MadSci Network: Other

Re: what is it really like to be a forensic scientist?

Date: Thu Sep 18 10:21:36 2008
Posted By: Dale L. Laux, Staff, Serology/DNA, Ohio Bureau of Criminal Identification
Area of science: Other
ID: 1221679091.Ot

Greetings Nessie,

I don't know of the show 'True CSI' but real-life forensic work is not like what is shown on television. I always tell young people that if you want to do what they do on CSI, go into acting. The real-life forensic scientists conduct meticulous examinations on all sorts of evidence ranging from tiny fragments of hair or fiber, to blood stains, to bullets and weapons to automobiles. They search for evidence that may indicate that the suspect had contact with the victim in some way and in doing so, have transferred some 'evidence' that can be associated back to an individual or an item. Crimes are not solved in an hour and may take weeks or months of work. And most importantly, no one analyst can go to a crime scene, collect physical evidence and take it back to the lab to conduct all the scientific tests. It's very specialized with experts doing work in specific areas of science.

For instance, one analyst may examine a bullet removed from a victim and compare it with a bullet fired from a suspectís weapon. Another analyst may find a bloodstain on a suspectís shirt and conduct DNA analysis to determine whether it's consistent with the victim's type.

A typical day for me involves working in the lab on cases which generally involves use of a microscope, weighing out chemicals, preparing solutions, photographing evidence, etc. I write my notes long hand. I then use a computer to prepare reports that are sent to a submitting police department. I may have to go to court and testify as an expert witness in a case. I may meet with police and attorneys on an upcoming case for trial. Occasionally I will go to a crime scene to assist in the collection of physical evidence.

I must stay up on the current literature so I may read a scientific article or answer emails such as this one in the afternoon.

I also train the new scientists in our section of the lab, conduct tours of our facility and give lectures to young students, college students, police and prosecutors.

As you can see, it's an exciting job and there are many things to do that keep you busy. But the work is always different and no two cases are exactly the same.

Financially, the pay for forensic scientists is usually very good, especially in the government sector, and the benefits are usually quite good such as holidays and paid sick days.

Most of all, I get a satisfaction of helping people by aiding in solving crimes. Sometimes our work shows that someone in jail is truly innocent and that is very rewarding.

Nessie, although real-life forensics may not be as glamorous as what you see on television, it's a very rewarding career. I wish you all the best and good luck.


Dale L. Laux
Forensic Scientist

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