It might seem counter-intuitive that we, the people who sing the praises of this wonderful discipline we call forensic science from the tops of the tallest mountains, might tell you NOT to pursue a forensic science undergraduate degree.
Universities seem to be creating new, cross-curricular and practical-based programmes each year that are even more innovative than previous offerings for young scientists like yourself — and here we are, presumably on the same end of the forensic-loving spectrum, saying (maybe) “nay” to applying for them.
Why would we do that?
It’s true; there’s nothing distinclty wrong about wanting to jump into forensic science immediately (once you leave high school in the States or college as it’s called on this side of the pond). Still, in this economic climate we feel reality is the best dose of medicine to give to anyone who is considering a field (our field!) that is being rigorously questioned and also relentlessly down-sized.
Here’s our (possibly controversial, but still warranted) point-of-view.
1. Score a competitive MSc degree.
If you haven’t done so well at secondary school but think you could have done better by a mile, it might be the time to consider using an undergraduate route to gain a competitive MSc degree (we’ve got a previous blogpost on programmes to consider once you reach that point).
A forensic science degree might strike you as interesting (and it really is), but your future employment prospects are broader with the wider range of laboratory and research-based skills you’ll attain at the undergraduate level if you’ve completed a life science or physics degree.
2. Explore the lab-bench and the courtroom.
Maybe you’re itching to be finished with classwork and lectures — but University is a brilliant opportunity to familiarise yourself with the actual environments in which you might be working without having to commit. A degree that isn’t heavily entrenched in forensic science allows you to keep your mind open, without becoming firmly entrenched in work that will eventually define your future professional life.
Follow up opportunities to visit research facilities or sit in on an Old Bailey trial (free to the public, but remember to leave your mobile phone behind), or maybe try and arrange a Q&A with your local community officer.
3. Take your time to explore related fields.
Consider yourself the world’s most prolific CSI buff? Write a TV blog about Law & Order? It could be that you’re so firmly into the media’s glamourised version of forensic science and what that world entails, that your future career has a sheen which will wear off rather quickly.
A clever exercise is to envision what you imagine your future professional life to look like (that’s right, what do you actually see?) A daydream that whisks you off to a laboratory and an armoire full of white coats means that you’d be well-suited to DNA analysis (see reason 2 for how to make use of this) — a field that has countless intriguing applications aside from CSI that you might find even more fascinating.
Aside from forensic science, think about: criminal justice; policy-making; security; or intelligence.
4. A more academic career, a larger cheque.
True, this reason isn’t written in stone anywhere we can see it. Still, it’s pretty simple. People who have invested the hours in honing specialised techniques and gaining skill in research-based subjects usually have greater leverage as self-employed consultants (people who work on a contractual basis for lots of diverse firms, companies and institutions for their expertise) and therefore can command much higher salaries than people who have more generalised knowledge.
If you’re interested and academically-able, it’s worth thinking about the potential long-term consequences of choosing a broad forensic science undergraduate degree instead of working towards a more specialised career (that could mean a fatter cheque come Friday).
5. Focus on a “niche” subject.
The game-changers in forensic science have studied their chosen field extensively (over years and eventually decades). If there’s a particular topic you enjoy (e.g. ballistics, pathology), then you might consider pursuing the trajectory for that given subject. Focusing on just one research area could land you much farther in your career if you chart your potential path well.
Enlist scientists already within the realm of your choice by writing to them. Enquire about any opportunities within their laboratories to immerse yourself in their profession for a short time. Even a day is well worth the time spent working alongside a person who is entrenched in their discipline, and it gives you tremendous insight into what is required and a glimpse into how an average day on the job plays out.
Your Turn: We’re sure some people will disagree — so if you’ve done a vocational or a more general degree in forensic science, please leave your thoughts in the section below. We’d love to hear from you.