Forensic science covers a broad range, from the statistical evaluation of glass evidence to the development of new molecules to aid in the visualisation of fingerprint residues.
A career in forensic science
Forensic science is the application of science to matters of law. As our knowledge and technical expertise in science increases, so does the complexity and importance of the science presented to the courts in the legal system.
Forensic scientists perform a wide range of tasks, which may include some or all of the following:
- visit crime scenes to find evidence
- take notes and draw sketches of crime scenes
- analyse physical evidence such as fibres, glass, debris, firearms, bullets and marks made by tools or weapons
- identify drugs found on people, in body fluids or at crime scenes
- analyse biological evidence such as hair, blood and other body fluids
- analyse body tissues for poisons
- write reports on the results
- give evidence in court
- investigate civil court cases such as fire or insurance claims
- train police staff in collecting evidence.
Becoming a forensic scientist
To become a forensic scientist you need to have a minimum of a Bachelor of Science (BSc) majoring in an element of forensic science such as chemistry, biochemistry, biotechnology, medical laboratory science or molecular biology, depending on which area of forensics you want to specialise in.
Strong competition for forensic science roles means that even with a BSc you will usually start out as a senior science technician.
Chances of securing a scientist role are higher if you complete a postgraduate course such as a Masters or Postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Science at the University of Auckland. These courses include practical components so you can gain applied experience in the field.
The Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR) is the supplier of forensic science to the New Zealand Police. Together with The University of Auckland in 1996 they jointly introduced a set of postgraduate qualifications in forensic science:
The New Zealand Police have a number of forensic roles for civilians, and roles where you first need to train as a police officer. Civilian forensic roles include fingerprint officers and crime scene analysts. There are different entry requirements for each specialisation, with most roles requiring a minimum of an undergraduate degree before being accepted into a structured career development programme.
Gemma Nancollis studied toward to a Master of Science specialising in Forensic Science and graduated in 2016. Previously, Gemma studied for a Postgraduate Diploma in Forensic Science and completed this qualification in 2015.
“I’ve always wanted to work in science, and have been drawn to forensics in particular.
“The University of Auckland is the only university that offers postgraduate study options in Forensic Science and the forensics programme has a fantastic reputation.
“The great thing about the forensics programme is the fact that it is run in conjunction with the Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), who is the sole provider of forensic services to the New Zealand police. It means we are learning from the personal experience of a wide range of forensic practitioners and experts in their fields, and gives us the opportunity to get a great insight into the actual workings of the forensics field.
“Going into this qualification my hopes were that it would lead to employment in forensic casework. I am currently working at ESR in their forensic research team and it is fantastic putting into action all the skills and knowledge I have spent the last two years refining.
The Master of Science (MSc) programme enables you to pursue advanced study in your area of interest with the opportunity to work on independent research.
Graduates have been employed in the positions shown below, as well as other roles with scientific organisations or manufacturers.
- Customs officers
- Document examiners
- Fingerprint examiners
- Forensic scientists or technicians with ESR
- Forensic geologist
- Independent forensic scientists
- Laboratory technicians
- Patent officer
- Pharmaceutical representative
- Police: uniformed police officers, scene of crime officers, CIB
- University academic