The reality of a science career

Think it’s all fingerprints in a flash, quick criminal convictions, and DNA in a day? Think again.

Bones and CSI (Las Vegas, New York, Miami — take your pick) have inspired many students to consider donning a lab coat and diving into a science career.

While using high-tech science wizardry to take down the bad guys (with a little lab-based flirting between breakthroughs) rarely gets old on TV, the reality is disappointingly sketchy.

Let there be light

Most scientists enjoy a brightly shining overhead lighting to actually see what they’re doing, rather than working in mysterious swirling shadows. While CSI scientists in particular rely on torches, and often crack the case in a mood-lit lab, chances are, if you’re considering entering any kind of science field, it will involve lighting. The strong kind.

There’s no ‘I’ in team

While the scientists working in CSI’s crime labs and Bones’ Jeffersonian Institute Medico-Legal Lab love to stand around chatting about the current crime, often it’s the inspired flash of genius from just one team member that breaks the case wide open.

The reality of an investigative science career is that teamwork and collaboration are essential. Many people from a broad range of disciplines come together to analyse evidence and solve problems — rather than the one genius who can determine the cause of death, manage the trace analysis, interview suspects, and perhaps dabble in some light computer hacking before correctly identifying ‘whodunit’.

Handy work

Fingerprints galore can be found at your average CSI crime scene. These are swiftly collected (often by torchlight, naturally) and given a quick scan before a bad guy’s photo pops up on a computer screen as a perfect match… easy. Unfortunately, in a real science lab, fingerprint collection and analysis is not nearly as quick, instant, or conclusive.

Time and again

Similar to fingerprints in a flash, evidence samples require very little prep time according to TV. Bones usually takes a swab and goes on her merry way, with next to no time devoted to the painstaking work behind the scenes. With DNA samples, for example, it often needs to be isolated, cleaned, and diluted before it becomes of use. Admittedly watching a scientist go through the many repetitive steps of this process and poring over the data doesn’t make for great TV. And Bones and the CSI team rarely have time for anything resembling inconclusive results that requires further testing. The reality is a science investigation takes time, sometimes lots of it.

Want to know what really goes on in a science lab? Find out more information about the Bachelor of Biomedical Science today.

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