Spotlight on a career in… Forensic Science
In this month's article we have an interview I conducted with a professional working within the Forensic Science field.
Name: Peter Arnold
Job Title: Head of Operations (Crime Scene Investigation (CSI))
Length of time in career: 17 years in the forensic science field
Employer: West Yorkshire Police
What inspired you to pursue this career, and what qualifications did you need to achieve?
I decided to go to university to study BSc (Hons) Applied Science and Forensic Investigations as I found the course interesting. It was whilst I was studying my degree that I became interested in pursuing a career in forensic science. I later went onto study a Postgraduate Diploma in Information Technology.
Whilst studying I also completed a night class in forensic photography and communications in forensics, which gave me practical skills as well as skills in delivering presentations and public speaking in a forensics field.
What makes the perfect Forensic Scientist?
You need to be a “people person” as you’ll be interacting with victims of crimes who are quite often at their lowest point. You need to have the skills to be able to communicate effectively with them. This is also important, as quite often these people may not want you there. You need to be able to communicate and engage with people from all social and economic backgrounds, being aware of diversity and equality.
You also need a high level of resilience as you would often be working alone, dealing with scenes of crimes in all forms. You need to be assertive, have good attention to detail, an investigative mind set, and be logical and methodical in your approach to work. You also need a good understanding of how science is used to investigate crime.
What is the hardest part of your role and why?
Dealing with the emotional effect of crime and dealing with the victims of crime is difficult. You will witness and work on traumatic scenes. You have to have an awareness of your own mental health, and be open to talk about it and the effects the job has on your own wellbeing.
Were there any times you struggled in your career, and how did you overcome the issues?
Having a young family at home, working shifts and being on call at nights was extremely difficult at times. It was hard to juggle that work/life balance. Having an understanding and supportive family around me made it easier to deal with. It’s a hard job and it does impact on your life. Understanding that and accepting it, will help you to develop a work/life balance that works for you.
What path did you take to get to your current role?
There are not many jobs within forensic science, so it’s about finding the job that gets your foot in the door. I started working for West Yorkshire Police as a vehicle examiner and then progressed from there. You need to be willing to start at the bottom and work your way up. Also, because there aren’t many jobs you need to be willing to relocate, and go where the jobs are. I found my first job in this area working for West Yorkshire Police, so West Yorkshire is where I had to relocate to.
How has the field changed over that time?
Technology relating to DNA profiling has become more sensitive over the years. For example, a few years ago you would need a good sample of blood to be able to do a DNA profile, whereas nowadays you only need the smallest sample to get a DNA profile.
The use of digital devices for forensic investigation have developed a lot, so we now use these new methods alongside traditional forensic techniques.
What do you think is the biggest misconception about your role?
The work can be repetitive, I don’t think people understand this. It also involves a lot of time and effort with not always a positive outcome. It takes a lot of time to analyse a crime scene and the evidence, sometimes months or even years. Also, I think a lot of people don’t’ realise this is a 24 hour job. Crime doesn’t take a break, therefore neither can we.
If you could only give one piece of advice to a learner considering this career, what would it be?
Don’t just focus on academic achievements. The skills and qualities a person needs to do this job are as equally important. Being able to demonstrate those skills in an application/interview is essential.
Now for some data:
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