The Bachelor of Science Honours in Forensic Sciences consists of two parts:
- Part 1 (FORM4003A) comprises the coursework component, which entails 5 modules.
- Part 2 (FORM4004A) comprises a research methodology module, which includes a research project.
Part 1 constitutes 60% of the qualification and Part 2 the remaining 40%. Successful completion of FORM4003A and FORM4004Awill result in the degree (qualification) of Bachelor of Health Sciences Honours (BHSc Hons) in the field of Forensic Sciences.
The BHSc(Hons) in Forensic Science does not train students to become forensic pathologists. The only way to become a forensic pathologist is to qualify as a medical doctor and then specialize in forensic pathology.
This Honours program is to train students to become forensic scientists. Past students have gone on to be employed as forensic scientists in the Forensic Pathology Services and the South African Police Services Forensic Laboratories in a number of units such as the Biology Unit, Chemistry Unit, Victim Identification Centre, and Investigative Psychology Unit.
Others have gone on to work internationally as forensic specialists for humanitarian organisations such as the International Committee of the Red Cross in regions of conflict. Others have adapted their forensic skills to work at the National Institute of Occupational Health and other fields including risk management, fire investigation, and academic research. It must be stressed that the field of Forensic Science within South Africa is still developing. This does serve as a disadvantage to you the student as you will be entering a developing field and not an established one. However, the advantage puts you at the forefront of development within our country and the potential is immense.
The coursework component is designed as an introduction to various forensic fields and aims to prepare students to apply foundational knowledge and skills in the medico-legal investigations surrounding unnatural deaths in South Africa. The research component includes coursework on research methodology, journal club presentations, and a year-long research project.
The coursework component consists of five modules:
- Forensic Medicine
- Forensic Anthropology
- Investigative and Forensic Psychology
- Forensic Entomology
- Forensic Toxicology
Class attendance is compulsory.
Each module is assessed via written assignments (short answer questions, and essays), laboratory tutorials, practical tests (lab-based assessments), and a written examination.
Students will also actively participate in the Human DecedentIdentification Unit by collecting and recording primary and secondary identifiers from active forensic cases to assist in the identification of individuals who have died as a result of unnatural causes.
Description of Modules:
This module addresses those aspects of forensic medicine which are most frequently the subject of expert testimony in the courts. The intention is to teach the basics of forensic medicine to students with no previous knowledge of the forensic sciences. The primary aim of the course is to introduce students to the ways in which medical science can assist in the resolution of legal issues in the criminal and civil courts. By the end of the module students should know the legal framework governing Forensic Pathology Services (and health care workers) in SA, have an understanding of the forensic aspects of different types of injuries and injury patterns, be able to critically evaluate a medico-legal report on (inter alia) a person dying of injury or a surviving victim of an alleged assault or sexual offence, understand the medical basis of legal issues related (but not limited to) fatal injuries, sexual offences, alcohol and drug abuse, anoxia, child abuse, and procedure-related deaths
This module provides an introduction to the forensic application of analyzing and identifying skeletonized remains through human skeletal biology, including age and developmental assessment, morphological and metric assessment of sex, morphological and metric assessment of ancestry, stature and body size, unique skeletal markers, trauma, pathology, and body modifications.
Investigative and Forensic Psychology
This module aims to teach the principles of investigative and forensic psychology from a theoretical perspective and to produce graduates who have a basic knowledge of investigative and forensic psychology, within the South African context. Students will gain a basic knowledge of the following: 1) psychology, both investigative and forensic, and to understand the role of the investigative and forensic psychologist within the South African justice system, 2) Criminal Investigative Analysis (Profiling) from an Investigative Psychological perspective, 3) psychologically motivated crimes within a South African context, 4) family murders, 5) serial rape, serial murder, sexual murder, and muti murder, 6) the role fantasy, signature and modus operandi play during a psychologically motivated crime, 7) paraphilias, with a specific focus on autoerotic fatality and Paedophilia, 8) the skills for major case management and 9) the role of an expert witness and how to present expert evidence in court.
This module aims to teach the principles of forensic entomology with respect to medico-legal investigations. Students will gain knowledge in the following: 1) the internal and external anatomy of insects, 2) identify insect orders and families using scientific keys from physical features on Insects, 3) understand how the environment affects the insects which live in the area, 4) understand how insects are adapted to living in different areas and how this relates to forensic entomology, 5) understand both the medical and forensic application of entomology, 6) correctly collect and process insect samples to be used in estimating the postmortem interval(i.e. the time since death), 7) understand the physiological effects of toxins on the body and development of insects, and 8) understand how insects play a pivotal role in the crime scene and how they may change or alter evidence.
This module aims to familiarise the student with current investigative forensic toxicology principles, processes and techniques; provide basic fundamental pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic principles in understanding how a xenobiotic is administered, absorbed and eliminated from the body, identify and elaborate on analytical instrumentations employed in a forensic toxicological analysis and their applications, and provide exposure to basic analytical methodologies in the performance of drug and pesticide testing in biological specimens.
Human Decedent Identification Unit
Honours students are expected to participate in the Human Decedent Identification Unit at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services Medico-legal Mortuary. This unit was created as a humanitarian effort to help with the identification of unknown deceased individuals at the Johannesburg Forensic Pathology Services. The unit was created by the University of the Witwatersrand Department of Forensic Medicine and Pathology in collaboration with the International Committee of the Red Cross, and associates with the Victim Identification Centre of the South African Police Service. The role of the unit is to gather information on unidentified deceased individuals who have died as a result of unnatural causes to aid in their possible identification regardless of their nationality. Primary and secondary forms of identification are collected, including, DNA samples(hair, nail, blood), fingerprints and dental records, and record descriptions and photographs of scars, tattoos, moles, piercings, clothes, personal effects, etc. Participation in the unit is compulsory for the BHSC Honours in Forensic Science students. The unit runs twice a week (primarily Wednesday and Thursday afternoons) and sessions are confirmed at the beginning of each term in line with the lecture courses occurring at the time. The students work in groups and rotate through each section of the process of ID to give them full knowledge and experience in all aspects of the identification process.
The Research Methodology module is intended to assist students to develop skills to perform research in Forensic Sciences and enable them to become competent independent research. This module includes lectures in research methodology and assessments in the form of a mini-research report, journal club presentations, and a research project on a topic related to one of the coursework modules. The research project will entail a research proposal, proposal presentation, research report, research presentation, and research poster (all under the supervision of forensic science and pathology staff).
To be considered for this course you should have a Bachelor of Science, Bachelor of Health Science, or Bachelor of Engineering in Biomedical Engineering degree and at least 60% for each of your 3rd-year majors and be enrolled in, or completed TWO of the following courses:
Internal applicants (Wits applicants):
- ANAT3002/A (Human Biology III)
- PHSL3002/A (Applied & Experimental Physiology III)
- PHSL3006/A (Human Physiology III)
- ANAT3011/A (Medical Cell Biology III)
- HAEM3002/A (Molecular Medicine III)
- PHAR3004 (Pharmacology III)
- CHEM3002A & CHEM3003A (Chemistry IIIA & Chemistry IIIB) OR CHEM3033A & CHEM3034A (Applied Chemistry IIIA & Applied Chemistry IIIB)
- MCBG3004 (Biochemistry and Cell Biology)
- APES3042A (Medical and Applied Entomology III)
- APES3029A (PalaeontologyIII)
- APES3057A (Physiological Entomology III)
- APES3067A (Experimental Field Biology III)
- ARCL3002A (Archaeology III)
- PSYC3001A (Abnormal Psychology III / PSYC3013A (Cognitive Neuropsychology III) / PSYC3015A (Health Psychology III) / PSYC3017A Psychotherapeutic Interventions III) / PSYC3018A (Child and Adolescent Psychology III)
- APES3041A (Animal BehaviourIII)
- APES3066A(Behavioural EcologyIII)
- APES3058A(Biosystematics and EvolutionIII)
- APES3051A(Diversity, Ecology and Economic Importance of AlgaeIII)
- APES3069A (Molecular EcologyIII)
- APES3073A(Environment and SustainabilityIII)
- APES3065A(Applied Population EcologyIII)
- APES3047A (Ecological Communities and Biodiversity ConservationIII)
- APES3034A(Functional Ecology in Changing EnvironmentsIII)
- APES3069A(Molecular EcologyIII)
- APES3072A(Spatial Ecology and ConservationIII)
- MCBG3033A(Applied BioinformaticsIII)
- MCBG3034A(Genetics and Developmental BiologyIII)
- MCBG3035A(Microbiology and BiotechnologyIII)
- CHMT3017A(Biomedical Transport Phenomena)
- ELEN3028A(Biomedical Measurement, Instrumentation and Imaging)
- ELEN3014A(Biomedical Signals, Systems, and Control)
- STHS3000A(Exercise ScienceIII)
- FAMH3004A(Health Systems SciencesIII)
- COMH3003A(Public HealthIII)
External applicants (Non-Wits applicants):
- Human biology/anatomy
- Medical cell biology
- Forensic sciences
- Sport science
- Biomedical engineering
Please note: this is a very popular Honours that receives over 270 applications each year. Only 15 spaces are available each year. The selection process is very competitive. The prerequisites listed above are the minimum requirements and they do not guarantee acceptance into the program.
Shortlisted candidates are invited to attend viewings of a forensic autopsy and the ID Unit to gauge their suitability to the forensic mortuary environment. All academic activities are held at the JFPS mortuary and students are expected to be able to handle the mortuary environment and exposure to decedents that have died as a result of unnatural causes.
University Application Process
- Applications are handled centrally by the Student Enrolment Centre (SEnC). Once your application is complete in terms of requested documentation, your application will be referred to the relevant School for assessment. Click here to see an overview of the Wits applications process.
- Please apply online. Upload your supporting documents at the time of application, or via the Self Service Portal.
- Applicants can monitor the progress of their applications via the Self Service Portal.
- Selections for programmes that have a limited intake but attract a large number of applications may only finalise the application at the end of the application cycle.
Please note that the Entry Requirements are a guide. Meeting these requirements does not guarantee a place. Final selection is made subject to the availability of places, academic results and other entry requirements where applicable.
International students, please check this section.
For more information, contact the Student Call Centre +27 (0)11 717 1888, or log a query at www.wits.ac.za/askwits.
University Fees and Funding
Click here to see the current average tuition fees. The Fees site also provides information about the payment of fees and closing dates for fees payments. Once you have applied you will be able to access the fees estimator on the student self-service portal.
For information about postgraduate funding opportunities, including the postgraduate merit award, click here. Please also check your School website for bursary opportunities. NRF bursaries: The National Research Foundation (NRF) offers a wide range of opportunities in terms of bursaries and fellowships to students pursuing postgraduate studies. External bursaries portal: The Bursaries South Africa website provides a comprehensive list of bursaries in South Africa.