Meet Pamela Marshall, MS, PhD Candidate; a forensic scientist who specializes in forensic serology and DNA analysis. I had the great pleasure of meeting Pamela via the AWIFS LinkedIn forensic group and she was willing to share her experience and educational background as a forensic scientist. Very often, I receive tons of email from high-school and college student about how and where to gain experience in forensic science. There are several disciplines and where do you start? So, I hope that reading this blog will give you some insight into the interdisciplinary field of forensic science!
What is your profession?
I am a forensic scientist, with a specialization in forensic serology and DNA analysis. Forensic serology is the detection, classification and study of various bodily fluids such as blood, semen, and saliva, and their relationship to a crime scene. As a forensic scientist, I examine evidentiary items (clothing, rape kits, condoms, bedding, etc.) for these body fluids and perform specific tests for each body fluid for proper identification. The identified body fluid stains are then analyzed for DNA. DNA profiles are developed and interpreted (compared with known reference samples of victim and suspect). I prepare reports based on my findings and testify in court as needed.
What is your education and career background?
I earned my BS in Biology from Texas Christian University and my MS in Forensic Genetics from the University of North Texas Health Science Center. Shortly after graduation, I began my career at the Maryland State Police Crime Lab in Pikesville, MD, where I worked for 4 years. I then worked at the Dallas County Crime Lab for 1 year before deciding to go back to school for my PhD. I am currently a forensic research scientist and PhD candidate at UNT Health Science Center.
What inspiration did you have to enter your profession?
From a very early age, I was fascinated by fictional mysteries, Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew, and true crime stories, such as Ted Bundy and the Zodiac killer. I also had a knack for puzzles. When I was halfway through my pre-medical education, however, the OJ Simpson case happened. I found myself racing home every day to watch the story unravel on court television. I became fascinated with forensic science and its use to solve crimes.
Did you have a mentor?
As I chose this profession well before crime shows like CSI, there were not a lot of opportunities for forensic education. I discussed my options with my undergraduate advisor who put me in touch with the University of North Texas Health Science Center in Fort Worth, Texas. I consider myself blessed that I have had amazing mentors throughout my career, namely Drs. Art Eisenberg and Bruce Budowle.
What classes do you need to take in high-school and/or college to prepare for your profession?
For students interested in forensic science, there are many opportunities available for you today. Many high schools offer special forensic biology courses. And, there are numerous undergraduate and graduate programs offering forensic science degrees (check out the American Academy of Forensic Science website for more information; www.aafs.org).
There are standards for the education of forensic analysts, specific for forensic biology and DNA, set in place by the FBI. These standards state that a forensic DNA examiner/analyst shall have at a minimum a BA/BS degree or its equivalent degree in biology-, chemistry- or forensic science- related area and must have successfully completed college course work (graduate or undergraduate level) covering the subject areas of biochemistry, genetics and molecular biology (molecular genetics, recombinant DNA technology) or other subjects which provide a basic understanding of the foundation of forensic DNA analysis, as well as course work and/or training in statistics and population genetics as it applies to forensic DNA analysis.
In addition to traditional forensic science courses there are also programs offering a skill set in forensic psychology where you will be able to better understand mental illness and the foundations of aggressive behavior. For more information on such a program click here.
Is there anything you want to tell the readers of AWIFS (words of encouragement, challenges, hobbies, special interests, etc.)?
I have been so blessed with my career as a forensic scientist. It is an incredibly fulfilling job, knowing you have made a difference. It can, however, be demanding and mentally challenging to be surrounded with crime day-in and day-out. That being said, I can honestly say that I am happy. I would encourage any student to find what it is that makes you happy and where you feel you will make the most impact on the world.
I’d also like to say that you never know where your path may lead. Last year, I had the opportunity to travel to Luanda, Angola, Africa in order to provide forensic DNA training to their crime lab. It was an incredible adventure and I met many wonderful people on my journey.
Thank you for contributing Pamela!
If you’re a woman in forensic science and you want to be featured in our blog series, “Women in Forensics”, email us at email@example.com. Also, follow us on twitter @womeninforensic #womeninforensic #awifs. We will share your blog post with our followers on twitter and facebook. You can share your publicized blog link with your colleagues, family and friends. Our goal is to INSPIRE women and girls who want to pursue a career in forensics. So don’t be shy, show us what you’re working with!