If you love the TV show CSI and don’t mind working long hours, a career in forensics is worth pursuing
Do you ever watch the TV show CSI? Have you ever thought that figuring out how someone died is something that you would be interested in pursuing as a career? Working with dead bodies and finding a potential killer is just part of this exciting career. Don’t believe everything you see on the TV show. There is more than meets the eye. This job requires hard work, long hours of standing on your feet and having a strong stomach.
Nandi Slabbert, a master’s student in forensic toxicology at the University of Cape Town (UCT), says there are two separate fields in forensics.
“There is a difference between forensic science and forensic pathology. Someone who does forensic pathology has to have studied to be a doctor and then specialised in pathology or forensic pathology. These are mainly our doctors who work in mortuaries and perform autopsies. Forensic science as a specialised topic is something else.
“Forensic scientists can’t cut up a body – only pathologists can do that – because you need a medical degree to work on a human body. Pathologists, on the other hand, don’t work with DNA. They send the samples to the forensic scientists to perform analysis, which includes DNA profiling, toxicology or ballistics,” says Slabbert.
Originally, only postgraduate courses in forensics were offered at a handful of universities in South Africa. You needed to have done a general BSc in molecular genetics or its equivalent and then do an honours degree. After that and some additional in-house training, you would be able to work in labs that work on DNA profiling.
Since 2012, however, the University of the Free State has offered courses for students to study forensic sciences from an undergraduate level. It also offers an honours course in forensics, as do Wits and UCT.
Slabbert started her studies in forensics in Australia, when there were no courses available at undergraduate level in South Africa.
“My friend’s father worked for the Australian federal police and suggested I look at the programme there, which is how it happened,” she explains.
“I’ve always been interested in forensics. I loved reading about serial killers and I used to love CSI. Now I can’t watch it any more because I’m constantly complaining about how wrong everything is. I knew that it wasn’t like what you see on TV, but it is even different from what I thought was ‘real’.”
Recently, a forensic medicine and toxicology master’s degree has been implemented at UCT, which was the first in the country to be specifically focused
Forensic pathologists will send samples taken from a body to forensic scientists, who then perform DNA profiling and toxicology analysis