With the popularity of television shows like “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation,” the number of students expressing an interest in the field of forensic science is increasing steadily. High school students should know the profession has more to do with long hours bent over a microscope or staring into a computer screen than it does with car chases. Students with a passion for the sciences and hard work may have a career waiting for them.
Gathering and analyzing biological evidence at a crime scene is one of the primary responsibilities of a forensic scientist. High school courses in biology will be necessary prerequisites to a career in the field. Forensic biologists examine physical evidence including body fluids, hair and tissue to determine any association in legal cases ranging from paternity suits to homicide. The use of DNA evidence is now used throughout the criminal justice system, and students must be familiar with laboratory equipment and procedure in order to handle evidence properly. Other forensic specialties requiring knowledge of biology are pathology (performing autopsies and interpreting wounds) and ondontology (the analysis of dental evidence).
High school courses in chemistry are additional building blocks toward a career in forensic science. Forensic chemists differ from biologists in that they analyze elements that are not from human beings. Those elements can include fire debris, gunshot residue, paint, glass, fibers, explosives, building materials and soil. Sometimes chemical evidence may be found on a human victim, as in the case of a hit-and-run automobile accident, and then the biologist and chemist will join forces on the case. Forensic chemists spend their time in the laboratory and very rarely are called to do field work.
While the majority of forensic professionals work in the sciences, a forensic artist can quite literally put a face on an unidentified figure in a case. Karen Taylor, a forensic artist and instructor at the FBI Academy, works on projects including composite portraits of suspects from eyewitness accounts, age progression portraits that aid in missing persons cases and 2-dimensional and 3-dimensional facial reconstruction of human remains. Taylor often works closely with forensic anthropologists who study human anatomy and decomposition. A high school student with an interest in this specialty would also benefit from anatomy classes.
Civics and Political Science
Students wishing to pursue the field of forensics should not limit themselves to lab sciences. Professionals in the field are called to write clear, detailed reports on their findings and testify articulately in court. Forensic scientists must understand the laws governing their jurisdictions and work within those rules at all times. High school students need to have excellent reading, writing and analytical skills in order to ascend the academic heights required by most crime labs in large police departments.
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