The world of health careers is extensive and offers thousands of possibilities to prospective students, but arguably one of the most interesting of these fields is forensic chemistry. Forensic chemists are responsible for examining crime scene evidence in order to support criminal investigations and form conclusions. They typically receive either a master?s or bachelor?s degree in chemistry in order to prepare for this career, but they must also possess skills like problem-solving, precision, analytical/logical thinking, creativity, and the ability to piece together small details in order to see the bigger picture. Forensic chemists must also possess communication skills in order to effectively communicate their findings in a court of law if necessary. They typically bring in a salary of approximately $62,909 to $81,779 (according to the Drug Enforcement Administration) and have the potential for an even higher salary depending on their general schedule rating if they work for the federal government. Ultimately, forensic chemists play a major role in crime investigation and analysis and have great responsibility in the field of criminal justice and forensic science.
Forensic chemists are responsible for the examination of physical evidence found in or around crime scenes; these individuals apply chemistry, biology, mathematics, natural science, and multiple other scientific fields to their work. Approximately 90% of forensic chemists work in the federal, state, or local levels of the government including branches like the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA). The evidence they examine can range from biological matter such as blood, bones, or hair to unknown substances found at the scene; it is their responsibility to analyze this evidence, determine its origin or role in the criminal investigation, and piece it together to form a conclusion.
Investigators use many types of evidence in order to form conclusions about crime scenes; the first type is biological (or organic evidence), like blood, hair, DNA, or bones. This can be examined and then used to identify a specific person and their role investigation. The second type of evidence consists of chemical compounds or unknown substances; this includes things like drugs, poisons, or other chemicals. Forensic chemists can identify these substances and use them to formulate a clear picture of what happened at a crime scene. The last type of evidence is inorganic, like fingerprints, glass, shoe prints, or fibers; this can be used to reconstruct what occurred at a crime scene or aid in identifying a person associated with the crime. Ultimately, the field of forensic chemistry requires extensive knowledge in one or more of these areas in order to formulate an accurate conclusion about a crime.
Forensic chemists must have an extensive background in chemistry and mathematics; most of those employed in this field have either a master?s or bachelor?s degree in chemistry, biology, biochemistry, or other physical/life science. Certain organizations also like to see courses like criminal justice on a resume, as it demonstrates further understanding of criminal investigation processes. Once hired, they typically go through training programs that are specialized to the organization; the DEA, for example requires a 3-week training program which covers topics like evidence processing, pharmacology, fingerprint analysis, and law. Depending on the focus of the organization (drugs, biological evidence, etc.), training programs will vary. Chemists who work for the DEA (U.S.) make approximately $62,909 to $81,779 depending on individual ranking. Forensic scientists in the United Kingdom, however, make anywhere from £25,000 to £45,00 (in U.S. dollars that amounts to approximately $31,921-$57,459). This is considerably lower than in the United States, which could simply be due to the DEA?s high standing in terms of government organizations.
Forensic chemists must be patient, methodical, problem-solvers, good communicators, and must be able to pick out minute details from a bigger picture. Their work is very precise and consists of strict guidelines and protocol to avoid any errors in the analysis of evidence, thus demonstrating the necessity of patience and meticulousness. They must also have writing skills as they are often required to write detailed lab reports about their findings and their significance to the investigation. Compared to all of these skills, however, problem-solving is arguably the most important; the crimes they examine are often like puzzles with missing pieces and it is their responsibility to fill in the blanks and work through the puzzle in order to see the complete picture. Depending on the case, they may also have to testify in a court of law; this requires communication skills, as they must ensure that their findings are clearly communicated to the judge and/or jury.
According to the career interest inventory, I fit mostly into the investigative and artistic career groups. Forensic chemistry falls into the investigative category, as it requires extensive examination and piecing together of information. Investigative careers require traits like problem-solving, creativity, accuracy, logic, and many other skills, and I would describe myself as possessing most of these traits. I am very methodical and enjoy carrying out processes in an orderly, specific manner; I am also very conscious of minute details (due to my artistic background) which is a very important aspect of forensic science. My creativity allows me to solve problems in both conventional and unconventional ways, and I enjoy finding new ways to form conclusions. I would consider myself naturally inquisitive, constantly seeking out the details of everything that I come across; because of this, forensic chemistry interests me greatly. The entire premise consists of finding out the small yet imperative details surrounding criminal cases, which I believe I would be very proficient at. Ultimately, according to my career interest inventory results and my own personal interests and characteristics, forensic chemistry is a great career match for me.
Public interest in forensic chemistry is greatly expanding mostly due to the popularity of forensic-themed TV shows and other media. For this reason, more and more people are beginning to pursue it as a career. While this is good for the organizations who are in need of workers, it will lead to considerable competition; the number of forensic laboratories is increasing at a much slower rate than the demand for jobs, thus we can expect that many people interested in the field will not obtain the job that they want. To prevent this outcome, it is advised that prospective workers take the appropriate steps to ensure the best qualifications in their chosen field; preparing by taking multiple science classes in college or pursuing a master?s degree can increase the chances of being hired. Ultimately, forensic science is quickly becoming a popular career choice; if this trend continues, competition will be even higher in the future.
Overall, forensic chemists are imperative to the world of criminal justice; they identify a multitude of materials that can help vindicate or incriminate a person associated with a crime. Their work allows investigators to form a more accurate picture of what truly occurred at the scene of a crime, which is one of the most important aspects of criminal investigations. My specific interests and skills correspond to many of the characteristics associated with forensic science, and I hope to pursue it as a career in the future despite the amount of competition in the field.
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