Noelle Neff is working towards her Masters in Forensic Science at Towson University and will be representing ISHI as a Student Ambassador this year. From a very young age, Noelle knew she wanted to pursue a career in the forensic science field. Noelle became a member of Towson University’s Forensic Science Student Organization (FSSO) and eventually the vice president. With Towson’s FSSO, she was granted many hands-on learning experiences in the field. Noelle has worked on several missing persons cases in Maryland and even traveled to Kentucky where she was granted the opportunity to work on a 40-year-old cold case. When working on these cases, she oversaw and led a search team through wooded terrain using line searching techniques, removed brush and ground surfaces in efforts to locate human remains, and assisted in the identification of human bones. Being a part of the FSSO showed her how valuable the forensic field truly is in both a scientific and compassionate manner, as she was aiding to investigations and helping the loved ones of victims gain some type of closure.
At Towson University, Noelle worked as a research student within an anthropology lab where she worked with human cadavers and as an undergraduate learning assistant in a molecular biology lab. While working in the molecular biology lab, her interest in the field of biology developed, allowing her to focus her graduate career path towards the biological side of forensics. Therefore, she is currently working on her master’s in forensic science at Towson University, focusing on DNA analysis. After graduation, Noelle aspires to become a DNA analyst, but has also considered the idea of furthering her education to gain a Ph.D. and work in the research field of forensics.
We caught up with Noelle 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.
Noelle, thank you for talking with us today. Can you tell us a little bit about how you become interested in forensic science?
Although it’s a bit cliché, I initially became interested in forensic science as a kid watching television shows like CSI: Crime Scene Investigation and The X-Files. Later in high school, I took a general forensic science elective course, which really sparked my interest in the field. I then decided to major in forensic chemistry at Towson University. Although, I did change my major to cell and molecular biology because, I must admit, I didn’t love chemistry. During my undergraduate career I also did a lot of work with Towson’s forensic science student organization (FSSO), which is when I truly fell in love with the field and this drove me to seek a forensic science master’s degree.
What do you like most about working in the forensics field?
I have always liked that a lab work environment can be both collaborative and independent. Getting assistance and feedback from peers can be a huge help, but I also enjoy the independence lab work can offer. Although, I think what I like most about working in the forensic field is that this working is important and meaningful.
As an undergraduate, I had the opportunity to work on a cold case where I helped perform a field search to locate human remains. I was fortunate enough to meet the parents of the individual we were searching for and saw how much this search meant to them and how grateful they were for our assistance. That was a moment when I realized how important this work is and a reason why I love working in this field.
Can you describe your area of interest for our readers?
I was initially interested in working in crime scene, but after changing my major, as an undergraduate, to biology I really fell in love with the subject. This caused me to focus my graduate career on DNA analysis. After a year in my program, I’ve fallen even more in love with the field. I even like mixture deconvolution! I also love that there are so many research opportunities and room for innovation in this field.
What are you most looking forward to at ISHI this Fall?
I am looking forward to getting the opportunity to meet and learn from the forensic DNA experts and meeting fellow students that are also working to pursue a career in forensics. I am excited to attend the workshops being offered as well. However, I am most looking forward to getting the opportunity to present my own search and hearing other opinions, possible suggestions, and takes on what I have been working on.
What are you hoping to do after college?
After college I hope to work in the forensic field as a DNA analyst. Although, I may have to work my way up to that position, so I would like to get any forensic related job to get my foot in the door. Initially, I was very interested in working in crime scene, so I wouldn’t mind starting off there for a few years.
Do you have any advice for others looking to get into forensics?
My advice to anyone looking to get into forensics would be to pursue all opportunities presented to you. Get yourself out there, join forensic and/or other science related clubs at your university, attend guest speaker events that interest you and introduce yourself to the speaker, apply for all scholarships, positions, and programs such as the ISHI student ambassador program. The worst that can happen is that you don’t get the position or don’t get accepted into the program. It is better to try and get a “no” then to not try at all. The field can be competitive, so every opportunity that could make you stand out, you should go after!
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 president of the lab for a day, I would mandate that everyone would have to pick five of their favorite songs to add to a group playlist that we could all listen to. Personally, listening to music while I work makes me happier and gets me hyper focused on whatever task I am trying to complete, so I think a group playlist could brighten everyone’s day!
Anything else you’d like to share?
I would just like to thank Towson University and all the professors who have helped me along the way, specifically Dr. Kelly Elkins for being my research mentor and telling me to apply for the ISHI student ambassador program. I would also like to thank everyone involved at ISHI/Promega for this amazing opportunity.
Noelle, thank you for letting us get to know you a little better! Be sure to follow her on INSTAGRAM, TWITTER, or FACEBOOK.
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