Aug 30 2016

Under the Microscope – Julie French


The ISHI27 agenda is already filling up with some great talks from amazing speakers! While the forensic community is a tight-knit group, we can always get a little closer, right? With that in mind, we asked our speakers some questions to get to know them a little better outside of their work. We’ve been posting their responses in a feature we like to call Under the Microscope.





Today, we’re chatting with Julie French, who will be presenting Developmental Validation of the DNAscan™ Rapid DNA Analysis™ Instrument and Expert System: Reference Sample Processing for Upload to the National DNA Index System during the General Sessions on Wednesday, September 28th.

Julie French is currently the Global Applications Leader for the Human Identity Division at GE Healthcare. She received her M.S. in Criminal Justice with specialization in Forensic Science from Michigan State University and her B.S. in Animal Science from Virginia Tech. Julie currently leads GE’s global team, providing technical expertise in support of human identity products. She serves as a member of the NIST OSAC, Biological Data Interpretation and Reporting Subcommittee, and previously served on the CJIS Advisory Policy Board (APB) National Rapid DNA Task Force and the SWGDAM Rapid DNA Committee. Julie worked for the Michigan State Police for over 10 years, beginning as a DNA examiner and promoting to Assistant Director of the Forensic Science Division (Quality Assurance Manager), with approximately 8 years as the CODIS State Administrator.


How did you come to work in the field of forensics/DNA?

When I was completing my undergraduate work at Virginia Tech, I was working on a reproductive biology research project involving sheep.  During our trial, some of the sheep died unexpectedly and we ordered necropsies to understand the cause of death.  This experience opened my mind to the detective side of science and piqued my interest in the field of forensic science.  From there, I continued my education at Michigan State University with a focus on forensic science and then began my professional career as a forensic DNA scientist at the Michigan State Police.


What is your favorite thing about your job? Why?

I enjoy the personal interactions with talented forensic scientists across the globe.  I appreciate learning about the similarities and differences in forensic testing methods, applicable laws, and adjudication of criminal matters in different countries.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?

One of the hardest things I do in my job is to select a limited number of new projects, products, or research initiatives to pursue at any one time.  As we all know, there are only 24 hours in the day so I must set priorities to stay on track.  But, if given infinite time, I would reach every word of the research projects being conducted by scientists and examiners in labs across the world.  I find all forensic disciplines incredibly interesting and am curious about understanding and improving how we transfer technological advances to the hands of working forensic science practitioners.


What accomplishment are you most proud of relating to forensics/DNA?

This is an easy one.  My proudest accomplishment is the topic which I am speaking about at this ISHI 27 meeting – the validation and NDIS approval of the first Rapid DNA System.  I have been keenly interested in Rapid DNA since the first task group was formed in 2010 to evaluate the efficacy of implementing the new technology into police booking stations.  The design and execution of this developmental validation was exciting and challenging because it forced us to evaluate the technology in a new manner because the system does not allow user intervention.  The team that worked on this unique and challenging project was great, and I am very proud and honored to have part of this revolutionary project.


If you’ve attended ISHI before, what keeps you coming back? If you’ve never attended before, what are you most looking forward to at ISHI27?

I’ve attended ISHI nearly every year since entering the field of forensic DNA analysis.  It is a great event to hear about new research being conducted in our field, discuss relevant challenges, learn about new products for the forensic DNA community, meet new people, and catch up with dear friends and respected colleagues.



When you were little, what career did you think you’d have as an adult?

I thought I’d be a veterinarian.  I’m sure that is pretty common for little girls who ride horses, so I definitely fit the mold.  I’ve always been interested in science, so I’m not too surprised I’ve landed as a forensic scientist.


Where do you see the future of forensic science headed?

The U.S. forensic science community in this Post-NAS Report environment is likely going to be more scrutinized and regulated.  The challenging objective is to make meaningful, effective, scientific improvements to the quality of the forensic science tests and their introduction into the judicial system while setting aside political and personal agendas.

What do you hope the audience learns/takes away from your talk?

After my presentation, I hope the forensic DNA community appreciates the comprehensive data set generated to demonstrate that Rapid DNA Analysis with the DNAscan is reliable, reproducible, robust, and fit for use to generate STR profiles for upload to DNA databases such as NDIS.

What person would you say has had the biggest influence in your career?

During my childhood, my life was greatly influenced by a grandfatherly family friend.  He was a brilliant mathematician and engineer living with his beautiful wife in a remote home with no electricity.  I spent countless hours with him during my childhood playing math games, exploring the outdoors, and learning strategies to conquer physics problems.

If you could time-travel, what year would you go to and why?

I’d stay right where I am – I’m enjoying the journey of life.

Star Wars or Star Trek?

Definitely Star Wars – my family is obsessed so I have no choice!