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Junior Examiner, Forensic Scientist

Holly Cant

My role is examining forensic evidence and managing the laboratory maintenance

What is a Junior Examiner, Forensic Scientist?

The role of junior examiner is new to LGC Forensics, the company I work at, and has been added as a step after the Apprenticeship programme. As part of the new role I have duties such as the examination of evidence just like everyone else, but I am also in charge of the laboratory technician side of things. This involves laboratory maintenance, laboratory stocking and also laboratory cleaning. I share this job with another junior examiner who was also part of the Apprenticeship programme.

What do you do in your job?

My day-to-day activities include the examining of evidence, this includes textile fibres and glass, and my laboratory technician duties, such as lab cleaning, lab restocking and general lab maintenance. Whilst these tasks may seem relatively routine they are actually really important in lowering the chances of any contamination, and ensuring the laboratory operates as efficiently as possible.

The majority of my work is laboratory based, although I sometimes have to travel to other sites for training. During the Apprenticeship programme we had some really interesting off site training days; one was visiting Keele Medical University, where we spent a day learning about anatomy.
We also spent two days in Shrivenham where we were taught about blood pattern analysis and forensic photography.

What do you enjoy most about your job?

For me the most exciting thing about my job is that every case you work on is slightly different and you never really know what path a case is going to take. I also like the fact that there is the constant opportunity to learn, as the environment we live in is always changing. The Apprenticeship programme was a great opportunity; the work based side was very interesting and whilst it can be quite a challenging job with time pressures, this is what makes the job rewarding too.

What attracted you to becoming a forensic scientist?

Chemistry and biology were always my favourite, and strongest, subjects at school and when I was looking at university options I considered courses like veterinary science and marine biology. However, when I saw the advert for the Apprenticeship programme I knew it was a fantastic
opportunity that would be perfect for me. It was a way for me to have a scientific role, which has always been my dream, whilst furthering my learning and earning an income at the same time. Plus it gave me another 18 months to consider university and what I wanted to do next.

How did you get into your job?

I had initially decided to go to university after school, and I started visiting universities so that I could decide on a course and an institution that would suit me. However, after a few months of looking I still couldn’t decide what I wanted to do and started to question if university was right for me. I then spotted an advert for the LGC Forensics Apprenticeship programme in my local newspaper. The Apprenticeship involved teaching for one day a week with the other four days spent working.

During my Apprenticeship I was initially put into a small chemistry department at the site where I am based. I started studying fibres as an evidence type, which I took to straight away, and stayed within that department for the majority of my Apprenticeship. In April 2013, I graduated from my advanced level Apprenticeship in laboratory and associated technical activities with a distinction grade profile, and Registered Science Technician status, a scientific chartered status issued by the Royal Society of Chemistry. This combined with the fact that I was awarded the CSR, and LGC forensics apprentice of the year is my biggest achievement to date. After my graduation I had an interview at LGC forensics and was offered a full time position within the now bigger chemistry department. This enabled me to continue polishing my previous skills and learning new skills that the bigger chemistry department had to offer. I have been at LGC forensics now for just over two years.

What are the opportunities for career progression?

The usual career path of a forensic scientist is to start out as an examiner for a few years and then progress to a reporter. An examiner is the person that examines the evidence, such as clothing, weapons, shoes and anything that may have been of importance to a case. An examiner will be trained to analyse different evidence types and can work on many cases in a day. A reporter, however, is the person who is in charge of the whole case; they have to decide what evidence to examine and what evidence type to examine it for. They will also write a witness statement for court, and if requested they also have to attend court to give evidence. Due to the introduction of the new role I am now doing I will have to be a junior examiner for a few years before progressing on to an examiner role and then go from there.

What advice would you give for people wishing to enter your career area?

My only advice would be to expect to work within a very competitive market. There are different forensic companies competing for work, and there are also many people wanting to work within forensics so competition for jobs can be high.It’s useful to have an interest in science and some scientific knowledge, and you need skills like being able to handle pressure and meet deadlines. You also have to be prepared to work flexible hours that can sometimes be unsociable. A strong stomach is useful as well, as LGC are responsible for processing exhibits from serious crimes, like murder, from all over the country. Whilst it’s not necessary to have a degree if you are entering this career path through an Apprenticeship programme, it can be preferred and this is purely because of job competition.

An Apprenticeship programme is really valuable for seeing if someone is suitable for the job. Many of the modules within the academic side of the Apprenticeship helped with the work side of things. For example the modules that were about forensics techniques enabled us to learn the background of the techniques we were using. Other modules helped with learning how to communicate within a team, whilst some helped enhance our practical skills, and the presentation modules helped with learning how to speak publicly.

 

“There is the constant opportunity to learn, as the environment we live in is always changing.”

How did I get started?

I had initially decided to go to university after school, and I started visiting universities so that I could decide on a course and an institution that would suit me. However, after a few months of looking I still couldn’t decide what I wanted to do and started to question whether university was right for me. I then spotted an advert for the LGC Forensics Apprenticeship programme in my local newspaper. The Apprenticeship involved teaching for one day a week with the other four days spent working.

Career progression

Most forensic scientists start out as an examiner, then progress to a reporter. An examiner examines the evidence, such as clothing, weapons, shoes and anything of importance to a case. These are trained to analyse different evidence types and can work on many cases in a day. A reporter is the person in charge of the whole case; they decide what evidence to examine and what evidence type to examine it for. They also write witness statements for court, attend court to give evidence. As a junior examiner it will be a few years before I progress on to an examiner role.

Skills used

Writing concisely, Reporting information, Gathering information, Analysing, Managing time, Attention to detail.

“For me the most exciting thing about my job is that every case you work on is slightly different and you never really know what path a case is going to take.”