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Career with forensic science

Overview and definition

Forensic science is primarily concerned with the application of scientific principles for the investigation of crime. Forensic science is the acquisition and analysis of scientific data for application to the study and resolution of crime, investigation, civil and regulatory issues, and criminal identification. Using the very latest in technology, forensic scientists convert the clues collected from a crime scene into evidence admissible in a court of law. It is the use or application of science in courts or legal proceedings. This is a challenging and interesting field for those who have are inquisitive and loves adventure.

Forensic Science is essentially a crime laboratory-based profession. But the expertise of a forensic professional is also used in civil cases for issues like proving the validity of a signature on a will, to a claim of the products liability, to find out whether an industry is complying with environmental rules.

Forensic science is not a discipline or branch of science, but is a catch-all for many distinct disciplines. It is broadly grouped into three: Medical, laboratory and field science.

Opportunity trend

Due to the sharp rise in the incidence of crime and fraud, there is an acute shortage of forensic scientists in the country. Opportunities exist in government organisations such as the Intelligence Bureau (IB), the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), the CID, the Central Police Organisation (CPO), the crime cells of state police forces as well as in large private detective agencies.

Forensic experts essentially work in forensic labs to establish the link between the criminal and the crime by analysing the physical evidence (hair, fibre, fingerprints, blood, semen, discharged bullets, etc.) obtained from the scene of the crime. They match voices, examine bullet injuries to determine the trajectory of the bullet, investigate signs of struggle before a victim was killed, conduct experiments with dummies to establish how the crime was committed and carefully reconstruct the scene of the crime to find vital clues.

Contrary to what you see in films, this is not a glamorous field. Instead, there’s a great deal of hard work involved. You may have to make endless appearances in court.

Even law graduates with a science background would find knowledge of forensic science very useful in framing their arguments and countering the opposition. However, autopsies can only be conducted by an MD in forensic medicine. They can also work as teachers in institutes that conduct courses in this subject.

Educational qualification

One can do graduation in forensic science (B.Sc. Forensic Science). To take up a masters course in forensic science you need to be a graduate preferably with a first division in Physics, chemistry, zoology, botany, biochemistry, microbiology, B.pharm, BDS or applied science. Most forensic science lab positions require at least a Bachelor's degree in physical science. Majors that are required depend on the area in forensic science you wish to go into. According to international standards drug analysts should have a degree heavy in chemistry, while DNA analysts should have an emphasis on molecular biology. The rules also lay down that if you want to work in forensic DNA analysis, you must have coursework in molecular biology, genetics, and biochemistry and suggests that courses in statistical analysis would also be helpful.

Areas of specialization

A forensic scientist may specialise in as varied as:

  • medicine
  • engineering
  • fingerprinting
  • insect study
  • languages
  • geology

Forensic pathologists determine the time and cause of death in cases of suspected murder or suicide. This involves post mortem examinations of deaths reported to determine the cause and the manner of death. For example, investigation of sudden and unexpected deaths or deaths due to accident or injury, suicide or homicide.

Forensic anthropologists use their knowledge of human skeletal anatomy to assist in identification of skeletal remains and discover the age, sex, ancestry, stature, and unique features of the deceased. For example, they are called to identify individuals murdered or killed in disasters such as plane crashes, explosions, fires and other tragedies resulting in the loss of life and mutilation of bodies.

Forensic psychiatrists and psychologists are concerned with psychological issues. They determine whether a mental state may be a mitigating circumstance in the commission of an alleged crime and whether a person is mentally fit to stand trial. They also treat those convicted of crimes who are mentally ill. For example, they may evaluate a murder scene to suggest a possible psychological profile of the killer.

Forensic dentists deal with the collection, evaluation and proper handling of dental evidence in order to assist law enforcement officers. The role of the odontologist is to identify bodies and skeletal remains from dental records, reconstruct faces from skulls and interpret bite marks. 

Clinical forensic medicine experts are involved in examine victims of crime and suspects who may have sustained an injury while allegedly committing a crime. They give interpretations of their findings such as the possible causes and timing of the injuries.

Forensic entomologists study insect life on or near bodies to determine the time and/or date of death.

Forensic serologists study the blood groups, blood, and other bodily fluids for identification purposes following a crime. Biological materials such as blood, body fluids and hair are identified and compared using forensic DNA analysis, microscopic analysis and biochemical methods.

Area of Forensic chemists includes the detection and identification of illicit drugs, accelerants used in arson cases, explosive and gunshot residues, trace evidence, including paint, glass, polymers and fibres.

Forensic linguists analyze the content of written or oral communication to identify who is speaking and indicate the speaker's intent, and determine whether two communications are from the same person. This is obviously important in cases of kidnapping. They also deals with fraudulent documents. Such documents may include suicide, blackmail or extortion notes to name a few.

Forensic engineer deals with traffic accidents, fire investigations, and a variety of wrongful injury cases. Engineers are involved in failure analysis, accident reconstruction, causes and origins of fires or explosions,  quality evaluation of construction or manufacturing etc.

Forensic artists can draw a likeness of a person based solely on eyewitness accounts. Forensic sculptors can reconstruct faces, usually in modelling clay or on a computer from skulls or other fragments. The expertise may enable the police to find out who a person was when no other clues are available.

Institutes in India

If you are a student from India, you could join forensic science in a number of ways. Many universities in India offer M.Sc. Courses in Forensic Sciences. Main among these are:

Punjabi University, Patiala: It offers a two year course of M.Sc. in Forensic Science. There are ten seats per batch. To be eligible you must have either of the following: (i) B.Sc. (Medical/Non-Medical) (ii) BDS iii) MBBS. The university offers specialization in forensic biology, forensic serology, forensic chemistry and forensic toxicology.

Amity Institute of Behavioral & Health Allied Science, Noida: The university offers 2 year M.Sc. Course in forensic Science. Minimum qualification for the admission is B. Sc.

Department of Criminology and Forensic Science, Dr. Hari Singh Gaur Vishwavidyalaya, Sagar, Sagar University, Madhya Pradesh: The department offers two Masters Degree courses. These are M.A. (Master of Arts) in Criminology, and M.Sc.

(Master of Science) in Forensic Science and Forensic Toxicology. Each course has 12 seats. The selection is on merit basis. Admissions start in June every year (or sometimes in July). These courses are also taught at Graduate level (Both B.A. and B.Sc. Level). The department has a well-equipped laboratory for conducting experiments. Another course offered by this University is a six-month Diploma course in Criminology and Forensic Science. But this diploma is meant only for the Police officials of the Madhya Pradesh State. You can contact the University to check if you can be admitted to this course as a special case. Research Programmes in Criminology and Forensic Science are also conducted.

University of Chennai, Chennai: This University offers an MA in Criminology. Eligibility is a valid Bachelor’s degree.

Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi, (UP): This University offers an MA in Criminology. Eligibility is a valid Bachelor’s degree.

Forensic House, 35A Kamarajan Salai, Mylapore, Chennai: This institute offers a course in Criminology and Forensic Science. Eligibility is a valid Bachelor’s degree in Physics, Chemistry or Applied Science. MBBS, BDS, and B.Pharm. students are also accepted.

Department of Criminology and Forensic Science, Karnataka University, Dharwar 580003, Karnataka, India: Karnataka University offers M.A. (Masters in Arts) in Criminology and M.Sc. in Forensic Science and Forensic Toxicology. To be eligibile, you have to have a BA, B.Sc. or B.Com. degree with a minimum of 50% aggregate. The admission is through an entrance test.

Department of Forensic Science, Dr. B.R. Ambedkar University, Agra, U.P.: This University offers an M.Sc. in Forensic Science.

Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai: This institute offers Criminology as a specialization course with Masters in Social Work programme.

Department of Anthropology, University of Delhi, Delhi: It offers a certificate course in Forensic Science

National Institute of Criminology and Forensic Science, Ministry of Home Affairs, Government of India, Sector III, Institutional Area, Outer Ring Road, Rohini, Delhi-110085: This institute is a premier body conducting traning and research in the field of Forensic Science. It offers research programmes and diplomas in Forensic Science. Officials who can attend these programs are police officers, forensic scientists, judges, research scholars, and senior officials from various forensic laboratories.

Department of Anthropology, University of Pune, Pune, Maharashtra, India: This University started a Masters course as well as a P.G. Diploma course in Forensic Sciences in 2003.

In general, to be eligible for an M.Sc. Course in Forensic Sciences in any of the above universities, you should have a bachelor’s degree, preferably with a first division in physics, chemistry, zoology, or botany. You can find out about the details of admission to this course from your local state university. Once you have done the M.Sc. successfully you can even go for a Ph.D. in Forensic Sciences. In your M.Sc. Course you can choose a field of specialization such as forensic ballistics, forensic entomology, forensic botany and so on.

For Comments: psjamwal@amity.edu

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