Do you have an eye for detail, a curious spirit, a passion for research, and the ability to work in a team? If yes, then becoming a forensic scientist is your right career choice!
As a forensic scientist, you must be passionate about solving mysteries and be unafraid of blood and other potentially harmful substances.
Forensic scientists locate, examine, and evaluate any physical evidence obtained at a crime scene that needs to be presented in a court of law.
They must be skilled at analysing the situation, looking for microscopic signs and evidence that might otherwise go unnoticed, and understanding mathematical and scientific concepts.
Furthermore, they look at evidence from various sources, including fingerprints, bodily fluids, textile fibres, hairs, DNA, tyre markings, foreign particles, glass shards, paint, and more.
If you identify with these characteristics, a forensic science degree will open numerous opportunities for you in the exciting and challenging field of forensic science.
In this blog, you will learn how to become a forensic scientist in Australia, including the degree requirements and how much salary you can expect to live the life of your dreams.
1. What Is Forensic Science?
Forensic science uses sciences such as chemistry, physics and even biology in the forensic sector. It involves analysing and gathering evidence from criminal cases to uncover the truth.
Forensic scientists examine footprints, fingerprints, traces, blood splatter, and other remnants to determine the identity of perpetrators and present all facts surrounding criminal occurrences.
Forensic science degrees use other disciplines like computer science, engineering, psychology, physics, medicine, and other fields. To create a complete picture of a crime scene, forensics in Australia assemble interdisciplinary teams of experts and go through rigorous scientific processes.
Additionally, forensic science covers highly specialised sub-fields like forensic anthropology and medicine, environmental forensics, and entomology.
Others include toxicology drug and DNA analysis, including biological evidence. Sometimes, these fields are offered as stand-alone degree programs.
Students pursuing a Master's degree in forensic science will benefit from lab work and practical coursework. They will also gain essential skills such as scientific writing, critical thinking, analytical skills, and computer training, which will help them investigate facts.
Graduates can work in different fields, including medical diagnostic and crime laboratories, prosecutor's offices, medical examiners' offices, law enforcement, hospitals, education, criminal defence, and clinical chemistry laboratories.
2. What Is A Forensic Scientist, And What Do They Do?
Forensic scientists analyse and gather information to be used as evidence by law enforcement or in court proceedings using the scientific method. Forensic scientists work in the forensic lab, examining the evidence to determine its origin. They also operate in the field, where they get trained to recover possible evidence.
Forensic scientists must constantly research to stay updated with advances in the field and generate written analyses of their findings, sometimes called Certificates of Analysis.
They also train law enforcement personnel in handling forensic evidence at crime scenes. They are sometimes even called to testify as expert witnesses in a court of law. Generally, forensic scientists usually work for local and state governments. Still, they can also work for private forensic service providers or at the federal level.
Since analysis and evidence-gathering may incorporate a wide range of academic fields, this role can be called multidisciplinary. As an academic discipline, forensic scientists often have chemistry, genetics, molecular biology, biochemistry, biology and forensic science backgrounds.
Furthermore, you need a bachelor's degree, and some organisations may require a master's degree. It is crucial to remember that most employers prefer applicants with past forensic laboratory experience. Not only that, but it is also necessary to hold a valid driver's licence.
Other requirements may vary depending on the nature of the job. Some subfields in which a forensic scientist may work include toxicology, trace evidence, controlled substances, digital evidence, weapons, fingerprints, and DNA.
Some jobs may need candidates to acquire national qualifications, like the International Association for Identification certification for fingerprint work.
3. Major Duties And Tasks of a Forensic Scientist
Examine crime scenes
Identify illicit drugs
Using DNA profiling, examine the animal and human biological material to compare it to victims and suspects.
Generate reports, appear in court, and deliver a correct opinion or scientific testimony in a way that the court can understand.
Compare and examine materials such as cosmetics, fibres, plastics, soils, oils, paints, metals, fuels, gunshot residues, and glass.
Enhance, identify, and recover latent fingerprints, tyre marks, tool marks, footprints, tracks, and shoe marks.
Conduct document examinations, chemical (such as inks and papers analysis) and physical (such as typewriting and handwriting).
Analyse poisons and drugs in body fluids and human tissue, including blood alcohol results.
Analyse computers and gather data from different electronic devices like mobile phones.
Present your work as a forensic scientist to a variety of audiences.
Identify ammunition (forensic ballistics) and firearms.
Conduct whole-plant identification (for instance, cannabis) and botanical identification of plant materials at trace levels.
Analyse and improve the clarity of video and audio recordings.
Examine explosion and fire scenes to establish the cause and origin.
Examine items of interest, apply what they learn to design and develop new materials, products, and processes, and enhance the current ones.
4. Skills Required To Become A Forensic Scientist in Australia
Here are some common skills required to become a Forensic Scientist in Australia:
The ability to work independently and in a team.
An unbiased, logical, and systematic approach to problem-solving.
The ability to communicate scientific information to non-experts.
Good colour vision.
Strong oral communication and writing skills.
The ability to do meticulous, analytical work with great care and attention to detail.
The ability to meet deadlines.
An enquiring mind and a persistent approach.
5. Steps To Become A Forensic Scientist In Australia
The training and education necessary to start a career in forensic science may vary based on the student's goals.
Aspiring forensic scientists can follow the steps below to get a sense of where they will be in the coming years:
Step 1: Earn a Bachelor's Degree
A forensic scientist will need a bachelor's degree for most entry-level positions.
Forensic science technicians also require a bachelor's degree. Still, they may end their studies and find an excellent entry-level position to provide them with on-the-job training.
It is essential to remember that many organisations prefer or require that candidates hold a master's degree in forensic science.
Step 2: Decide on a Specialisation
At this stage, students need to pick what area of forensic science they want to focus on. For example, a forensic science technician who wants to work on ballistics or latent prints will enrol in elective courses focused on these topics.
Furthermore, students who wish to work at greater responsibility levels, such as forensic medical examiners or psychologists, should begin their graduate studies.
Step 3: Get a Master's Degree or Doctorate (If Applicable)
Individuals who decide to continue their education should earn a master's degree and then complete a doctorate if their professional objectives allow it.
A forensic science master's or doctorate will not be available in certain circumstances. Instead, the student might have to seek a degree in a broader field with a forensic science speciality.
Step 4: Complete Degree Requirements (If Applicable)
The work continues once the degree is obtained. Many people who pursue an advanced degree may need to complete many years of intensive training before practising their chosen profession.
A medical examiner, for example, must attain a medical degree to work. At the same time, a forensic odontologist must have a dental degree (dentistry) to practise. Before undertaking their forensic science roles, these individuals must undergo many years of training.
Step 5: Participate in On-the-Job Training
Working in a forensic science profession requires hands-on work experience via teaching and training. Although some bachelor's programs provide students with this opportunity, it differs from on-the-job training.
The training period may last somewhere between months to many years.
Step 6: Get Certification
Forensic scientists are encouraged (and, in some cases, mandated) to get specialty certifications in some Australian states or territories. Even though these certifications are not required to enter this industry, they might help you get a better job in the future.
Some possible certifications include fingerprint work, drug analysis, molecular biology, paints and polymers, hairs and fibres, and more.
6. How Long Does It Take To Become A Forensic Scientist?
You may require additional training and tertiary qualifications (up to five years) to get accredited "as a crime scene expert" by the Australasian Forensic Sciences Assessment Body (AFSAB).
Those wishing to work in a police department can enter this role with just a high school certificate, as recruits get six months to a year of on-the-job training.
7. How Much Does a Forensic Scientist Earn in Australia?
According to PayScale, the average Forensic Scientist's salary is AU$71,032 in 2023.
Work experience, Job location, and the employer are factors that determine their final pay. Those working in senior positions usually earn more than juniors in entry-level roles.
Salary based on experience:
Entry-level (< 1 year experience): AU$70,515 per year
Early career (1-4 years of experience): AU$70,502 per year
Mid-career (5-9 years of experience): AU$71,450 per year
Experienced (10-19 years of experience): AU$75,904 per year
Nedlands, WA, is the highest paying location for Forensic Scientists in Australia, where they can earn an average yearly salary of AU$166,971.
8. Is Forensics In Demand in Australia?
Forensic science opens career options in several areas, including illicit drug testing, trace evidence examination, toxicology, and DNA analysis.
Forensic Scientists are in demand throughout Australia in the following areas:
Chemical, food, and pharmaceutical industries
DNA-based forensic science
Drug and chemical detection
Chemical, food and beverage, pharmaceutical, and environmental laboratories.
Potential Career Opportunities
Forensic Science Technician
Forensic Computer Analyst
Forensic Technical Assistant
9. Who is The Largest Employer For Forensic Scientists in Australia?
Forensic scientists primarily work in local and state governments. They may also find jobs for private providers of forensic services.
Some of the potential employers include:
Forensic Science SA
Defence Science and Technology Group
Australian Federal Police
Victorian Institute of Forensic Medicine
10. Where To Study A Forensic Science Course In Australia?
Several universities offer forensic science courses and crime scene investigator courses in Australia. Here is a list of some universities that you might be interested in.
Griffith University's Bachelor of Forensic Science is a three-year degree offered at its Nathan campus. It is the first of its type in Queensland. Through this course, you will participate in a moot court and learn from forensic specialists who have worked on actual cases.
The other two options for majors include Forensic Molecular Biology or Forensic Chemistry.
Western Sydney University
WSU offers a three-year Bachelor of Medical Science (Forensic Mortuary Practice) program at its Hawkesbury and Campbelltown campuses. This degree combines forensic and medical science, which might help you pursue your post-mortem assistant or forensic pathologist career.
In the last year of the course, you will also have the chance to engage in a work placement with the FASS (Forensic and Analytical Science Service).
Deakin University in Australia offers a Bachelor of Forensic Science program at their Waurn Ponds campus. This course may help you improve your skills by practising in their specially designed crime scene training facility. As part of your study, you also participate in a moot court and visit a courtroom.
Edith Cowan University
With ECU's Bachelor of Science (Biomedical Science) focusing on Forensic Science, you will get to study forensic science in WA (Western Australia). This program lasts for three years at the Joondalup campus.
Additionally, you will get to learn in cutting-edge forensic laboratories and receive hands-on experience in the ECU Health Simulation Centre's simulated crime scenes.
Flinders University offers a three-year Bachelor of Science (Forensic and Analytical Science) degree at Bedford Park. There are two options available: Forensic Biology or Forensic and Analytical Chemistry — you can choose to study either of the two streams.
You will also get the opportunity to conduct honours research with an industry partner and work in one of Flinders' laboratories.
Stay calm if you are still looking for a university near you. There are also several online choices that you can consider. CQ University's Bachelor of Science (Criminology and Psychology) degree is a great choice. It combines psychology, criminology, law, sociology, and forensic science.
Even though the program is online, you will still have the option to finish a work placement as part of your degree.
11. What Are The Pros and Cons of Being a Forensic Scientist?
To pursue a career as a Forensic Scientist, it is essential to familiarise yourself with the advantages and disadvantages associated with the profession:
Unique and interesting field
High pay rate
Diverse job opportunities
Various subspecialties include medical examination, criminal intelligence analysis, toxicology, fingerprint analysis, forensic biology, and forensic chemistry.
Potential to make a positive contribution to the society.
Emotionally rewarding (as Forensic Scientists play a significant role in protecting the community and ensuring a fair justice system.)
Positive job outlook
You get to use sophisticated scientific tools to solve complicated issues.
Enjoy working with different professionals, including legal experts, law enforcement, and medical personnel.
You may require working on tasks such as crime lab analysis, crime scene investigation, and courtroom testimony.
Stressful and demanding work
It may require working long and inconsistent work hours and under strict deadlines. You may need to respond to crime scene calls on holidays, late nights, or weekends.
Unpleasant or risky work environments.
Exposure to disturbing images.
It may require working with unpleasant people in challenging situations.
12. Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What Is The Lowest Salary For A Forensic Scientist?
According to PayScale, the lowest pay for a Forensic Scientist is AUD 60k per year.
What Field of Forensics Makes The Most Money?
Forensic science is a lucrative field, with Forensic Science Technician being the highest-paying position in Australia.
Here are the top Forensic Science careers and their national average salaries.
Forensic Science Technician, AU$168,929 per year
Forensic analyst, AU$138,225 per year
Forensic Technician, AU$115,102 per year
Forensic Biologists, AU$110,156 per year.
Forensic Pathologist, AU$100,369 per year
Forensics Investigator, AU$93,892 per year
Crime Scene Investigator, AU$84,728 per year
Forensic Computer Analyst, AU$82,424 per year
Forensic Accountant, AU$72,729 per year
Forensic Psychologist, AU$72,450 per year
Forensic Scientist, AU$71,032 per year
What Are The Three Primary Skills All Forensic Scientists Must Possess?
Forensic Scientists with the below skills succeed in their profession:
Critical thinking (quantitative reasoning and problem-solving)
Keen Observation and attention to detail
What Is The Average Age of a Forensic Scientist?
The average age of forensic scientists is 40 in Australia.
How To Become A Forensic Scientist in Australia Online?
Aspiring Forensic Scientists can find several online courses to study Forensic Science. The online Bachelor of Science (Criminology and Psychology) degree at CQ University is a great choice.
It provides you with fundamental skills and knowledge of forensic science and related areas such as psychology, law, sociology, and criminology. Though the course is online, students can complete a work placement for their degree.
Is It Hard To Do Forensic Science?
Yes. Forensic science is highly competitive, so finding the right job in this profession is challenging. Gaining relevant higher education and certifications can help you get started in this field.
What Degree Is Best For Forensics?
The following degrees prepare you to work in a Forensic Scientists role.
Is Forensics High Paying?
Forensic scientists are well-compensated, earning an average of AU$ 71,032 per year. Besides, high pay rates, job security, high career growth, and diverse job opportunities are the other appealing aspects of this field.
On top of the annual salary, Forensic Science Technicians also receive sick leave, vacation, holiday pay, and retirement plans. They might also be entitled to benefit packages that include dental, health, and life insurance.
What Is The Highest Degree of Forensic Science?
Candidates with a Bachelor of Science (Honours) or Master of Science (Research), have professional qualifications and experience or are interested in high-level independent research training can pursue this doctoral degree.
Is Forensics A Stressful Job?
A career in Forensic science can be rewarding. However, there are a few drawbacks that you should consider before studying for this career.
Some of the potential disadvantages of working in a forensic scientist profession are:
Crime scene investigation can be a horrific experience that can take a significant emotional toll on a few professionals.
Longer and irregular work hours are the major con of this profession. Forensic scientists may have to work at any time of the day or night based on the occurrence of the crime.
Those who work in labs or on crime scenes might face risky materials and environments. When on the field, they may get exposed to extreme weather conditions.
If you want to know the hardest part of being a forensic scientist, working under tight deadlines, particularly the first 48 hours after the crime, causes a lot of stress for professionals.
Daily, dealing with negativities, including crime, death, etc., may cause depression.
Due to the demanding workload, forensic scientists may face pressure to work fast while always being precise and thorough. It can be mentally draining for many employed in this position.
What Is The Difference Between Forensic Science and Criminology?
Forensic Science and Criminology differ in the job duties, training, and methodologies used to accomplish the goal.
Forensic scientists analyse evidence as a standard protocol and use scientific evidence analysis to link the suspect, crime, and crime scene.
On the other hand, criminologists study varied aspects of a crime to understand the primary cause of criminal behaviour and ways to address it to prevent future crimes.
To become a Forensic Scientist, you usually require a postgraduate qualification with specialisation or a doctorate in related fields.
However, you can enter a criminologist role with a bachelor's degree in criminology or criminal justice /certification in criminology or criminal justice / or training.
Forensic Science - Chemistry, Dactylology, biology, toxicology, etc.
Criminologists - Victimology, bio-criminology, psychology, penology, etc.
Type of Training Involved
Forensic Scientists undergo training concerning collecting and analysing evidence to present findings in court.
Criminologists are trained to interpret the data they collect by visiting prisons, police stations, and recreational centres.
Forensic Scientists use scientific technologies that are acceptable in a court of law. Conversely, criminologists use interviews, surveys, case studies, and statistical analysis to reach their conclusion.
Involvement with Criminal Law and Justice
Forensic Scientists provide factual data based on the scientific analysis of evidence and present their opinion in court.
Criminologists work with the justice system in crime investigation, custody, court trial, and post-custody life.
Can a Forensic Scientist Become A Crime Scene Investigator?
Forensic scientists and Crime scene investigators (CSI) are part of the investigation process and share similar qualifications; however, their work settings might differ.
A role as a CSI is ideal for those who like working at a crime scene to assess the situation and determine the evidence types related to the crime.
However, those who prefer a scientific approach to finding answers, i.e., by examining evidence in a lab without visiting the crime scene, should consider becoming a Forensic Scientist.
Qualified Forensic Scientists can work as crime scene investigators if they have the following:
A strong understanding of the legal system, evidence collection and storage and forensic analysis, and
An undergraduate/associate degree in forensic science or a related field like criminal justice or criminology.
Accredited "as a crime scene investigator" by the Australasian Forensic Sciences Assessment Body (AFSAB), which would require additional tertiary qualifications and training.
Besides academic qualifications and experience, employers also value specific skills, such as solid observation skills, great attention to detail, and a cautious and methodical approach, in a candidate for a CSI role.
What Is The difference Between A Forensic Scientist and a Forensic Pathologist?
Both these roles differ from each other in the following ways:
You don't need any specific certification, higher education course, or training program to be a Forensic Scientist. However, the higher education and training requirements for forensic pathologists are stringent.
Forensic pathologists must attend 4-years- medical school and a year-long fellowship after completing their bachelor's degrees.
Forensic scientists may require spending some time at a crime scene. However, a forensic pathologist rarely visits the scene of a crime. Their job is limited to laboratories that analyse dead bodies or evidence from the crime scene.
Type of Analysis
Forensic scientists and pathologists may differ based on the type of analysis they perform. A forensic pathologist performs toxicology tests and examines the signs of physical impact on dead bodies.
On the other hand, a forensic scientist assesses and runs tests to perform a different type of analysis on crime scene evidence. These may include debris, wildlife traces, document alterations, effects from armaments, etc.
Areas of Specialisations
The area of specialisation is another factor that distinguishes Forensic scientists from Forensic pathologists.
Forensic scientist's specialisations:
Psychiatry and behavioural science
Forensic pathologist's specialisation:
Odontology, meaning forensic dentistry
The average annual salary of a Forensic scientist in Australia is AU$ 71,032. At the same time, Forensic Pathologists earn an average salary of AU$100,369 annually.
What Is The Difference Between A Forensic Scientist and a Forensic Biologist?
Both these roles play a significant role in the investigation, but they have some differences in them, such as:
Type of Analysis
Forensic scientists conduct tests and assess factual data backed by scientific methods to perform various crime scene evidence analyses.
Forensic biologists run biochemical tests to advanced molecular biological analysis to determine the source and nature of biological material found at a crime scene. Besides the generic forensic science skills, forensic biologists also need specific biological skills to perform their job.
Scope of Specialisation
Both roles offer a range of specialisations but in different areas, such as:
Psychiatry and behavioural science
The earning potential in both roles also differs due to their work responsibilities, specialisation, and work experience.
The average annual earnings of Forensic scientists and Forensic Biologists in Australia are AU$ 71,032 and AU$110,156, respectively in Australia.
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