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What does a Forensic Pathologist do?

Sudden, unexplained, or suspicious deaths are usually subject to a criminal investigation. Forensic pathologists play an important role in that investigation by helping to explain how and why a person has died.

forensic pathologist

What are the typical responsibilities of a forensic pathologist?

A forensic pathologist is responsible for determining the cause of death when a person dies in suspicious or unusual circumstances. They perform an autopsy or post mortem examination and produce a report that contains details about what has caused the person’s death plus conclusions about the circumstances that have lead to their death based on the interpretation of his or her findings.

A forensic pathologist’s job typically involves some or all of the following:

  • Conducting a full anatomical examination of a body after death
  • Documenting all findings of the examination
  • Highlighting any injuries or diseases that could have resulted in the person’s death
  • Recording the professionals’ opinions about how the identified injuries or diseases have occurred
  • Determining the manner of death: accidental, homicide, natural causes, suicide, or undetermined
  • Determining the identity of the deceased
  • Collecting or photographing evidence such as injuries, bodily tissues or fluids, and fibers or other materials that could be used to determine the circumstances of the person’s death and that may be required as part of a legal investigation
  • Testifying or acting as a witness in a court of law, where the forensic pathologist may be required to explain evidence or findings to non-medical personnel and defend his or her conclusions

In this career, you may often work closely with colleagues in other areas of forensics such as medicine, dentistry, toxicology, and entomology to help them to carry out a thorough examination and draw fully informed conclusions. You are also likely to work closely with legal and criminal investigation personnel, and need to have a detailed understanding of legal processes.

What qualifications do forensic pathologists need?

Forensic pathologists are medically trained professionals (M.D.s) who have completed several years’ training after graduating from medical school. Their additional training takes the form of a residency in anatomical pathology or a combined anatomical and clinical pathology residency plus a fellowship in forensic pathology. This can take a total of up to 16 years: 4 years of undergraduate school, 4 years of med school, and between 3 and 8 years of internship and residency.

Forensic pathologists are usually employed by Federal, State or local government.

Salaries for physicians and surgeons are among the highest of any occupation in the U.S. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). This indicates the level of financial reward for those who have committed the necessary time and energy to such an intriguing and multi-faceted career.

What does a Forensic Science Technician do?

Forensic science technicians help investigators solve crimes by collecting and analyzing physical evidence from crime scenes. Popular criminal detection series like NCIS and CSI have helped bring this very important job field to the forefront of public consciousness. In forensic labs, trained technicians use measuring and testing instruments, incorporating the latest computer technology to thoroughly analyze trace evidence from crime scenes. Forensic science technicians can:

  • Examine hair, blood and tissue samples
  • Test firearms and ballistic evidence
  • Analyze fibers, pieces of glass, wood and other physical substances
  • Identify drugs and chemical substances
  • Recognize impressions left by fingerprints, shoes, tires
  • Ensure proper handling and storage of evidence

forensic technician

Most work for local or state public law enforcement agencies, but there are also job possibilities with the federal government and with private medical or diagnostic labs. Forensic science technicians may also reconstruct crime scenes and testify as expert witnesses at criminal trials.

Forensic science technician training

Most employers of forensic science technicians require a bachelor’s degree, either in chemistry, biology, physical anthropology or forensic science. There are also two-year forensic science programs that combine classroom education in the principles of science with practical hands-on lab experience.

For an entry-level forensic science technician, most labs will provide a training period under the direct supervision of an experienced technician or forensic scientist. A new technician will also have the opportunity to observe court testimony and legal procedure before testifying in court.

A prospective forensic scientist should take a full program of science and math courses, starting in high school. College coursework should concentrate on lab sciences and computer skills, such as:

  • Biology, physical anthropology
  • Chemistry
  • Pharmacology
  • Physics
  • Quantitative analysis, statistics
  • Forensic science techniques
  • Computer science

Some forensic science technician students will take advanced course work to train as specialists in DNA typing, fingerprint, blood, or handwriting analysis or firearm identification. Others will chalk up several years of work experience and then pursue a master’s degree in order to advance to the level of supervisor or forensic scientist.

Related skills and qualifications

Forensic science technicians have many skills and qualifications in common with other applied scientists; they must be analytical, precise, accurate and observant. They are expected to:

  • Keep detailed scientific logs as they monitor experiments
  • Interpret results and communicate their findings clearly
  • Operate and maintain sophisticated equipment and computer systems
  • Follow security precautions to avoid contamination

Career outlook for forensic science technicians

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for forensic science technicians to grow by a healthy 20 percent, driven by increased use of scientific analysis like DNA testing in solving crimes. Forensic science technicians working for the federal government reported above-average wages.

What does a Parole Officer do?

Are you interested in both law enforcement and social work? Do you want to give back to the community by contributing to public safety? If so, you may enjoy a career as a parole officer.

Job description: the basics

Parole officers serve as monitors of and counselors to criminal offenders who have served their time in prison and been released. They keep track of offenders for the parole authority, assist offenders in planning their lives after their release, and report violations of the parole conditions as needed.

While one major aspect of being a parole officer is protecting the public by keeping offenders from committing new crimes, an equally important aspect is helping each offender successfully transition back into society. In this second role, you work constantly with offenders and their families and even the wider community (i.e., the offender’s therapist or a religious group to which the offender may belong).

parole officer

You need to be comfortable and adept at communicating with all of these different people, some of whom may be very difficult to deal with, or even violent. You can also expect to travel sometimes as you track the parolees in your caseload, and to fill out a lot of paperwork about each individual.

Becoming a parole officer: education and training

To become a parole officer, you need a bachelor’s degree in a field like criminal justice or social work. Occasionally, an employer may require a master’s degree, especially if you are trying to enter the job after switching careers and don’t have prior experience in probation, parole, or counseling work.

You often need to go through a state or federal government training program, and in addition to that, you may be required to pass a certification exam and work on a probationary basis for as much as a year at your new job.

Also, because of the demanding nature of being a parole officer, you generally take physical and psychological exams as well as oral and written exams when starting a job. Many parole agencies want their officers to be 21 or older, and the federal government usually doesn’t hire anyone over the age of 37.

Salary and career outlook

Per the U.S. Department of Labor, your employment outlook as a parole officer is expected to be excellent, but bear in mind that all jobs depend on funding at the state and federal government levels, which is often subject to change.

Although work as a parole officer is a high-stress job, the satisfaction of having a visible positive impact on an offender and the community can outweigh the negatives of this career.