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Forensic scientist

Examines traces of substances in an attempt to associate or disassociate suspects with victims/crime scenes.

Forensic scientists study crime scenes, run scientific tests and provide impartial evidence to be used in a court of law. They employ cutting-edge technology and scientific theory to search for clues and aid police investigations.

The Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) is an associated office at the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR) and provides a scientific analytical service in criminal investigation. Based at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, Dublin 8, the Forensic Science Laboratory’s objective is to assist in the investigation of crime and to serve the administration of justice in an effective manner by a highly trained and dedicated staff providing scientific analysis and objective expert evidence to international standards.

Work by the laboratory is carried out mainly for the Gardai and through them for the courts. All staff employed in the laboratory are civil servants. Typically, an analyst would work closely with a scientist on particular cases and would also take responsibility for certain areas of general laboratory work. A scientist would take full responsibility for the scientific work required in a criminal case. The job thus involves analytical laboratory work using quite a wide range of instrumental techniques. The scientist would then write a report on the results for the Gardaí and the Director of Public Prosecutions. The scientist would frequently present the work orally to a court and defend that work under legal cross-examination. Some time could also be spent attending at crime scenes and lecturing to Gardaí on the work of the laboratory.

An Garda Síochána undertake certain types of forensic work, such as crime scene examination and fingerprint detection and identification. To get involved in these areas a person must first join the Gardaí and apply for any vacancy in the relevant section when it arises.

The equivalent (FSL) in Northern Ireland is Forensic Science Northern Ireland although job opportunities are rare.

Work activities

  • Examining Items submitted to the laboratory for the presence of body fluids, skin flakes, hairs and fibres, as well as firearm residue, glass fibres, paint and other traces to be used as eveidence.
  • Subjecting body fluids to DNA profiling in an attempt to determine the source.
  • Attending crime scenes with members of the CSI teams from the Technical Bureau.
  • Examining and analysing seized substances that are thought to contravene the Misuse of Drugs Act.
  • Data recording, report writing and information storage.
  • Use of IT to catalogue evidence.

Work conditions

Travel: scientists attend crime scenes with members of the CSI teams from the Garda Technical Bureau. They are often required to present the work orally to a court and defend that work under legal cross-examination.
Working hours: regular laboratory/office hours but early starts and late finishes may also be required. In addition, weekend, shift work, and on-call work may be required.
Location: only at Garda Headquarters in the Phoenix Park, Dublin 8.
Opportunities for self-employment: not possible.

Typical employers

Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) - an associated office at the Republic of Ireland’s Department of Justice, Equality and Law Reform (DJELR).

Career development

Opportunities exist for analysts to advance to senior forensic analyst grade. Promotion for grade III forensic scientist is to grade II forensic scientist then on to grade I team manager. Additional senior positions also exist up to director general.

Other relevant degree subjects

Of particular relevance will be laboratory experience gain from disciplines such as:

  • Analytical science
  • Biochemistry
  • Biology
  • Chemistry
  • Forensic science
  • Molecular biology.

Postgraduate study

Not a normal requirement. However, a postgraduate qualification could be of benefit such as Strathclyde University’s postgraduate diploma or masters degree in forensic science. Kings College London, among others, also offers a masters degree in forensic science.

Specific entry requirements

Good laboratory skills are essential. Normal colour vision is required.

Training

Practical experience of a quality control laboratory is valuable for those seeking entry to this sector and will increase chances of gaining employment.

Skills and qualities

  • Excellent observational skills and attention to detail.
  • Ability to handle multiple tasks accurately.
  • Strong analytical skills, with a logical, methodical approach to work with precision in measurements and recording figures.
  • Excellent IT skills.
  • Ability to compose detailed and accurate reports.
  • Ability to work well as part of a team and be safety conscious.
  • Confidence to give evidence in court.