Study Forensic Science
Forensic science is commonly perceived as involving high-profile biological techniques such as DNA analysis, however, methods from materials science and analytical chemistry actually underpin the field. Like many other modern subjects, forensic science is centred around fundamental concepts and techniques from the basic science disciplines.
Study Forensic Science – What Exactly is it?
The application of science to questions of importance to the legal system is known as forensic science. Forensic science techniques for analysing DNA, fingerprints, blood stains, explosive residue and toxic substances have revolutionised the operation of the criminal justice system. Forensic science is a multi-disciplinary degree subject and is as varied as the scientific questions which it is used to resolve. Biological techniques such as DNA profiling have received regular coverage in the media but they are only one tool in the forensic science toolbox, and quite different forensic science approaches are used to determine the cause of a fatal accident, or to trace the source of a fire in a building.
In modern counter-terrorism operations analytical chemistry techniques are used to detect microscopic amounts of explosive residue which can link a suspect to a crime. Similar techniques can be used to reveal the presence of drugs or toxins on articles of clothing, or in the body. Complementary methods such as fibre analysis are used to demonstrate contact between two objects, and like the other techniques can be used to construct a case that can be presented in court to obtain a conviction.
Study Forensic Science – What Skills Will I Learn?
Relatively few forensic scientists are graduates of dedicated forensic science programs, however it's important to realise that the job market for graduates from a good forensic science course extends much more widely than just police forensic science laboratories. Analytical skills in chemistry, engineering, and materials science are highly valued by employers in sectors as diverse as pharmacology, environmental protection, food and agriculture, aerospace, and automotive engineering. Graduates with a first degree in a physical sciences subject, and who want to gain the analytic expertise to prepare themselves for a career in one of these areas can choose from a number of forensic science programmes at postgraduate level in disciplines related to forensics.
Study Forensic Science at Universities in the UK
In UK universities, most forensic science masters courses lead to the award of a MSc and comprise a taught component corresponding to 120 credits (60 ECTS) and a summer research project which provides the remaining 60 credits (30 ECTS). When choosing a graduate program in forensic science it is always important to identify one that is sufficiently broad in terms of its taught material to keep your career options open, but which still offers the possibility of studying certain topics in depth. The employment sector for graduates of masters degrees in forensic science is diverse, and most employers will provide training to new graduates in their own specialist techniques, however graduates who are already familiar with industry-standard analytical methods are particularly in demand.
Look for a forensic science postgraduate course that offers exposure to a variety of instrumentation and techniques, and has a track record of placing students in industry for their research project. Remember, a successful research project in your forensic science masters course will provide you with an ideal opportunity to demonstrate to a potential employer how you have used your own initiative to solve real research and engineering problems.
Study Forensic Science with Other Subjects
A number of universities offer postgraduate programmes in forensic materials science, or forensic engineering and a full listing is available from online resources such as the Propsects career directory which is used by most UK universities. Four universities – Heriot-Watt in Edinburgh, Cranfield, Teeside and Sheffield-Hallam – offer forensic engineering courses that concentrate on the analytical techniques that represent the key transferable skills of the subject. The research project component of such courses is often the point where students begin to focus in depth on a specific aspect of forensic science. For example, students on Heriot-Watt University's Forensic Materials MSc course have carried out industry-based projects such as the development of inverse phase gas chromatographic techniques and the biological speciation of commercial fish products. The exposure to a real industrial research environment offered by such projects is often the most rewarding part of a forensic science masters degree, and gives students the confidence to enter the employment sector with valuable industrial experience on their CV.