How to Become a Forensic Investigator (With Duties and Skills)
Updated 20 March 2023
Forensic investigators generally use scientific procedures and mathematical principles to examine the evidence. The forensic details and evidence they present can help solve mysteries and may assist in the prosecution of alleged criminals. Knowing what a forensic investigator does and what skills they require to perform their job can help you determine whether it's a career worth pursuing. In this article, we explore how to become a forensic investigator, take a look at their usual duties and required skills and provide answers to common questions about this career.
How to become a forensic investigator
Below you can find steps that can provide guidance on how to become a forensic investigator:
1. Earn a bachelor's degree
Consider completing a bachelor of forensic science or criminology from an accredited university. An undergraduate degree can be a common requirement for entry-level roles. A degree in forensic science can broaden your understanding of chemistry, biological science, forensic evidence and DNA analysis. Your bachelor's degree might also provide you with the chance to practice crime scene investigations and develop fundamental skills, which you can use in your future career. Entry into a bachelor's degree program usually requires a senior secondary certificate of education and passing pre-requisite subjects such as English, mathematics, chemistry, physics and biology.
2. Decide on a specialisation
While still in university, you can have the opportunity to choose a forensic area that you might like to focus on. A budding forensic investigator that wants to work on latent prints or ballistics often selects elective courses that cover this line of work. The courses you choose now can determine what pathway to take for your graduate studies.
3. Look for internship opportunities
As an aspiring forensic investigator, it can be crucial to undergo professional training with a government agency. Internships and placements can be a great way of learning what crime scene investigators do and what tools they use. You may work under a senior forensic investigator who can teach you proper procedures and methods for collecting and documenting evidence. After a few months, you may work together to solve mysterious crimes. Training duration may vary by speciality, but it's often less than a year.
4. Obtain necessary certificates
Once you complete your internship, it may be a good time to consider specialty certifications. Regulatory, legislative and certification requirements can apply to investigative work in some territories. You can get certifications for fingerprint work, drug analysis, molecular biology, hairs and fibres and even paint and polymers. A professional certification can be a pathway to further learning and better job prospects in the future. It can be a good idea to check the relevant requirements with the regulatory body in your state.
5. Apply for a forensic investigator job
You can check some of the reputable recruitment websites and job boards like Indeed Jobs for entry-level forensic investigation jobs. You may find a variety of roles, such as crime scene investigator, forensic technician or forensic investigator. Reading the job descriptions carefully can help you determine which ones best match your skill set. You can then consider writing a cover letter that expounds on your skills and what you can do for the company and send it along with your CV.
Top skills for a forensic investigator
A career in crime scene investigation, fingerprint identification or firearms examination usually requires the following skills:
Communication skills: Verbal and written communication can be crucial in forensic investigations. Using these skills, the forensic investigators can discuss evidence with law enforcement, gather witness statements and prepare formal case reports for prosecutors.
Collaboration skills: Forensic investigators often lead a team of lab technicians and other law enforcement officers. Having the ability to work with a team can help forensic investigators solve crime mysteries and piece together evidence for prosecution purposes.
Forensic analysis: A crucial part of a forensic investigator's job can often be examining crime scenes and processing evidence and useful information like fingerprints and hair follicles. The evidence they gather can help law enforcers to solve a crime and produce evidence that prosecutors can use in any ensuing legal proceedings.
Resilience: When combing for evidence at a crime scene, resilience can enable a forensic investigator to handle sensitive items, including chemical hazards, firearms and biohazards.
Flexibility: Forensic investigators often split their time between crime scenes and law courts. By being flexible, the forensic investigator can perform their duties even at odd hours.
Critical-thinking: When examining crime scenes or piecing together evidence, the forensic investigator uses their best judgment. Critical thinking can help the investigator match physical evidence with DNA and the suspect's fingerprints.
Detail-oriented: It can be crucial for forensic investigators to be thorough with their work to notice small changes in ordinary objects. Having a keen eye can ensure the investigator has a good chance of gathering evidence.
Math and science skills: After collecting evidence, the private investigator often takes it for scientific analysis. They may use math and scientific principles to help them determine specifics including the victim's location and type of weapon, for example.
Problem-solving skills: Forensic investigators are often natural problem solvers who combine their aptitude, analytical skills and critical thinking to solve mysterious crimes.
Forensic investigator work environment and conditions
Forensic investigators often split their time between crime scenes, laboratories or offices. They generally use computers and specialised equipment, such as fingerprinting kits, UV lights, drug detection kits and microscopes. Various laboratory instruments, such as pipettes, test tubes and portable meters are also usually at their disposal. Because laboratory work can sometimes expose forensic investigators to potential risks, they usually wear gloves, masks or goggles depending on the materials they are handling. Forensic investigators may partner with specialists and the police and often work outside. Some may travel through various jurisdictions, cities and states piecing together evidence for prosecution purposes.
What does a forensic investigator do?
A forensic investigator usually locates, examines and processes physical evidence at a crime scene, which prosecutors may use in law courts. Forensic investigators can do this by looking at evidence from multiple sources including textile fibres, foreign particles, paint, bodily fluids and fingerprints.
Below are some common tasks a forensic investigator may complete:
Analyse data from computers, mobile phones and other electronic devices.
Identify firearms and ammunition found at the crime scene or location.
Detect, recover and identify latent fingerprints, footprints, shoe marks and tracks.
Examine the scene of a fire or explosion to determine the cause and origin.
Create and present forensic reports along with scientific opinions in court.
Liaise with and provide advice to law enforcers, legal practitioners and pathologists.
Investigate the chemical composition and molecular structure of living cells in plants and human tissues/organs.
Analyse drugs and poisons in body fluids and human tissue.
Examine and compare materials like fibres, oils, paints, plastic, glass, metals, soil and gunshot residues.
Use DNA profiling to analyse and compare human biological material with victims and suspects.
Perform botanical identification of plant materials at trace levels.
Examine the handwriting in documents and the ink or papers used.
Study objects of interest and use their knowledge to create new and better materials or products.
Supervise staff and the preparation of laboratory reports and scientific papers.
FAQs on forensic investigation jobs
The section below provides answers to common questions concerning the role of a forensic investigator:
Is forensic investigation a good job?
Working as a forensic investigator can be both a challenging and rewarding role. You may get to work with law enforcement teams to solve crimes and find evidence that helps in the prosecution of criminal suspects. If you have an eye for detail, a passion for research and solving mysteries and a curious spirit, a career in forensic investigations might be the right choice for you.
What are the qualifications for forensic investigators?
A bachelor's degree in forensic science or criminology, strong science background and past forensic laboratory experience can be beneficial for any aspiring forensic investigator. Employers often prefer candidates who demonstrate a careful and methodical approach to work, keen observation skills and good attention to detail. Other requirements may vary depending on the nature of the job.
What is the average salary of a forensic investigator?
Salary figures reflect the data at Indeed Salary at the time of writing. Salaries may vary depending on the hiring organisation and a candidate's experience, academic background and location.
The average salary of a forensic investigator is $110,000 per year. Job location, work experience and their employer can determine their final pay. Those in senior roles generally earn more than juniors in entry-level positions.
How long does it take to become a forensic investigator?
Please note that none of the companies mentioned in this article are affiliated with Indeed.
An undergraduate degree typically takes at least four years of full-time study. Some police departments accept candidates with a high school certificate. On-the-job training can take between six months to a year. To get accredited by the Australasian Forensic Sciences Assessment Body (AFSAB) as a crime scene expert, you may have to complete additional tertiary qualifications and training, which can take up to five years
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