Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the role of a forensic scientist?

    A forensic scientist is responsible for examining, analyzing, & identifying physical evidence that is recovered in connection with criminal activity. Ultimately, the forensic scientist provides expert testimony in municipal, superior, & federal courts. Most often the scientist is called to the witness stand by the prosecution, however, the scientist does not go to court as a representative of either the prosecution or defense but as one who gives voice to the evidence.

    The forensic scientist is ethically bound to not withhold any information that would benefit either side in a case, & today, especially through the use of DNA analysis, forensic scientists often report findings that exonerate suspects.

    Through their interactions with police officers, prosecutors, & the courts, forensic scientists make important contributions to the criminal justice system & perform a function that is a critical link between a thorough investigation & final adjudication. Collectively, the members of NJAFS have testified thousands of times in courts throughout the state & have been cited for their work in many of New Jersey’s high profile criminal cases.

  • How does a real-life forensic scientist compare to a TV Actor?

    In the past fifteen years or so, forensic science has seen a tremendous increase in popularity both among the general public & young people attracted to careers in the field. While the current television shows (& some very sensational televised trials) have contributed to interest in the field, it is undoubtedly the advent of DNA analysis that has contributed most to the increased support & growth of forensic science.

    The first DNA analysis, applied to investigative work, was done in the mid-80s. With the specificity of the conclusions (that is connecting the biological sample to a single individual) & its acceptance in court, one could easily predict the potential contribution & vast growth of the discipline. In the late 80s & early 90s, DNA units were established throughout the field. Once firmly established, legislatures began to understand the importance of the specific conclusions & enacted laws to support the collection of profiles of convicted offenders for comparison in future cases. It is likely that the number of crimes solved by DNA analysis, especially cold cases & violent crimes committed against individuals, is most responsible for the increased respect & popularity of forensic science among the general public. It might even be suggested that it was the general public’s reaction to the significance of DNA analysis that led to producers predicting the success of their proposed forensic science television projects.

    The popular television shows very often depict forensic scientists working on so many different aspects of a case that they might be perceived to be “in charge” of the entire case. They go to crime scenes, process the scene, conduct the forensic analysis back at the lab, develop & interview suspects, & if not actually making the arrest, they’re very often seen going along for the ride. In New Jersey, forensic scientists will go to crime scenes to advise & assist local agency detectives & crime scene technicians on the processing of the scene, but for the most part a forensic scientist’s involvement begins with testing in the lab. In some jurisdictions, forensic scientists will routinely process crime scenes, but usually, the job that is done by a television forensic scientist is performed by three different individuals: the crime scene technician, the forensic scientist, & the detective (who’s actually in charge of the case). If forensic scientists were assigned to do all that they do on television, we’d need ten times as many to return results in a timely fashion.

    One aspect of the shows that is similar is their use of the technology of forensic science. Many of the techniques on television are similar to the state-of-the-art techniques used currently in New Jersey & certainly the cinematography employed in presenting crimes scenes, autopsies, etc. is remarkable.

  • How does a student prepare for a career in forensic science?

    In New Jersey, the required education & experience for the position of forensic scientist is a Master’s degree in one of the sciences (e.g., Biology, Chemistry, etc.) & one year of analytical laboratory experience. Alternatively, the applicant can substitute a Bachelor’s degree in one of the sciences & two years of laboratory experience. Course work toward the degree must include a total of at least 24 credits in the following or similar courses: most Chemistry courses apply, & Molecular Biology, Genetics, Statistics, & Biochemistry. To work in DNA analysis, your course work must include specifically Molecular Biology, Genetics, Statistics, & Biochemistry.

    Generally, throughout the nation, the requirements are very similar. We’re starting to see more graduates with degree majors in Forensic Science, but the Biology/Chemistry majors are still widely accepted & it is expected that they will be for quite some time.

    Most forensic labs require some level of lab experience in addition to the degree. This may be as high as two years of full-time work in a lab. The student should try to get whatever full-time experience (e.g., summer work) they can inside a forensic lab while still completing their undergraduate degree.

    Some students have chosen an undergraduate degree major in Criminal Justice with a minor\concentration in Forensic Science with the intention of pursuing a career as a bench level forensic scientist in a forensic laboratory. While NJAFS fully respects the value & relevance of this major, an applicant will not qualify for a position as a forensic scientist in New Jersey (& most other locales) with an undergraduate major in Criminal Justice. Your undergraduate degree major must be in a science such as (Biology, Chemistry, etc.) to qualify.

  • How do I apply for forensic job in New Jersey?

    Go to New Jersey’s Forensic Science Laboratories located on the NJAFS Home Page. Keep in mind that these individuals are the administrators of forensic laboratories that handle the analysis of physical evidence recovered in connection with criminal activity, such as Drugs, Toxicology, Trace Evidence, & Bio-Chemistry/DNA. They do not manage labs associated with forensic pathology. Forensic pathology is handled by laboratories operating under the Medical Examiner’s Office.

    Please consult the New Jersey Civil Service Commission for job and/or test postings relative to Forensic Science

  • How do I become a member of NJAFS?

    Go to the downloadable link on the NJAFS home page to download an NJAFS Membership Application. Return the completed application & fees to… NJAFS, PO Box 9304, Trenton, NJ 08650, Attn: Membership Chairman. Applications for membership are discussed & voted on at each quarterly membership meeting.

  • When & where does the Association meet?

    The business of NJAFS is conducted in quarterly members meetings that are held in locations throughout the state. Meetings are generally held in the central New Jersey area.

    Most meetings also involve a presentation by a member of the forensic science community who speaks on a topic of interest to our members.

  • Can I contact NJAFS officers directly via e-mail?

    NJAFS maintains a contact form on its website, however the association does not link URLs directly to any NJAFS staff (except the Website Administrator). The Officers & Directors of NJAFS along with Committee Chairmen & Support Personnel are listed on the NJAFS Administration page that can be accessed via the NJAFS Home Page.

    All e-mail to NJAFS is received by the NJAFS Website Administrator & forwarded to a member assigned to respond to specific inquiries. The Majority of e-mails submitted will receives a response, however NJAFS does not respond to any mail that:

    is inappropriately worded or incompletely addressed
    can be answered by the information supplied on the NJAFS website
    is so general in nature that it can be answered by a minimal internet search of “forensic science”.

    The President of NJAFS reads all e-mail submitted via the NJAFS website.

    If you have an inquiry for an officer or other member of the NJAFS staff, please submit your inquiry to NJAFS via the e-mail link on one of our pages, your message will be forwarded to the person that you wish to contact. Our mailing address is ” NJAFS, PO Box 9304, Trenton, NJ 08650 ”

  • Does NJAFS have members who work as private examiners?

    Most of the members of NJAFS are employed by government agencies. In fact, the NJAFS membership roster includes the majority of full-time forensic scientists employed in the state. The association also has several members who are self-employed as private examiners.

    Given the sensitive nature of the work conducted by forensic scientists, NJAFS does not provide a members list or release members names & addresses. However, the NJAFS Newsletter, the official publication of NJAFS, is mailed to each member quarterly, including those in private practice. If you wish to secure the services of a private examiner, simply e-mail a message (with contact information) to NJAFS at njafs@njafs.org. We will reprint your message in the next quarterly newsletter (deadlines permitting).