Here's what I do on a daily basis as a forensic scientist:
I examine items of evidence submitted to the laboratory (I do not go to the crime scene and investigate) for the presence of bodily fluids (blood, semen, saliva, urine, feces).
If body fluid stains are noted on the evidence, I perform chemical extraction processes to remove the DNA from the stain.
Once the DNA is removed, additional chemical processes are utilized in specific machines to replicate specific areas of DNA that can help to uniquely identify the source of the body fluid.
A comparison is then made to DNA profiles from any individuals believed to be involved in the crime (suspects and victims). If the DNA profile from the evidence matches a person, and that DNA profile is exceedingly rare, then it can be stated that they are the source of that DNA.
Reports have to be written for all testing performed, and it is possible that any one of the cases worked may end up going to trial where expert testimony is needed.
Sounds exciting doesn't it?
On a day to day basis I am dealing with bloody clothing that hasn't been washed in months, crusty underwear from violent sexual assaults, and evidence from the abuse of children.... In addition to the actual casework, there is a significant amount of Quality Control issues that need to be performed to ensure the integrity of the testing procedures. Chemicals and instruments need to be verified, supplies need to be ordered, new personnel need to be trained, new technologies need to be validated, LOTS of paperwork needs to be kept. It is also important to keep abreast of new technologies, so traveling to meetings takes even more time away from casework.
The hours are roughly 9 to 5, but there may be times when court testimony keeps you longer.
It is not an easy job, and it is certainly not for everyone. You really see the dark side of humanity, and it can affect some people... But you also get to help the community. Victims have their attackers brought to justice, and innocent people are exonerated because the DNA results indicate they are not the attacker.
What is noted above is primarily the Biology unit of a forensic lab. Keep in mind that there is also Chemistry (drug analysis), Trace (hairs, fibers, paint, glass), Latent Prints (fingerprints, tire impressions, footwear impressions), Firearms (gun, bullets, and casings), and various other aspects of forensics that many people don't think about.
Also, scientists are very individualized in what aspects of testing they perform. On TV one person may go to the crime scene to collect evidence, then do DNA, drug analysis, firearm analysis, and then go arrest the suspect. In reality all of that work is done by a crime scene technician, 3 different forensic scientists, and then the police make the arrest.
Overall I like my job - As with any job there can be good and bad times, but the effect that I can have on my community is priceless.
I chose forensic science because I always had a love of science. I was the kid with the chemistry set in the back corner of the basement for hours on end. I went to college with an eye toward Chemical Engineering, but it was not a good fit for me. I switched to Biochemistry. Along the way I attended a presentation by Dr. Henry Lee (way before the CSI television show) and I discovered a field of work that would allow me to do science, have a relatively quick turnaround in my work (not years of research on a single subject), and help the community.
Answered By: MD State Police Biology - 6/8/2011