How to Become a Forensic Scientist
Jason Linville, Ph.D. is the director of the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s Forensic Science program. Linville describes the differences between the media's depiction of forensic science in the media and the reality of the job. He also describes the difference between forensic scientists and crime scene investigators and the best way to gain an education in this field.
Jason Linville: There’s been recently a lot of interest in forensic science especially due to forensic science portrayal in the media and on television, shows like CSI. On television, in the movies, in the media – it’s all sort of blended into this one area, whereas in reality forensic science is sort of separated in the investigative side of forensic science and the laboratory side of forensic science.
The forensic scientist mainly stays in the laboratory and conducts their work from the laboratory. The crime scene investigator, on the other hand, is mainly in charge of collecting evidence at the crime scene.
Now, the crime scene investigator is sort of a tricky career in that a lot of cities and states, different agencies, handle their crime scenes differently, so not every crime scene investigator is going to have exactly the same background or the same experience or even the same tasks on their job. Their background is more criminal justice and the work they do is where they come into the crime scene. They’re in charge of processing the crime scene, collecting the evidence, but they don’t really participate on the investigation – that’s more of the detective’s work and they don’t really participate in the analysis because that’s more of the forensic scientist’s work in the lab.
In many cases, it’s helpful to have some forensic coursework in your background to help you actually obtain employment with an agency or go on to graduate school like, here at UAB, we have a master’s in forensic science program and through that additional graduate education you can sort of learn how to specialize and apply the knowledge that you already have in biology and chemistry to the forensic field.