to find a job in the field?
The short answer to this is: "Yes, you need at least a bachelor's degree." The longer answer is that it depends on what part of forensic science you are interested in ... One does not necessarily have to have a bachelor's degree, for instance, to become a crime scene investigator. In some instances, there are still police departments that will train you to become a fingerprint specialist without a bachelor's degree. In general, though, you must have a minimum of a bachelor's degree (and in some cases much more) in order to work in this field.
How far away from the image of the forensic scientist/investigator as seen on TV (on shows such as "CSI") is the reality of the job?
They are about as far away from reality as Superman is from mere mortals. Remember, these shows are fiction, designed to entertain the audience and sell advertising time.
Forensic pathologists (such as in the show "Crossing Jordan") are not police detectives. They don't investigate and solve crimes. On "CSI" the characters do it all. They collect the evidence (what a real "CSI" would do). They analyze the evidence (actually, the job of a criminalist). They interrogate witnesses (the job of a detective). They get shot at. (In 34 years, I've never been shot at. When we do go to crime scenes, it's long after the scene has been secured.) And, they inevitably "break the case." We contribute to solving a case, but it's someone else, usually the detective, who actually puts it all together and solves the case.
In addition, the instrumentation [on the shows] is faster and can do more things than anything we actually have in the lab. I get inquiries everyday from people who lose interest once they find out that it's not at all like they see on TV.
Are there regions of the country with stronger job prospects? Is the work primarily located in large cities?
On the whole, the larger cities offer more opportunities, but the work is spread out over the entire country. Forensic pathologists (experts in the causes of death), odontologists (experts in the study of teeth), anthropologists, and other specialized types of forensic scientists are going to be in areas that can afford to hire them. That is usually areas with larger population bases. There are crime labs all over. But the larger ones tend to be in metropolitan areas, so the job prospects are generally better in those areas.
Are there any areas of the field that have come to prominence in the last five years?
I'd say right now, the biggest areas are DNA analysis and computer forensics (also known as digital evidence).
What advice would you offer to someone who already has a degree in one field (perhaps in the sciences or other relevant field) and was considering a career move into the field of forensics? What educational path might you suggest for this situation?
The first thing you need to decide is exactly what part of forensic science you're interested in. Once you've narrowed it down ("I want to work in a crime lab" or "I want to be a forensic pathologist" or "I want to be a forensic engineer"), go to a website such as the AAFS [the American Academy of Forensic Sciences], and see what the total educational requirements are.
One major misconception that I would like to clear up is the belief that you need some kind of a degree that says "forensic" in it. That is absolutely not the case. In fact, virtually all crime labs in the country require a minimum of a bachelor's degree in a life science (biology or chemistry) for entry level positions. If you're in another field with one of those degrees, then you don't need to do anything else. If you don't have that background, then that's what you work towards.
As a final note, if you have a B.S. in chemistry or biology and want a competitive edge, or if it's been a few years since you got the degree, then you might want to consider a master's in forensic science from a reputable institution.
sToRy Of My LiFe..
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