How to make it in your chosen career

Job description (what it says):

Job description (what it says):

Provides impartial scientific evidence for use in court to support the defence or prosecution in criminal and civil investigations.

Job description (what it means):

Apart from prodding corpses, you can also look forward to examining minute contact traces of blood, hairs, clothing, glass, mud, body fluids etc in order to help find out whodunit. For the more squeamish, there is the possibility of specialising in drug analysis and toxicology where you will examine tissue specimens for poison detection, and analyse blood and urine samples for alcohol such as in drink-driving cases. Other specialised forensic scientists examine firearms and bullets, documents and handwriting, or work on new forensic techniques and computer-based services. Most of your time is spent in the lab, and occasionally at crime scenes, and, when you're experienced, in courts of law, where you'll be cross-examined.

Qualifications:

A second-class degree in any science-based subject. An MSc or diploma in forensic science isn't compulsory, but will please the interviewer. If you want to really impress, convince him or her that you are also persistent, and have an enquiring mind and excellent communications skills.

Way in:

There is massive competition, with fewer than 25 vacancies per year throughout the UK. Send speculative applications to Forensic Science Service in Birmingham for any English laboratory. For Scotland and Northern Ireland, send speculative applications to regional laboratories. Also contact private companies and police service.

Starting Salary:

£17,150-£17,496 although graduates will often start on the assistant forensic scientist scale of £13,750-£14,429. In five years you could be earning between £20,000 and £30,000.

Perks:

A good conversation piece at parties. What's more, freelance work - which is better paid - is possible after considerable experience has been gained in areas such as firearms and handwriting analysis. Experienced forensic scientists can set up their own company.

Drawbacks:

You may get dragged out of bed at 3am to visit local crime scenes, but stress and distress are all in a day's work.

Read: New Scientist

and everything displayed on the Forensic Science Service website: www.fss.org.uk

Icon:

Denzel Washington in The Bone Collector.

Need not apply:

You're considered over the hill if in your late twenties, and you're unlikely to be considered if you're colour-blind.

Career prospects:

Depends entirely on ability, broad-based experience and success. Mobility may improve prospects. Rather flat career structure with bottleneck at senior forensic scientist level.

Do say in the interview:

"I guessed every ending in the Prime Suspect series. Who needs Helen Mirren when you've got guys like us?"

Don't say in the interview:

"I can't bear the likes of Prime Suspect. Far too gruesome for me."

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