Oakland Police Department
Criminalistics, University of California at Berkeley
General Criminalistics, American Board of Criminalistics
Forensic chemists are
experts in the reconstruction of events in the most basic form, says Mary
Gibbons, director of the Oakland Police Department Crime Lab in Oakland,
CA. "We apply scientific disciplines to problems that present themselves
in the form of physical evidence." Understanding the evidence requires
tools from many disciplines, including chemistry, biology, materials
science, and genetics. In fact, the prevalence of DNA analysis is making
knowledge of genetics increasingly important in this field.
Forensic chemists agree that public speaking skills and being comfortable
with what you do are important personal characteristics for this career.
"You have to be articulate and comfortable explaining complicated things
in simple ways," says Gibbons.
Not all cases go to trial, but when one does, giving expert testimony in
court is a significant piece of a forensic chemist's job. Some employers
require their forensic chemists to go through several months of mock
courtroom testimony training during their regular training. "If you enjoy
teaching, you may be well suited for the court aspects of this work," says
Gibbons. "You need to teach the jury about your analysis and your
findings, explain the basis of your opinion, and help them make a
The career path for most forensic chemists is through federal, state and
county labs associated with the medical examiner's office. However, there
are different types of careers available with forensic chemistry,
including those in other fields of forensic science. Chemists can also
move up within a particular section. For example, as director of the
Oakland Crime Lab, Gibbons supervises other forensic scientists rather
than being involved in day-to-day analysis. She is also responsible for
case review and general lab management.