Forensic Scientist Kaipūtaiao Taihara

Forensic scientists apply scientific knowledge and skills to investigating crimes and helping the police find or eliminate crime suspects. They may also do research into developing or improving forensic techniques.

Forensic scientists may do some or all of the following:

  • visit crime scenes to find evidence
  • take notes and map the crime scene
  • analyse physical evidence such as fibres, glass, debris, firearms, bullets and marks made by tools or weapons
  • identify drugs found on people, in body fluids or at crime scenes
  • analyse biological evidence such as hair, or blood and other body fluids
  • analyse body tissues for poisons
  • write reports on the results
  • give evidence in court
  • investigate civil court cases such as fire or insurance claims
  • train police staff in collecting evidence.

Physical Requirements

Forensic scientists need to have good eyesight (with or without corrective lenses) as they search for small pieces of evidence at crime scenes. 

Useful Experience

Useful experience for forensic scientists includes laboratory work, and work in the fields of medicine or chemistry.

Personal Qualities

Forensic scientists need to be:

  • good at problem solving
  • good communicators
  • honest, responsible and able to keep information private
  • accurate, with an eye for detail
  • able to work well under pressure.

Skills

Forensic scientists need to have:

  • knowledge of the chemical make-up of things such as paint or textiles, blood, body tissues and DNA
  • knowledge of poisons and drugs, firearms and explosives
  • research skills
  • skill in analysing and interpreting research results and other information
  • practical skills for performing experiments and operating scientific equipment.

Conditions

Forensic scientists:

  • usually work regular business hours, but may be required to visit crime scenes during evenings, weekends or public holidays
  • work in laboratories and offices
  • often work in stressful or hazardous conditions, as crime scenes may be distressing or potentially harmful
  • often travel locally and around New Zealand to attend crime scenes and court cases.

Forensic Scientists can earn around $50K-$76K per year.

Pay for forensic scientists varies depending on skills and experience. 

  • Forensic scientists with a Master's degree working as senior forensic technicians can expect to earn $50,000 to $76,000 a year.
  • Senior forensic scientists who report findings in court and supervise technicians usually earn between $75,000 and $112,000. 
  • Forensic scientists leading research projects can earn between $95,000 and $143,000. 

 Source: Human Resources, Institute of Environmental Science and Research (ESR), 2020.

Forensic scientists may progress to senior scientist, science leader or management roles. 

Forensic scientists at ESR may specialise in areas such as:

DNA Analyst
DNA analysts examine DNA evidence, such as blood, from crime scenes.
Firearms Examiner
Firearms examiners identify guns used in crimes by studying bullets and bullet marks.
Forensic Toxicologist
Forensic toxicologists analyse drugs and poisons in specimens such as food or blood.
Illicit Drug Analyst
Illicit drug analysts identify illicit drugs, such as methamphetamine and cocaine, usually for the police.

The New Zealand Police also offers a range of forensic civilian specialisations including fingerprint officers, behavioural analysts, electronic crime analysts, document examiners and scene of crime officers.   

Years Of Training

4-5 years of training required.

To become a forensic scientist you need to have a postgraduate qualification in forensic science. 

Civilian forensics roles in the New Zealand police require a relevant tertiary qualification.

Forensic Scientist

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