Apr 18 2023
Clued in on Forensics Careers Online Forum Recap
200 of you registered and joined our first online forum held in late February designed to answer questions on what comes after graduation. We had so many great questions submitted, and of course, we weren’t able to get to them all. If you weren’t able to join, the webinar is now available to watch on-demand. We’ve also recapped some of the most frequently asked questions below.
Special thank you to our Advisory Committee members who participated in the panel:
- Brian Hoey | Director, Missouri State Highway Patrol
- Claire Glynn | Associate Professor, University of New Haven
- Brian Kim | Criminalist, Los Angeles Police Department
- Nicole Novroski | Forensic Geneticist and Assistant Professor, University of Toronto, Mississauga
- Deedra Hughes | Assistant Director, CODIS Administrator, Mississippi Crime Laboratory
If you have questions that you’d like answered, check out our Student Resources page, send us an email to ISHI@promega.com, or better yet, join us in person this year in Denver! There’s still time to apply to become an ISHI Student Ambassador and don’t forget that we’ve reduced student fees to $495 this year.
What suggestions do you have about what applicants should share to differentiate themselves from the rest of the candidate pool?
Deedra: I think one of the things that they should include is not just the courses that they have taken as everybody knows the required courses for different fields, but what other things have you done in your graduate or undergraduate career that sets you apart? What research have you participated in? What extra curriculars have you participated in? Have you volunteered? Anything else that wasn’t specific to meet that job requirement, but what else have you done to make you that well-rounded person for a career in forensic science.
Brian Hoey: I think as a young professional, there are so many opportunities for you today, such as this forum, getting to know us, going to the ISHI or Academy meeting. Those things are going to show a prospective employer that you’re interested in this profession. If you can come in and interview for a job and say that you were just at the American Academy meeting last week and you saw so and so speak and you were interested in that or something to that nature, it really shows your prospective employer buy in that you’re willing to sacrifice of yourself that you’re willing to go to a meeting or get involved or something like that. Show that employer that I am different, and I am willing to do these things. Now, I know that it costs and students don’t have a lot of money, but that’s part of that sacrifice and that you’re willing to show your employer that you’re different, and you’re willing to do something that the people you’re competing against aren’t.
What do you see are the biggest mistakes that young forensic scientists are making? What do you suggest so that they can avoid making them in the future?
Deedra: One of the things I see as I had just posted jobs and am looking at filling jobs for our lab, is that when the scientists are filling out their applications and submitting it, they’re not doing anything to stand apart from other applicants. So, this is your chance to market yourself. This is your opportunity for us to look at the application, your cover letter, your resume, whatever it is you submit, for an agency to go, “Oh, we want to take another look at this individual.” So, I would suggest you do something to set yourself apart. Tell us about yourself in that cover letter. Don’t just submit the application and your transcripts without any information about yourself. Set yourself apart to get that interview so we can see that this person is really interested in forensics and be specific about the areas that you’re interested in like toxicology or that you hate DNA. It’s ok. I won’t be offended, even though I love DNA. It’s ok to say which discipline because we try to fit applicants into an area that will not only be suited for them, because if you’re in an area that you’re suited for and that you like, you will thrive and that is beneficial for the lab also. So, do research and know about the disciplines at the laboratory and know what area you want to go into when you are applying for or interviewing for a position.
In many job interviews, a common question that’s asked of the interviewee, is “why should we hire you”, so what answer would you be looking for from a recent graduate who has little to no experience?
Claire: That’s a great question, because it’s a common question that gets asked in all types of interviews, and even academic interviews as well, and entry into programs. Why should you enroll in this program? Your answer is a personal statement when you’re applying to an academic program. A good answer there is to lay out why you fit the role or the responsibilities of that role, but also what you’re going to do with this position. It’s not something where you’re looking for someone to come in, do the bare the minimum, and go home. You’re looking for someone who’s going to excel and be a rockstar in a program or position who is going to bring an immense amount of value to the table. I think a good follow-up question for you to ask should always be, “What key qualities are you looking for in an applicant for this position? What would make me successful in this role?”
Brian Hoey: For me, whenever I’ve done interviews, and I’ve done plenty of them, I’m looking for competence and character. If you’re coming out of Claire or Nicole’s program, you have all the academic tools to come and work for me, so that’s the competence part. But, we’re also looking for the character part. How are you going to fit into our laboratory? How are you going to fit in to our work groups and how are you going to be successful in that? If a prospective student could do a student on the actual employer and say, “I know you have 20 some biologists and I know where they’re located and what they do, and I’ve seen this person present here or there, and I’ve seen that person on Court TV. I think I could work really well with that person, or I’ve seen that research and I think I could really work well with that person,” that’s going to go a long way, because that’s going to show me your character and how you’re going to fit in my laboratory with my work groups. Everybody comes out of these academic programs with about the same general acumen, particularly if you’re coming out of a graduate program. What sets you apart are the things you do in so far as your research, your posters, and how you present yourself, and show me your character.
Brian Kim: Communication, especially when you’re on the stand. But, I think one thing that is often overlooked is the ability to problem solve and use common sense and develop an adaptive approach to things. In forensics, your lab setting is very regimented, but evidence received is always slightly different from the last time you got it. So, the way you approach evidence from a crime scene has to be malleable. You have to adapt to what that situation and evidence needs, but you can’t just follow a regimented procedure every single time. You have to be able to think creatively and analyze the situation and come up with what the best solutions or what the best possible approach to a situation is within the confines of your SOP or your procedure and to be able to figure out what’s the best approach. So, being able to have that skill, which is really just common sense and being able to adapt and be flexible, dynamic while on the fly is also key.
Nicole: Just to add to that, one thing that I noticed when I’m considering new graduate students and what they bring to the table through their undergraduate or graduate experience is their overall integrity and just to be able to take responsibility and to be accountable when mistakes have happened. Oftentimes, it’s really taboo to make a mistake and you never want to be that person who did it, but there is such a vital component in forensics to be able to be accountable when something goes wrong and have humility to own your mistakes, to learn from it, and to be better moving forward. I love the question, “give an opportunity of a time when you failed,” and listening to how the person will articulate their failure, because I think that speaks a lot to their integrity. That question is one of the best ways to explore how a person truly thinks of themselves and how they tend to handle situations when things get a little bit complicated.
Deedra: In forensics, mistakes will happen no matter with how many times we validate, and how many SOPs we have in place. No matter how many safeguards and technical reviews we do, mistakes will happen, but the integrity and the bounce back from a mistake will set you apart from others. Being able to handle a mistake, recover from that mistake, being able to own that mistake and develop skills to bounce back from that mistake is what will set you apart.
One of my prior instructors would always say, “DNA will keep you humble.” And now I know what she’s talking about. I was like DNA is the gold standard in this field and I’m going to be the bomb, and DNA kept me humble. So, just maintaining that humility throughout the course and being able to own it is the main thing.
What is something that is often forgotten on resumes?
Nicole: Have somebody double check your CV for spelling and articulating your bullet points really clearly. Instead of ‘worked on a capillary electrophoresis’, you could say ‘developed skills in genotyping using blah blah blah’. You can better phrase it without overselling your skills to sound more professional and appear more competent in the sills that you have developed. And oftentimes that can come through utilizing the university’s career center for CV workshops or looking up tools on the internet, but definitely have someone read through your CV. I always think about this example from Friends when Rachel photocopied 500 copies of her resume and there was a spelling mistake on it and they were reading it and it had to do with the word ‘computer’, so there was an area that outlined her computer skills and she had already sent out hundreds of copies. So, thinking about the fact that it is the first impression that you’re going to give to potential employers and always trying to ensure that you’re putting your best foot forward right from that initial connection point.
What college courses are most applicable to day-to-day forensic professions?
Brian Kim: One thing that always surprises me for DNA analysts that are trying to get into the field, is oftentimes they’re missing qualitative and quantitative analysis, particularly in chemistry, and some sort of statistics course. So, most of us probably lean more heavily on the bio side, so we’re not huge fans of math, but that math side does really creep into the DNA side of things, particularly with court testimony. So, having a strong statistical background is really key and important, and you have to have those statistical courses if you do want to become a DNA analyst in forensics. That is something that the FBI does require, so it’s an important thing to think about and try to do those courses while you’re in college so you don’t have to take them later on when you’re already in the field.
If you can’t get internships, does that hinder your ability to get a job in an interview process? Will it count against you?
Brian Hoey: Not in my lab. For me, it’s the competence and character component. If you can show that character component, an internship doesn’t matter. I walk a tight rope with internships, because sometimes I want someone that I can train and not someone that’s going to come in and say, “in my other lab…” That’s just my opinion.
Deedra: I agree. It’s kind of like training for firearms in my lab. If you’ve never trained for firearms before, the examiner is going to love you, because you don’t have any bad habits. They don’t have anything to correct or tell you how to do something different, so internships are not a deal breaker.
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