Education, today, is no longer about choosing the usual path and becoming an engineer or a doctor. The 21st century has seen the advent of many unconventional career opportunities. Forensic Science is one such field that has gained enormous momentum in recent years. A career popularised by the fictional characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie, and television shows like CID (Hindi), Dexter and Bones, forensics is slowly attracting many youngsters.
A challenging and interesting career option, Forensics, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, is, ‘The science of solving crimes by using scientific knowledge or methods’. Prof. J Ramakrishnan, Director, Document Division, TruthLabs (India’s first independent Forensic Science Lab), Chennai, defines the forensic laboratory as ‘the bridge between the prosecutor and the judiciary’. While outlining the role of forensic experts, he states that apart from analysing evidence and putting together reports, they are also required to bear testimony in courts of law.
To a lay person, this is what a forensic expert does:
- Helps recreate the crime scene
- Tracks down people by determining fingerprints
- Conducts post-mortem to determine the cause of death
- Works closely with cybercrime experts to track down any dubious activities
What is required to take up forensics?
Prof. Ramakrishnan believes that a good understanding of the principles of science is a must. “Forensic Science is an application of all the other branches of science in such a way that by applying those scientific principles, coupled with other observations, the expert comes to an opinion,” he states. Forensics also makes use of a lot of equipment to conduct various tests. Thus, a knowledge of operating these machines will also be an advantage.
A post-graduation in science is considered ideal. However, these days, science comes in various forms, not just basic physics and chemistry. In the field of cybercrime, someone with a computer science background would be preferred. When it comes to forensic accounting, knowledge of accounts will certainly help. Similarly, in forensic engineering, which involves investigating the collapses of structures such as buildings and bridges, someone with a civil or structural engineering background will enjoy a distinct advantage.
As far as specific skills are concerned, Dr K Priyatharsini, MD, Forensic Medicine, at Government Stanley Medical College and Hospital, Chennai, says, “Keen observation powers, curiosity, attention to detail, focus on accuracy, logical reasoning and analytical abilities, determination and hard work, are all essential to make a mark in this field.” She adds, “The most important attitude is to not feel squeamish or uncomfortable at the crime scene. And, that requires a lot of grit!”
The different divisions
An understanding of the way a forensic laboratory works will throw more light on the career opportunities in this field. There are 10 to 15 divisions in a forensic laboratory working on different types of analysis. “These include Fingerprint, Document, Ballistic, Chemistry, among others,” says Prof. Ramakrishnan.
The website of the Central Forensic Science Laboratory (CSFL), a scientific department under the administrative control of the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI), lists out various divisions in Forensic Science:
Ballistics and Explosives
Dealing with cases related to different types of weapons and explosives, this division helps determine the type of weapon that was used in a crime, and estimates the range of firing, among others.
Biology and DNA Profiling
This division deals with analysis related to forensic biology. Samples from crime scenes, like semen, blood, saliva, sweat and hair, along with DNA are analysed and studied.
As its name suggests, this division consists of toxicology, narcotics and general chemical analysis for cases related to viscera, drugs, alcohol, poison, etc.
Analysing and matching handwriting, signatures, typescripts, rubber stamp impressions, counterfeit documents and currency notes are a major part of the workings of this division.
Collecting finger prints from the crime scene and analysing them is the most important work of this division. Development of chance prints and latent prints, and preparation of specimen ten-digit finger prints of the accused also fall under this division.
A full-fledged lie detection division, here various polygraph tests are conducted to detect deception. This division extends its services not just to the CBI, but also to many other law enforcement agencies in the country.
Photo and Scientific Aid
This division mainly takes care of photography and videography related work, like shooting the crime scene and converting analog video data to digital.
Apart from helping with the reconstruction of the crime scene, the physics division analyses and examines various things like glass, soil, fibre, paint and metallic pieces. It also carries out examination of telephonic recordings to help agencies identify the speaker.
This division provides support in determining the origin of bodily fluids like semen, sweat and blood. Such support proves helpful in handling cases of culpable homicide not amounting to murder (A murder that has occurred, but wasn’t intended to have. For example: If someone kills another person in self-defence or by mistake), sexual offences, and attempt to murder causing hurt, among others.
True to its name, this division deals with identification, extraction, preservation, and documentation of evidence related to various computer-related crimes.
As you can see, there is a vast scope for a career in Forensic Science.
Scope and career opportunities in forensics
Not long ago, it was thought that the scope was restricted to laboratories. But, today, there are opportunities aplenty in a field like this.
“Depending on their forte, candidates are recruited for specific divisions, given proper training for a stipulated period and then formally appointed in those divisions,” elaborates Prof. Ramakrishnan. He adds, “The police department gives preference to youngsters with a background in forensic sciences as the department works closely with forensics. Similarly, law firms look out for people with forensic experience as it will help them handle certain cases better. Further, sectors like banking, airlines and others, deal with scientific data, and hence require the service of forensic experts.”
As far as the field of medicine is concerned, there is a lot of scope for pathologists who perform autopsies and anthropologists who identify the deceased by their features. Then, there are clinical experts who examine victims or suspects of a crime in order to arrive at conclusions regarding the nature and time of crime.
Very interestingly, the field also offers scope for linguists to help analyse written and oral communication related to crime.
‘Fingerprint’ it now
So, if your child has an eye for crime, a nose that’ll sense trouble, and an instinct that will aid him in unravelling the truth, then let him take off on the Forensic Science path. The 19th century French medico-legalist, Dr PCH Brouardel said, “If the law has made you a witness, remain a man of science. You have no victim to avenge, no guilty or innocent person to convict or save — you must bear testimony within the limits of science.” Let your child become one who dissects crime, unravels evidence and bears this testimony with the help of Forensic Science.
I loved every minute of my masters’ degree. We had actual crime scene investigators and heads of forensic organisations teaching us. We learnt how to examine different samples like body fluids, DNA and drugs as evidence to prove crimes. In fact, we were given samples from real crime scenes for analysis! We also studied how to use blood pattern to decipher crimes, and how to use fibres and marks to connect various pieces of evidence in hand. We also had mock-court sessions, questioning us on the evidence we had worked on. It was an amazing experience!
- Madhumitha Balasubramani, MSc Forensic Science, Former Chemist and Molecular Biologist, Dubai
Colleges offering forensic science courses
Several colleges around the country are offering undergraduate, postgraduate, diploma and certificate courses in Forensic Sciences. Says Prof. Ramakrishnan, “While many colleges in North India offer undergraduate and postgraduate courses in Forensic Science, very few in South India do so.”
- Gujarat University, Ahmedabad - MSc
- Dr Harisingh Gour University, Sagar - MSc, PhD
- University of Madras, Chennai - MA, MSc, PhD
- Amity University, Noida - BSc, MSc, PHD
- National Institute of Criminology & Forensic Science (NICFS), New Delhi - MSc
- Bundelkhand University, Jhansi - BSc, MSc
- Sri Ramachandra Medical College and Research Institute, Chennai - MD
- University of Delhi, New Delhi - Certificate Course
- Sam Higginbottom Institute, Allahabad - BSc, MSc, PhD, Diploma
- Meenakshi Medical College Hospital and Research Institute, Kancheepuram - MD
- Gujarat Forensic Sciences University, Gandhinagar - MSc
- Karnataka University, Dharwad - Diploma
- Institute of Forensic Science, Mumbai - BSc, PG Diploma
- Punjabi University, Patiala -MSc, PG Diploma
- Osmania University, Hyderabad - MSc
- St Xavier’s College, Mumbai - Basic/Advanced Certificate