Forensic scientists identify, classify and analyze a variety of evidence to reach scientific conclusions in criminal investigations. The field of forensic science has attracted many women in the past few years. In a May 2013 article in “Forensic Science Magazine,” Jenifer Smith, a professor of forensic science at Pennsylvania State University, says, “Currently 74 percent of the students in our forensic science program are young women.” However, Smith jokingly adds that unlike TV depictions of female forensic scientists, they don’t wear Prada stilettos to the crime scene and their haute couture clothing consists of white Tyvek bunny suits that cover their hair and feet.
Perform Accurate Analyses
One of the two primary goals of a forensic scientist is to accurately analyze evidence. Unlike eyewitness testimony or circumstantial evidence, forensic science provides facts, not opinions or assumptions. Proving the existence of a crime or making a connection to a crime is dependent on correctly analyzing such evidence as fingerprints; blood, semen, saliva and urine samples; and trace evidence of fibers, hair, glass, tape and gunshot residue. They may also reconstruct crime scenes in the laboratory to determine such facts as the trajectory of bullets or the pattern of blood splatters. Their work must be precise and exact to arrive at the correct conclusion.
Preserve Evidentiary Integrity
The findings of forensic scientists can be used in a variety of settings, ranging from a burglary or homicide case to validating a signature on a will or determining product liability. Since their findings can determine innocence or guilt, forensic scientists must preserve the integrity of the evidence to make sure it is not tainted, because the results of tainted evidence are inaccurate. In addition, according to the American Academy of Forensic Science, it is crucial that forensic scientists maintain accurate records and document the chain-of-custody -- with time, date, location and signature -- to further ensure the integrity of evidence.
In addition to accurately analyzing and maintaining the integrity of evidence, forensic scientists must be able to present and defend their findings. They provide information to other members of the criminal justice team, such as attorneys, investigators, judges and juries. Their expert testimony, whether oral or written, must be logical and capable of being clearly understood by lay people. In addition, forensic scientists must exercise ethical behavior. Even if they work for the prosecution and their findings exonerate the prosecution’s prime suspect, forensic scientists must tell the complete truth.
There are several factors that determine the success of forensic scientists in meeting their goals. For example, they must be skilled in the methods, materials, techniques and equipment used in forensic science. They also need a strong scientific background, critical thinking and analyzing skills, and an attention to detail. In addition, forensic scientists need excellent writing and speaking skills to convey their findings to others. They are often called as expert witnesses and must project confidence and competence in their findings.
Terri Williams began writing professionally in 1997, working with a large nonprofit organization. Her articles have appeared in various online publications including Yahoo, USA Today, U.S. News & World Report University Directory, and the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University Chicago. Williams has a Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Alabama at Birmingham.