Chastyn Smith is working towards her Ph.D. in Integrative Life Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University and will be representing ISHI as a Student Ambassador this year. Her early fascination with television shows like Scooby Doo and CSI Miami initially sparked her interest in forensic science. Though entertaining, those exaggerated, and overly dramatized programs provided some of Chastyn’s early drive to gain exposure and a deeper understanding of real-world forensic science. Through academic and research experiences gained, her understanding of the field has matured; what started as The Mystery Machine and Dr. Alexx Woods has grown into a deeper, more intricate understanding of molecular genetics and related forensic applications.
Part of that maturation has come from Chastyn’s hands-on experience which have helped the realization(s) that forensic DNA work is exacting and meticulous – two qualities that she proudly embraces. While she aims for a career in the forensic DNA community, her journey has given her a broad exposure to other analytical forensic areas. Chastyn’s specific academic and research experiences have included forensic anthropology (undergraduate research, Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) 2015), immunology/toxicology (Math Science Investigators (MSI) program, University of Richmond, 2016), forensic DNA and biology (lab volunteer, VCU 2017). Collectively, these experiences provided clarity, helped solidify her enthusiasm for forensics, and motivated her enrollment in the Integrative Life Sciences Ph.D. program at VCU.
We caught up with Chastyn and asked her to tell us a little more about herself, including how she became interested in forensic science, what she plans to do after graduation, and what she’s most looking forward to at ISHI this year.
Chastyn, thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about how you become interested in forensic science?
Just like Justin and Noelle, cliché as they are, shows like CSI Miami and Scooby Doo initially sparked my interest. I will say though, I feel like these types of shows pretty much inspired my whole generation. Watching these shows was like a logic game to me, seeing them find clues/evidence in order to put the pieces of the puzzle (crime) together. I would always try to figure out who the culprit was before the show revealed them. Therefore, once I entered college I used every research opportunity to experience what “real life” forensic science was like. So, although I went to the University of Richmond, I spent a good amount of time working with different students and professors in the VCU forensic science department during undergrad.
What do you like most about working in the forensics field?
I like how meticulous you have to be in order to work in the forensic field. All of the methods and instrumentation are so sensitive so you have to be super careful and accurate. For some reason it makes me feel like a spy on a super important mission. I will not be explaining further lol.
Can you describe your area of interest for our readers?
My area of interest is DNA analysis specifically for mixture identification. My research involves developing an assay that can identify whether a sample is a mixture at the quantification step in the forensic DNA workflow.
What are you most looking forward to at ISHI this Fall?
Honestly, the evening reception for students and young scientists! I’m excited to meet my peers from all over and to connect with them. It will be nice to go into the conference knowing some people and seeing familiar faces, especially as a student who will be surrounded by and meeting for the first time some of the big names of the forensic DNA world.
What are you hoping to do after college?
At first, I wanted to work in a federal crime lab, then I thought about teaching, then I thought about just sticking to research and working in a R&D lab. Now, I plan to do all three, but I think I’m going to go with the flow as far as the order in which I pursue them.
Do you have any advice for others looking to get into forensics?
My advice is for them to understand that the world of forensics is vast so there is no one way to enter into the field. Even when thinking about a specific discipline, you don’t have to take the path that someone else did in order to get to where they are now.
Since we’ll be near Washington D.C. this year, if you were President of the lab for a day, what would you mandate?
If I were Madam president of the lab, I would mandate optional naps. Sometimes we have no choice but to have a long day in the lab so I would rather someone take a power nap in order to recharge and come back to work fully alert rather than pushing through tired and jadedly.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I would like to thank you all for this opportunity! And send shout outs to VCU Forensics Department!
Chastyn, thank you for letting us get to know you a little better! Be sure to follow her on INSTAGRAM, TIKTOK, or FACEBOOK or connect with her on LINKEDIN.
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