“How exciting! So your job is like that show, CSI right?”
If I received a dollar for every time I was asked that question after responding to inquiries about my profession, I would be able to pay off my student loans and all of my colleague’s loans. But can I really blame people who watch these television shows that popularize forensic science, for not knowing what it actually is? Or should I blame the mass amount of shows that have suddenly appeared for entertainment, for giving false depictions of one group of professionals that represent a very important but only a portion of the forensic community? After all the show is called CSI, which stands for crime scene investigation, not forensic science. Yet, people are able to make the association and even feel fully educated about the field after watching an episode or two and then blindly pursue it as their career choice. That is the moment when ignorance becomes more detrimental than blissful.
Increasing awareness and providing unlimited educative resources are what’s needed, however, instead of pointing the blame at anyone actually. In fact, my very first interaction with forensic science occurred during a brief introduction to it in a science lab in undergraduate school in early 2000. Ironically the show CSI started airing around that time, and although I never watched it, I wonder if the teacher’s motivation behind the short assignment was because he was an avid fan of the show. Nonetheless, I became a fan of the assignment and in the idea of investigative science. But even then, I was under a similar impression, as the CSI fans, and had only a limited understanding of what forensic science and what a forensic scientist was.
Fast forward a few years later, while doing a search for programs offering degrees in forensic science, I thought that I had it all planned and figured out: 1) Apply, 2) Get accepted, 3) Attend, 4) Graduate and 5) Find a job as a forensic scientist. Simple right? Wrong. A forensic scientist is a crime scene technician, a laboratory technician, a medical examiner, a toxicologist, a biologist, a chemist, a photographer, an artist, and the list goes on. Forensic scientist isn’t an accurate job description, but an umbrella term under which a broad range of specialized scientists and professionals work. To pursue a career as a forensic scientist is to pursue a career in your area of interest with a forensic focus. I learned this while studying forensic science in a masters program, and while I was still thrilled to continue on my journey, it would have been beneficial to have the resources to know the truth about the profession beforehand.
Since then, I’ve been using my experiences to give back to the community and encouraging investigation of the field, reaching out to professionals in the field, and creatung a medium for people to engage with their peers. I wish that more detailed information were readily available during the initial phases of my journey. I would have been more informed instead of surprised, as I am sure many students come to find themselves upon discovering the truth about forensic science. Forensic science is a very rewarding and exciting field to get into, and even more so when the decision to pursue a career is well informed and the process is familiar, rather than a mystery. When proper resources, accurate depictions of characters, more thorough information, support, guidance and mentorship from professionals in the field become more readily available, that will be the catalyst that transforms detrimental ignorance into a blissful career.