It ain’t CSI: What It’s Really Like to Be a Forensic Scientist

There are many reasons why people become forensic science technicians – they are interested in solving crime, they have an eye for detail, they are dedicated, they are precise, they are interested in DNA and other fluid analysis, and so on and so forth.

Then there are the new breed of aspiring forensic science techs who are drawn to this field through the glamorization and success of television programs like CSI, Bones, and NCIS – little do they realize the drudgery and monotony that is a routine part of this business (they would if they read just one of Kathy Reichs’ novels, the books which feature Dr.Temperance Brennan, the character on which Bones is loosely based – the books are a far cry from the fast pace that the television program sets, they have absolutely no action, and they’re a sort of dry commentary on Brennan and her day-to-day activities. In fact, Brennan is an older, married woman with an adult daughter who attends university, so it’s kind a hard to summon up the same kind of enthusiasm for her beau from the FBI like we do when it’s Bones and Booth).

Ok, back to the main point of this essay – are all forensic science technicians aware of the extracurricular skills that they must possess when they attend four years of school or when they take up a job at a state or federal agency? Not quite! For example, how many forensic techs know that they must:

  • Be articulate enough to be able to present evidence and answer questions in a court of law.
  • Have good communication skills that allow them to deal with the press, as they may be forced to do so occasionally.
  • The TV shows do showcase this aspect of a forensic tech’s life quite well – Bones has an episode where Zach’s doctoral degree hangs in balance as his examiners take time to decide if he could stand up in court as an authoritative subject expert. But they base the outcome of the decision on his external appearance, and the truth is, while first appearances are important to make a positive impact on the jury, it’s your innate communication and assessment skills that are the ones that really matter. You need to be strong enough to tackle a defense attorney’s tricky questions and still provide the right answers while coming across as a confident and capable forensic scientist.

    Of course, the probability that you’ll be called on to be a prosecution’s witness in your early career days is significantly low, but there’s no harm in being aware that the higher you go up the career ladder, the faster you’re going to have to develop your public face and social skills.