Under the Microscope – Nicole Novroski

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 Nicole Novroski, who will be presenting What’s Hiding Between the Primers? Using Massively Parallel Sequencing to Capture STR Repeat Region and Flanking Region Sequence Variation during the General Sessions on Thursday, September 29th.

Nicole Novroski is a PhD Candidate under the guidance of Dr. Bruce Budowle at the University of North Texas Health Science Center.  She is native to Canada, where she completed her Bachelor’s Degree in Forensic Science and Biology at the University of Toronto.  Nicole’s graduate work includes a Masters degree from the University at Albany, SUNY in Forensic Molecular Biology, where she interned at the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension in St. Paul, and published her first peer-reviewed article in forensic serology.  Following graduation in 2011, Nicole focused on casework at the NYC Office of Chief Medical Examiner Department of Forensic Biology as a Criminalist and left in 2013 to pursue her studies at UNTHSC.  Her current research focuses on the development of a novel STR panel for enhanced DNA mixture de-convolution using massively parallel sequencing.


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

I’m from a small town in Canada, and forensics really isn’t a big thing there, because let’s be honest, there isn’t a lot happening there.  After learning about DNA fingerprinting in 11th grade biology, I started exploring college and career options in forensic science.  I started my journey in the forensics BS program at the University of Toronto, and life has been an exciting adventure of taking risks, moving around Canada and the United States, and saying YES to the opportunities that have been offered, while committing a lot of hard work and dedication to my long-term career aspirations.  I’ve found true love with forensic genetics, and I look forward to all of the adventures that await in the future.


What is your favorite thing about your job? Why?

I love that there is always something new to learn.  I am really passionate about learning new things, and I consider myself very fortunate to work in a field that is always changing and growing with new technologies, capabilities and ideas.


What is the biggest challenge you face in your job?

The biggest challenge I face right now in my job (schooling) is that sometimes I don’t know the answer, and, because what we are doing is rather new, no one else may have the answer either.  I am truly passionate about research, but sometimes it can be a frustrating process if the troubleshooting drags out over days, weeks, months… On the plus side, as soon as I (we) figure the problem out, it’s crunch time, and I’m hard at work again!


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

I’ve been working really diligently on characterizing STR sequence variation in the last couple of years, and I’m excited that there is so much momentum around the topic.  I think the publications that I’m involved in over the next couple of years will really be invaluable to the forensic community.


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?

The people! I love having the opportunity to catch up with colleagues and friends as well as network with new people in different industries outside of my area of expertise.  Promega does an absolutely phenomenal job with the ISHI conference, and I look forward to attending every year that I can.



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

Growing up, I was set on being an accountant.  I enjoy math and numbers, and thought that I would love accounting.  I don’t mind doing my taxes every year, but anything more than that and I would almost certainly lose interest.


Where do you see the future of forensic science headed?

I am hopeful that massively parallel sequencing will become commonplace in the forensic DNA laboratory, and that we will continue to challenge the technological and computational capabilities of mixture de-convolution assays, so that one day we will be able to resolve complex DNA mixtures of 3+ individuals.  I am also really excited about the idea of rapid DNA analysis for reference samples after initial collection from perpetrators of crimes.  I think the police agencies will benefit greatly from being able to perform their own preliminary examinations.


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

I hope that attendees walk away with a basic understanding of massively parallel sequencing and how this tool can benefit STR genotyping. AND… I’m really hopeful that attendees will become excited about the future of forensic genetics, about how vast the diversity of STRs truly is.  The idea that we may soon be able to de-convolve complex DNA mixtures is definitely something to get excited about!    
What person would you say has had the biggest influence in your career?

I have to say that I have had a lot of really amazing mentors in my life, and I’ve met some amazing colleagues who have provided wisdom that will forever stay with me… But, the two people who have really influenced my career are my parents.  Although neither one of them really understands the complexity of my current research, they continue to encourage and support my ambitions, even though it keeps me very far from home.  Sometimes, I think they are more excited about what I do than I am, and for that, I am truly thankful.


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

I had some really great summers boating and camping in the 1000s islands as a child.  Sometimes when I’m sitting at my desk, I wish that I was a little bit closer to home so that I could go back and enjoy the fresh water of the northeast.  So, if I had the chance, I’d relive one of those really amazing summers with my family.


Star Wars or Star Trek?

Uh oh.  I’ve never seen either series for more than a couple of minutes… I used to watch Star Search, but I don’t know if that counts.