How to Become a Forensic Chemist

Those who become forensic chemists typically have a keen interest in justice and law enforcement. They also tend to have a high level of tolerance for stress, as this is required for when they are pressured to come up with results quickly.


If you want to work in this field, you should be comfortable working in a laboratory or a clinical setting, and you should be comfortable sharing your opinions and findings with others in the field of law enforcement. You will also need a good amount of manual dexterity in order to accomplish many tasks in this career, such as performing tests and using specialized equipment.


Below we've outlined what you'll need to begin a career as a forensic chemist. We've also included helpful information for this career, such as job description, job duties, salary expectations, a list of possible employers and much more!



Education Needed to Become a Forensic Chemist

You'll likely need a bachelor's degree in chemistry or forensic sciences. Some employers may require you to have a graduate degree in one of these fields in order for you to be considered for a job.


Coursework that allows you to have a complete understanding of each stage of forensic processing and analysis, as well as provide you with strong communication skills, will help you break seamlessly into a career as a forensic chemist. This coursework typically includes chemistry, physiology, instrumental analysis, toxicology, soil chemistry, material science and biochemistry. 





About this Career: General Job Description

Forensic chemists are responsible for conducting analysis and testing of crime scene evidence in order to determine the composition and nature of materials and predict the source as well as match sample against sample. Forensic chemists must perform these duties in order to characterize the evidence as part of the larger process of solving a crime.


A forensic chemist may also be required to present their conclusions in court as an expert witness, attesting or disproving the validity of the evidence that has been forwarded. In these situations they must be able to give an impartial explanation to the jury that will assist in a final judgment.



Typical Job Duties & Responsibilities

• Perform toxicology tests on bodily fluids and tissues, in order to find substances such as drugs or poison in someone’s body

• Test machines that measure blood alcohol levels and testify in court regarding how these devices work

• Examine fingerprints that have been taken from a crime scene, or in relation to a crime

• Communicate findings to law enforcement agents, investigators, lawyers and other relevant individuals

• Communicate highly technical information in a manner that can easily be understood by people without such expertise

• Provide expert testimony in relation to findings



How to Prepare for a Career as a Forensic Chemist

To become a forensic chemist, you will need to have a certain set of skills and qualifications. A great way to ensure that you qualify available forensic chemist jobs is to gain career related experience prior to graduating from university.


Although hands-on experience can be difficult to get, you should still look for any opportunities to work as an intern, or volunteer with a forensic laboratory. If you cannot find any, try searching for opportunities with non-forensic laboratories, as these opportunities will still give you real-world laboratory experience.


One critical skill that you will need in a career as a forensic chemist is that of presenting your findings in court, and defending them against scrutiny. To prepare for these court presentations, it is recommended that you participate in your school’s debate program and theater classes.



Traits Needed to Be Successful

To be effective in this profession, you will need to posses certain characteristics. These characteristics will allow you to perform your job objectively, and will enable you to endure the ups and downs of the career.


• Must be willing to spend hours performing rigorous analysis

• Must be very patient and emotionally stable

• Must maintain an objective position with regards to work activities

• Must be willing to defend conclusions in a court of law

• Must be able to answer challenges to findings

• Must be able to communicate clearly and effectively

• Good character and no criminal record

• Must be able to conduct work activities independently 





Typical Salary Level

The salary level of forensic chemists can vary depending on factors such as their level of education, their level of experience, where they work, the specific responsibility of their job and many others.


Forensic Chemist Salary - United States: According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median annual salary of workers in the "Chemists and Materials Scientists" occupational group is $78,330 (May, 2018 figures). The BLS also states that the lowest 10% of salaries in this group are less than $43,920, and the highest 10% are above $133,180 per year.


Salary - Canada: According to the 2019 Alberta Wage and Salary Survey, Albertans working in the "Chemical Technologists and Technicians" occupational group earn an average wage of between $21.65 and $44.24 per hour. The Province of British Columbia states that those working as "Chemists" in B.C. earn an annual provincial median salary of $63,003. Unfortunately, no similar statistics were available from reliable sources for other Canadian provinces or territories at the time of writing (July 24, 2019).



Work Environment Typical to This Occupation

Work Conditions: Forensic chemists spend the majority of their time conducting tests in a laboratory setting. At times, forensic lab analysts may be required to present their findings in court. This can be quite stressful, as they must explain how they arrived at their conclusions, and must defend them against scrutiny. They may also be pressured by other law enforcement professionals to arrive at certain conclusions, or arrive at conclusions within a specified timeline.


Work Schedule: The work hours of forensic chemists may vary substantially, depending on the needs of the law enforcement agency that employs them. Some forensic chemists may work regular weekday working hours, while others may work in laboratories that operate around the clock, thus giving them the opportunity to work a variety of shifts. Longer hours may be required for high profile, or complicated cases.



Where Are Forensic Chemist Jobs?

Forensic chemists are most often hired by government departments (municipal, provincial/state and federal), as law enforcement is a function of the public sector. These departments may also outsource the work to private laboratories and research organizations (including colleges and universities). However, there are different types of careers available for forensic chemists, including those in other fields of forensic science, academia, or administration.


Organizations that employ them include:


• Municipal, provincial/state and federal crime labs

• Morgues

• Medical examiner/coroner offices

• Private research laboratories

• Forensic services laboratories

• Colleges and universities



Current Job Postings

Our job board below has "forensic chemist" postings in Canada, the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia.




Similar Career Guides in Our Database

Listed below are careers in our database that are similar in nature to "forensic chemist", as they may involve many of the same skills, competencies and responsibilities.



Clinical Chemist

Crime Lab Assistant

DNA Analyst

Forensic Lab Analyst




Please consult the references below to find more information on the various aspects of a career as a forensic chemist.


Occupations in Alberta:Chemist.” (March 5, 2018). ALIS website - Alberta Learning Information Service. Retrieved November 27, 2019.

Life, Physical, and Social Science:Chemists and Materials Scientists.” (September 4, 2019). Occupational Outlook Handbook - United States Bureau of Labor Statistics website. Retrieved November 27, 2019.

Explore Careers:Chemists.” (December 11, 2018) WorkBC website. Retrieved November 27, 2019.

College to Career:Forensic Chemistry.” (n.d.) American Chemical Society website. Retrieved November 27, 2019.


Please Note: Much of the information for this career guide was gathered from actual job postings, which due to the brief nature of their online presence, are not listed here as sources.



Scholarships for Becoming a Forensic Chemist

The scholarships in our database that are relevant for becoming a forensic chemist are all of those that can be found on our Chemistry Scholarships and Biochemistry Scholarships pages.


Success Tip: Be sure to apply for any scholarships that you even barely qualify for, as there are millions of dollars of scholarships that go unused every year due to a lack of applicants!



Relevant Fields of Study

Studying one of the university majors listed below can be an excellent starting point for getting into this line of work. Click on the links to find out what else you can do with these majors!


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Forensic Chemist