We recognize that many students in forensic science have limited opportunities to attend conferences, including ISHI, and may not know what to expect as they hit the “Register Now” button. But, we also recognize that these students represent the next generation of Lab Directors, Tech Leaders, professors, and R&D scientists and they have a lot to teach all of us. This year, we were honored to bring four inspiring students to ISHI 33 in the Washington DC area. In this interview, they reflect on their experience by sharing their biggest takeaways and provide advice for other students who are considering attending.
What were your first impressions of the conference?
Justin: My first impressions were “wow”. It was a breathtaking venue, and I was very excited by how many professionals flew out and traveled far for the conference. One thing I learned on the first day is that this excitement was shared amongst attendees, and it made everyone seem approachable, amiable, and easy to talk to. This was the second conference I have ever attended so it started on a great note.
Noelle: My first impressions were that it was very organized! Everything was precisely planned out and generally followed the exact pre-planned timeline, which I liked as it made the conference very easy to follow and not overwhelming. I also noticed and appreciated how kind everyone attending was and how many people seemed to already know one another. I liked how it felt like a big friend reunion.
Chastyn: When I first arrived, I was amazed at the resort that we were in and the décor of the conference! I attended a workshop and the welcome reception for my first day, so my first impression of the conference was a mixture of things. I’d say excitement, a hint of nervousness, and curiosity.
How does ISHI compare to other meetings that you’ve been to?
Justin: It was the best one. I understand my sample size is very little, but I do not think other conferences will come close to my experience here. It was a focused conference that was organized near-perfectly in the area in which I want to grow in. I think it was just a magical experience that cannot be replicated!
Noelle: Unfortunately, I have yet to attend any other forensic meetings, so ISHI is the best meeting!
Chastyn: Although, ISHI had a lot of people the conference still felt personal and intimate. It also seems like ISHI recognizes and celebrates the fact that with working hard also comes playing hard. That the forensic experts (of today and tomorrow) aren’t just one-dimensional beings who live to only. They also like to socialize and fellowship.
What was your favorite part of the conference?
Justin: I think the reception at the Smithsonian was probably my favorite non-conference part. I do not ever think I will be able to experience a night like that in my lifetime. For the time at the conference venue, I think my favorite parts were the talks/speakers discussing the Tulsa Race Massacre. I was one in the crowds who had not known that this existed and was not privy to the investigations/efforts taken to help identify and unravel the situation in Oklahoma. It’s talks like these that reaffirmed why I wanted to get into this field and how impactful the forensic DNA community is.
Noelle: It’s hard to pick a specific favorite part because I truly enjoyed every moment, but I loved attending all the talks and learning new information. It was also great to make new connections and friends within the forensic DNA community, and obviously the party at the natural history museum was one of the best parts!
Chastyn: My favorite part of the conference was the poster session. I enjoyed presenting my research while also being able to pick the experts brains about it.
Did you make any new connections with attendees that will assist in your research?
Justin: I made a ton of new connections that will help push and refine my research in my area. I presented my research on F/IGG and I gained tons of questions from international attendees and professionals who utilize F/IGG in their workflow every day. I learned new strategies from both workshops (Sherlock in your Homes, IGG overview) and connected with people from various laboratories that have had success with F/IGG. So yes, I was able to make new meaningful connections that challenged and helped me understand how to advance my research.
Noelle: I didn’t make any direct connection with an attendee that will assist with my research, but I did learn about a new NGS kit that has been developed that we (my university) may beta test, so my research could expand with this new kit!
Chastyn: I would say somewhat, I definitely gained some good feedback concerning my research. I also made new connections that I believe can help me down the road.
What is one thing that you learned while at the conference?
Justin: From the student reception, I learned a lot about some of the challenges that the guest speakers described getting into the field. I know of that time I question my ability or have “imposter syndrome” and hearing that these inner challenges aren’t unique to me was reassuring. I guess for me one of the most important elements I took in was the human aspect- that all these experts/professionals are human and have persevered through more challenges than just casework/methodology/etc. It reaffirmed and stifled some of the doubts I have had in the past about whether this was the right field for me, and I appreciated the honesty shared on that stage.
Noelle: I learned about all the new technology that has been developed for DNA typing such as the EZ2 and Spectrum CE instrument. I also learned that NGS is beginning to be adopted into some laboratories for use in case work and how the validation process for NGS was developed and implemented.
Chastyn: I had been hearing about direct PCR, but after attending the talk on Thursday about the topic, I feel like I was formally introduced to it. So, that is one thing I learned about while at ISHI.
What are your biggest takeaways?
Justin: I think my biggest takeaway is that the forensic DNA community is progressing and completing great work every day. I learned about fascinating research from all over the U.S./world and from what I can tell there is more that can be progressed because of the research. There are new strategies, findings, and technologies that are helping to aid the forensic community with what their goals are. It’s an amazing feat to know that the community is working hard and progressing in a direction that is designed to aid the forensic laboratories that are taking on new casework every day.
Noelle: Some of my biggest takeaways from attending ISHI are that the forensic DNA community is smaller than I thought, so making connections at events like this are very important and beneficial. Also, that research and innovation are the future, new technology and methodologies will continue to be developed to benefit the field.
That ISHI is an awesome conference.
No matter how much work you planned to get done, you probably won’t.
Do you have any advice for other students or attendees considering attending ISHI?
Justin: I do! For one, try to become an ambassador! I think it was one of the best decisions I made and there is never harm in sending an application in. For two, do not be afraid to talk to anyone and start a conversation. It shows confidence and the attendees at this conference are always open to having a conversation. I know students come into the conference hoping to make connections and see what avenues their future might take, and I want future student attendees to take advantage of the fact that most attendees are very easy to talk to and share advice! Lastly, don’t be afraid or scared of presenting, many new people you will run into- live in the moment and enjoy it all.
Noelle: My advice for students that are considering attending ISHI would be to 100% attend! It was an amazing experience in which I learned so much and had fun. It is also a great opportunity to get the chance to present your own research and make connections within the field.
Chastyn: I would tell students to definitely consider attending ISHI especially as a student ambassador!
Anything else you’d like to share?
Justin: I just want to close and say I am grateful for this experience and would not have traded it for anything. It was a phenomenal experience and I hope more students can attend to network, learn, and enjoy ISHI. Thank you so much for this opportunity.
Noelle: I had a great time! I’m truly grateful for getting the opportunity to present my own research as a student ambassador. Thank you ISHI/Promega!
Chastyn: I hope to be able to attend the next ISHI and the next student reception!
Are you interested in becoming an ISHI ambassador? We will again be looking for students to represent ISHI in 2023. Stay tuned for more information, including important dates and how to apply in future issues of the magazine and on our social media channels.
Chosen applicants will be awarded free registration (including workshops) to the 34th International Symposium on Human Identification.
This contest is open to students currently enrolled in a forensic science (or similarly named program) at the undergraduate or graduate levels. Applicants must have a public Facebook and Instagram profile to allow for sharing of content and will be asked to provide an original written essay and video recording with their submission.
Winners will be selected by a group of reviewers from the ISHI Committee. Those selected will be asked to provide:
A getting to know you blog before ISHI
A preview of your poster presentation before ISHI
A handful of social media posts before the symposium introducing themselves to the ISHI audience
A scientific poster presentation at ISHI
An on-site interview at the symposium with the ISHI media team
A handful of photos taken at the event
A blog post after the symposium about what was learned at the meeting
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