The first three years of a young forensic scientist’s career matter greatly.
More personal and professional transformation occurs during this time than perhaps any other. It sets the tone for the scientist’s life in the laboratory by establishing attitudes that will either expand or deflate her/his potential to be a high performer.
Whenever individuals are engaged in the process of transformation, the growth and improvement they experience depend heavily on the guidance and care of mentors who offer coaching and personal insight. Transformation in the absence of competent mentorship leaves a young scientist’s future to chance.
Because there is so much to gain – and so much to lose – in the earliest years of a forensic scientist’s career, it is worth a laboratory’s time and energy to make it as positive an experience as possible. In fact, the entire culture of a laboratory will come to be strengthened or weakened by the experiences of its entry-level employees.
Written by: John Collins
Coaching New Forensic Scientists
In forensic science, training-to-competency is a right of passage and an integral part of our occupational culture. But training is not enough. For forensic science laboratories to become high-impact teams, they must make coaching the predominant method for developing entry-level scientists who can be counted on to build the future cultures of their laboratories.
Coaching is a highly effective method for steering the growth and maturity of new forensic scientists who can become future champions of a laboratory’s vision and mission. But it must be done right.
At this year’s International Symposium on Human Identification (ISHI), to be held in Palm Springs, California this coming September, I will be leading a workshop in which I will outline a series of strategies for incorporating coaching into the training and development of new forensic scientists.
Developing Your Program
In my opinion, a robust coaching program for new forensic scientists must focus on five specific priorities. All are very important, but laboratories often err in not placing an equal emphasis on each of them.
Training and Assigning Coaches – Prior to a new employee’s first day of work, a laboratory should assign a coach to welcome the employee and provide encouragement during the first two or three years on the job. Ideally, the coach will be trained by the laboratory and instructed on how to interact with new employees and encourage them in a meaningful way. Not everyone is cut-out to be a coach, so select your coaches carefully. More important, if the coach is a practicing scientist or supervisor in the laboratory, it is best if he or she is not assigned to the same unit as the new employee.
Technical Skills and Decision Making – Most forensic science laboratories do a very good job at developing technical competencies. Training programs are geared toward building scientific excellence and ensuring that new employees become trusted case-workers within a reasonable period of time. Coaches can provide encouragement and guidance when new employees encounter challenges or frustrations.
Self-Awareness – Good coaches continually help their understudies pay attention to their own strengths and weaknesses. This is done by joining new employees in continuous self-reflection and discussion about how they are feeling, behaving, working, and developing as new forensic scientists. It is in this area that we see the advantage of coaches being independent of their understudies’ work units. Many of the conversations can be deeply personal and even emotional as new employees work to overcome the inevitable snags and turbulence that come with transformation and personal growth.
Professionalism – As new forensic scientists develop their technical and scientific abilities, coaches can provide invaluable mentorship in helping employees build a strong sense of professionalism. Professionalism is what we see in people who are committed to their work while demonstrating self-control, interpersonal warmth, tactfulness, courtesy, and a willingness to place the interests of their teams and stakeholders before their own. Through effective coaching, the natural selfishness of youth can be replaced with humility and a genuine desire to serve others.
Leadership Awareness – We don’t expect our newest employees to become supervisors in the near future. But we can expect them to appreciate the challenges of leadership and the importance of being gracious by offering support and understanding to those responsible for the administration of their laboratories. Coaches can build leadership awareness by championing the mission and vision of their laboratories, while also encouraging new employees to withhold judgement in matters about which they have limited information. Forensic science is uniquely challenging. Laboratory cultures require employees to focus on their core responsibilities without unfairly questioning the motives and methods of their senior colleagues and organizational leaders.
Today’s young people are not prone to blind loyalty. They do not commit themselves to organizations or team priorities simply because they are told to do so. They commit themselves when they are inspired to do so.
Coach for Culture
If you are an administrator or organizational leader in a forensic science laboratory, know that you can develop an entry-level coaching program that can transform your organizational culture and its members in a short period of time. Your entry-level employees will benefit from a more personalized, encouraging style of training. At the same time, your coaches will set an example for other leaders by demonstrating how people are best influenced through support and positive reinforcement rather than direction and instruction.
Over many years, I have worked with a variety of clients both inside and outside forensic science. One thing remains clear. I can quickly evaluate the quality of an organization’s culture by learning how the youngest, newest employees are treated and developed. It is the barometer, so to speak, that accurately reflects what is truly important to an organization.
Don’t just train your new forensic scientists; coach them over the first few years of their careers – and prepare to be amazed at the benefits it brings to your entire laboratory.
Free Coaching at ISHI – Special Offer
If you will be attending the 2019 ISHI in Palm Springs this September, and if you are a forensic science professional working in a public/governmental forensic science laboratory, I will be offering free 45-minute coaching sessions. Please consider signing up for a coaching session if you:
want to discuss your career goals
are seeking to improve your professionalism or leadership skills
are trying to solve a challenging problem at work
want to become more motivated and engaged in your work
Sessions will be held on Monday September 23rd and Tuesday September 24th from 8AM to 8PM. To sign up, please visit www.criticalvictories.com/ishi. For questions, please call (517) 803-4063 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Space is limited so please register your interest in this program as soon as possible.
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