So, you’re fascinated by the world of forensic science, have watched every single crime show out there and are curious to find out what a job as a Forensic Scientist actually involves?
Well, we’ve done a little investigating ourselves and have had a chat with someone who really knows the industry.
Let’s take a closer look!
Meet Professor Claude Roux
He has played a huge role in the development of forensic science through his research, teaching and leadership within the industry — both within Australia and overseas!
How did you end up in this role?
Towards the end of his PhD in Lausanne, Switzerland, a job for a lecturer position at UTS came up in an email discussion group — so he decided to apply for it.
“Essentially, all the selection criteria, it was a perfect, almost a perfect fit. So I got the job, then it was a three year contract to start with and here we go — now it’s 25 years,” he said.
So he got the job, made the big move to Sydney and the rest is history!
Studies and Experience
Professor Roux completed a four-year Bachelor’s degree in Forensic Science — which was equivalent to an Honours degree and a PhD in Forensic Science at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland!
When he started, there were around 20 students in his cohort which was the biggest class the university had in forensic science back then! And today, Professor Roux told us that there can be around 2000 students studying forensic science in Australia at any given time — so you can see how this emerging field has developed and continues to!
He completed his PhD on the evaluation of fibre evidence.
“I was really fascinated by how we can make micro traces speak … trying to understand the evaluation — what does it mean if you find some matching fibres in a case? You know, can you say, yeah, that’s the culprit, or how do you express that information?” he said.
What made you want to work in this industry?
“So at that stage [in high school], I really liked science and technology. But I was also quite passionate about law and at some stage, I thought I should really study law,” he told us.
Professor Roux then made some inquiries about the forensic science program at the University of Lausanne and knew it was the right decision for him because he could combine his passion for science, technology and law.
What is a Forensic Scientist?
First of all, it can be a little tricky to generally answer this question because there are multiple disciplines within forensic science. You’ve got forensic scientists working in the field, at the crime scene trying to collect traces, then there are forensic scientists who work in the lab, then there are the ones who evaluate all the information and take it to court.
“The way we apply forensic science can be very different, depending on which part of the forensic science process you work,” Professor Roux said.
He told us that forensic science is “all about trying to get the best information possible from traces and provide that information to various stakeholders.”
So a forensic scientist uses their scientific knowledge to gather and analyse information from crime scenes in which the evidence and their findings is used in court.
Roles and Responsibilities
A typical day for a Forensic Scientist can vary depending on what area of forensic science you’re working in!
“It’s very diverse … it’s why I love it, because there is no one single day that is exactly the same as the other one,” Professor Roux told us.
Professor Roux gave us an overview of the various roles and responsibilities he can have from day to day — there isn’t really such a thing as a typical day for him:
- Teaching students at the university
- Attending a research group meeting about a particular research project
- Meeting with and/or supervising a PhD student
- Visiting an industry partner to discuss a project/work on a project (it could be the NSW Police Force, NSW Health Forensic Laboratory or even the Federal Police in Canberra)
- Writing a scientific paper, reviewing a scientific paper that has been submitted
- Writing and examining research proposals or grants
- Preparing for a conference overseas (for example, attending a meeting at the International Criminal Court in The Hague, Netherlands)
- Working on a real case
When working on an actual case, he said, “I can be like a forensic scientist in real life and have to either do some analysis myself or or I’ve got the report and all the information and again, I give my opinion and inform a barrister, for example about the kind of questions they should ask,” he said.
Which industries can this career be found in?
There are quite a few different industries that involve Forensic Scientists. Some of the main ones include:
- Law enforcement
- Medical and diagnostic laboratories
- Scientific research and development
Characteristics and Qualities
When Professor Roux was asked about the skills involved with a career in forensic science, he said, “It’s really about scientific reasoning, critical thinking, being able to make sense of very complex, incomplete and uncertain data.”
He also mentioned that communication skills are “very important to be able to convey the information to lay people.”
And of course, you’ve got the basic scientific skills — physics, chemistry, how to handle data and statistics and so on.
According to the Good Universities Guide, to become a Forensic Scientist, you should:
- Have good communication skills
- Remain unbiased when examining potential court evidence
- Engage in logical and lateral thinking
- Work well within a team
- Have initiative and motivation
- Have observation skills
Steps to Becoming a Forensic Scientist
What should you study?
If you’re interested in the general field of forensic science, then a Bachelor of Forensic Science is the way to go!
UTS offers a great program where you can specialise in one of four different majors: Crime Scene Investigation, Chemistry, Biology or Digital Forensics.
A lot of people then go onto complete postgraduate studies but it really depends on what area you’re most interested in.
Professor Roux told us that if you want to be a forensic pathologist, this is a forensic specialty which means you actually need to study medicine first and then specialise.
How long does it take to become a Forensic Scientist?
An undergraduate degree in Forensic Science usually takes between 2-4 years. If you wish to do a Masters in Forensic Science, that’s another 2 years.
Professor Roux said that it’s important for students to understand that a degree doesn’t necessarily equal a job straight away. Instead, he said that the degree “gives them a good passport and then with this passport, they can open doors and then people will still have to make their way.”
He explained that the best way to get a foot in the door is to work on research projects within the industry while you’re still a student.
In terms of specific programs/software that Forensic Scientists use, it depends on the area you’re working in.
Professor Roux explained: “Across the board, you can expect to use a Laboratory Information Management System (LIMS) and other types of software assisting with the chain of custody, that is so we know who is doing what with any exhibit in a case.”
“Otherwise, imaging and statistics apps would be commonly used in addition to software driving analytical instruments and common office software. Of course people working in digital forensic science would make use of many more digital tools to extract and analyse data,” he said.
What will this career look like in the future?
How in-demand is this career?
As Professor Roux told us, there are roughly 2000 students studying forensic science in Australia at any time. However, there aren’t 2000 jobs in forensic science which can make it a bit tricky for students to get jobs — but at the same time, there are also emerging disciplines and fields of forensic science.
He explained how digital forensic science is “a new area that is really brewing” because we leave so many digital traces and our world has become increasingly digitised. So, this is an emerging field which opens up new kinds of jobs.
Professor Roux’s advice was to “be innovative and see where your skills can take you.”
Are there opportunities to grow or specialise?
Since Forensic Scientists are needed in a number of different industries and there are different disciplines, there is definitely room to move around.
Alongside this, there are always opportunities to contribute to emerging research.
|Annual Salary||Future Growth||Skill Level Rating|
|$93,000+||Moderate over the next 5 years||Very high skill|
Influential Trends and the Future of this Industry
There are quite a few trends influencing forensic science — the main one being trying to make forensic science more effective.
Professor Roux explained how “there are still a lot of lawyers saying that forensic science is not good enough — still a lot of debate here trying to be better at the evaluation.” He believes this debate will continue.
Another major trend is digital forensic science. Now, this doesn’t come as a surprise because we are all connected by our digital devices which means cybercrime has become more of a threat.
Professor Roux also mentioned how bringing the laboratory to the crime scene is an emerging trend. So, being able to do quick analysis and get results at the crime scene.
Best Thing & Worst Thing
What do you enjoy most about this job?
For Professor Roux, there was a combination of things that he enjoys most about the job.
“One thing I found, which is really fantastic, is it’s a discipline which is still very new. So you feel that you contribute to a discipline that is being shaped,” he said.
He told us that he also enjoys “trying to use your [his] scientific knowledge to address real life problems.”
“You know, how your scientific knowledge can be used to solve crime and cases — not only solve, but also disrupt, and prevent some cases and so you’ve got this big, potential societal impact which I think is very motivating,” he added.
Alongside this, Professor Roux said he likes the critical thinking that is involved with forensic science because “it’s always like a giant puzzle.” He also told us that “there are so many passionate people in forensic science.”
“I think that there is a level of camaraderie — that maybe I’m wrong — but I feel it’s difficult to find in some other more established field, so this is fantastic.”
What do you feel is the worst part of this job?
“I mean, it depends on what part of forensic science you work in but especially if you do crime scenes, you are really in direct link with probably, some of the most horrible things you can see in life,” he said.
Advice for Aspiring Forensic Scientists
What do you wish you had known before you started working in this career?
“I don’t think I’ve got anything — I mean, I really enjoy the ride and I enjoy the surprises!” Professor Roux said.
“Before I started, when I went to have a bit of a chat with the university, they told me: don’t study this, because there aren’t any jobs. But then the field completely changed so I feel I’ve been in really good places at the right times,” he added.
Why should people consider taking on this career?
“It’s a fascinating field. It’s a fascinating discipline. Now I understand that not everyone will find it fascinating. But if you approach it the right way, it’s really fascinating,” Professor Roux said.
Tips for Getting Started in the Industry
Professor Roux explained that it’s important to think carefully about what type of forensic science you’re interested in before starting.
“If you want to do some kind of mainstream forensic science, I would say, definitely, you need to make sure that you like science, you know — it’s not a soft way to study science,” he said.
Professor Roux mentioned that it’s a good idea to have a chat with and get advice from recent graduates and people in the industry.
“I mean, again, it depends what type of forensic science you do,” Professor Roux said.
Some people have more 9-5 jobs while working on crime scenes is usually shift work and you would be on call. Some people have their own businesses (for example, a document examiner) which means they can be more flexible.
What is the workplace culture like?
Professor Roux said that it’s a “difficult question” because it really depends on the type of forensic science and the culture of the organisation you’re working for.
“From a sociology viewpoint, forensic science is complex as it includes three main epistemic cultures: law enforcement, science and law; and the interface is challenging but crucial. At a general level, there is significant camaraderie in forensic science and people support each other at the workplace and also socially,” Professor Roux said.
Tanna Nankivell is a Senior Content Writer at Art of Smart Education and is currently in Germany completing a year of study for her double degree in Communications (Journalism) and Bachelor of Arts (International Studies). She has had articles published on Central News – the UTS Journalism Lab and wrote a feature piece for Time Out Sydney during her internship. Tanna has a love for travel and the great outdoors, you’ll either find her on the snowfields or in the ocean, teaching aqua aerobics or creating short films.