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Forensic science or forensics is the application of a range of different sciences to answer questions that are of interest to civil or criminal law. This broad medical subject can be subdivided into various disciplines which include forensic anthropology, archeology, biology, entomology, geology, meteorology, odontology, pathology, toxicology and criminalistics. Criminalistics is also a broad discipline that makes use of various sciences to examine biological, trace, impression and ballistic evidence left behind in a crime scene.
Forensic scientists work in tandem with police investigators to collect and examine information to solve a criminal or civil case. In criminal cases, forensic scientists are usually involved in the collection of physical evidence from a crime scene. The collected evidence such as hair samples, blood, saliva and fingerprints are then examined in a laboratory and prepared into evidence admissible in courts of law. Forensic scientists perform the same function in civil cases but their analyses are directed towards resolving disputes such as road accidents for which damages are being sought.
Nature of Work
Forensic scientists' work will depend on the person's specialization. Specializations in forensic science generally fall under three categories: (1) medical, (2) laboratory, and (3) field work.
Those who fall under the medical category should expect to work on post-mortem examinations on a daily basis. They work in the morgues of crime laboratories examining bodies and determining such things as cause and time of death, etc.
Laboratory forensic scientists should expect to work indoors examining evidence such as chemicals, bodily fluids, fingerprints, signatures and other clues gathered by the field scientists. They are usually called to provide expert testimony regarding scientific evidence that are admissible in the court of law.
Field scientists find that their work is more adventurous but equally exhausting. Their task is to gather all physical evidence or clues at the scene of the crime.
Apart from being able to stomach gruesome situations, a forensic scientist must also be capable of handling sensitive information. Furthermore, one must be inquisitive by nature. In any forensics field, one must be observant and keen on details. Being able to work with a team is also essential as one will always rely on people to perform other functions.
Because forensic science is not one specific area of study but rather a combination of many different disciplines, those who wish to pursue careers in this field have a wide variety of professional courses to choose from. Depending on which field one would like to specialize in, students may take up forensics and major in archeology, biology, economics, engineering, epistemology, linguistics, psychology, psychiatry, serology, anthropology, or computer technology.
Colleges, Institutions and Universities
Below are some of the popular choices for those who wish to pursue careers in Forensic Science:
- Anna University (http://www.annauniv.edu/)
- Centre for Biotechnology, Anna University, Chennai - 600025
- Central Forensic Laboratory (http://cbi.nic.in/cfsl/about.htm)
- CFIs Complex, 30 Gorachand Road, Kolkata - 700014
- CFIs Complex, Sector 36A, Chandigarh - 160036
- CFIs Complex, Ramanathapur, Hyderabad - 500013
- Dr. Bhim Rao Ambedkar University (http://www.dbrau.com/courses.htm)
- Senate House, Paliwal Park, Agra - 282004
- Dr.Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya (http://www.sagaruniversity.nic.in/)
- Gour Nagar, Sagar, Madhya Pradesh - 470 003
- Forensic Sciences Department - Forensic House (http://www.tn.gov.in/tamilforensic/)
- 30-A, Kamarajar Salai, Mylapore, Chennai - 600004
- Karnatak University (http://www.kud.ernet.in/)
- Pavate Nagar, Dharwad - 580003
- National Institute of Criminology & Forensic Science (http://www.nicfs.nic.in/)
- Outer Ring Road, Rohini ,Sec-III, Delhi -110085
- Punjabi University (http://www.punjabiuniversity.ac.in/pages/index.htm)
- University of Delhi (http://www.du.ac.in/)
- University Road, Delhi - 110007
- University of Lucknow (http://www.lkouniv.ac.in/)
- Badshah Bagh, Lucknow- 226007
Those who would like to pursue a career in forensic science find areas in which they would like to specialize. Below are some of the most popular fields of specialization in forensics:
- Crime Scene Investigation
The most important task in this field is locating and collecting necessary evidence at the crime scene. Through analysis of the evidence, forensic scientists will reconstruct criminal events to explain what happened and possibly identify a suspect. Other responsibilities of a crime scene investigator include securing the crime scene and making sure that the possible evidences within will not be contaminated. For one to be able to specialize in this field, a diploma or a degree in forensic investigation is necessary. Those who graduate with a degree in analytical chemistry may also qualify.
- Forensic Pathology/ Medicine
The main responsibility of forensic pathologists is to examine bodies and determine the cause of death. This is important especially for cases of suspected suicide, murder, or homicide. Forensic pathologists are also important in cases of unexpected deaths due to accidents. Should there be cases of post mortem examinations on bodies that are no longer fresh, forensic pathologists must also determine the possible date and time of death. In order to specialize in this field, a masters degree in forensic pathology is necessary. Those who hold medical degrees (MBBS) with post-graduate studies in pathology may also qualify.
- Forensic Anthropology
Because forensic anthropologists have the necessary knowledge in skeletal anatomy, their roles in identifying bodies are important. In the field of forensic science, cases of unidentified victims are common. Forensic anthropologists analyze skeletal remains to identify necessary information such as age, descent, and possibly even gender and stature in case of mutilated bodies. Their roles in identification are especially important in cases of accidents, tragedies, or disasters such as explosions, plane crashes, vehicular accidents, fires, and earthquakes. Specialization in this field requires a Ph.D. in anthropology with a major in anatomy or osteology. Those with medical degrees (MBBS) and post-graduate studies in anthropology may also qualify.
- Forensic Psychology and Psychiatry
Forensic psychologists and psychiatrists play significant roles in identifying suspects because they have the ability to suggest possible psychological profiles by analyzing evidences and crime scenes. Furthermore, they may assist decision-making processes in criminal trials as they have the ability to evaluate whether a suspect may have been urged by an unhealthy mental state in the commission of a crime or whether they are fit to stand trial. They also play significant roles in treating suspects who they find to be mentally ill. For one to specialize in this field, a medical degree (MBBS) with post-graduate studies in psychology or psychiatry is required.
- Forensic Dentistry (Odontology)
Odontologists aid in identifying skeletal remains or fresh bodies through dental records. They assist criminal trials by collecting and evaluating dental evidence especially in cases where the victims' struggle has left bite marks in the crime scene or on the suspects' body. Odontologists also have the ability to reconstruct skulls to aid in identification. A degree in dentistry and a post-graduate diploma in forensic odontology are required to specialize in this field.
- Clinical Forensic Medicine
The most significant role of those engaged in clinical forensics is examining injured suspects and determining whether injuries were caused by the commission of a crime. Criminal investigations and proceedings can benefit from clinical forensics through the determination of how and when injury was sustained by the suspects in custody.To specialize in this field, one must first pursue a medical degree (MBBS) and post-graduate studies in forensic medicine.
- Forensic Chemist
The roles of forensic chemists vary depending on the nature of the case. In drug cases, they have the ability to not only determine whether illegal drugs were used but also identify the specific drugs and their components. In cases of fire, they can determine whether arson is involved by examining accelerants. Other roles of forensic chemists include examining explosive and gunshot residues or even paint, glass, polymers, and fibers which are often collected as trace evidence. The qualifications required to pursue this field of specialization is a science degree with a major in analytical, applied, or forensic chemistry.
Forensic scientists specializing in the field of ballistics are responsible for examining projectiles. This is very important especially nowadays when most crimes are committed with firearms. By determining the flight paths of bullets, the location where a firearm was discharged can be identified. In most cases, the height and distance of the shooter from a victim can also be determined through the evaluation of angles. Those who would like to qualify for this field must hold a science degree with a major in physics or other relevant disciplines. Those who have diplomas or degrees in forensic investigation may also qualify given their willingness to undergo specialized training.
Toxicologists identify whether illegal drugs or poisonous substances have been used. They have the ability to determine the specific substances used, the level of toxicity, and their effects in bodily functions. Those who hold science degrees with a major in either chemistry or biochemistry may qualify for this field.
- Forensic Engineer
Forensic engineers deal mainly with traffic accidents and fire investigations where they are responsible for determining causes of cases by reconstructing the scenes. They must also determine whether the quality of vehicles or structures is to blame.To pursue a career in this field, one must hold a degree in engineering and post-graduate studies in forensics.
Other fields of specialization include Forensic Entomology (examining insects and arthropods gathered in the crime scene), Forensic Serology (examining blood and bodily fluids), Dactyloscopy (examining fingerprints), Forensic Linguistics (analyzing content of communications), Forensic Photography (capturing all details in a crime scene for documentation and reference), Forensic Sketching or Sculpting (reconstructing faces through witness accounts), Cytology (examining bullets), and Geology (analyzing soil and rock samples gathered in the crime scene).
Career Growth & Prospects
The growth in forensic science is limited in terms of hierarchy but it can be equally exciting because along with tenure and good performance, one will find that the types of cases assigned becomes more important. Classified cases are only given to those who have proven themselves in their field.
Some forensic scientists prefer becoming professors in different institutes that offer specialized courses. This is also a good option for those who have already practiced but decided to take on a less intensive profession in the same field. Of course, professors who have much experience are able to teach in more prominent institutions and are therefore paid more.
Compensation in public agencies often start at Rs.4,000. Those with postgraduate qualifications and specializations may expect initial pay scales between Rs.6,000 and Rs.8,000. From there, remuneration will increase along with rank and tenure.
Private forensic laboratories, often found within detective and investigative service companies, are known to provide higher salaries. However, most of these companies require applicants to have enough training and experience.
Forensic scientists may also work on a freelance basis where their compensation will be computed based on the requirements of each case and not on a monthly basis.
Where to look for Jobs
Employment in forensics can easily be found in government agencies. Most new forensic scientists check for openings in the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), and several other crime investigation departments in law enforcement agencies. Others prefer to find work in private investigative or detective agencies.