Using Forensic Science to Track Down a Career

by Samantha Rynas

 

Introduction- Who I really am

I always remember enjoying science.  How things all fit together and worked.  How all the little parts of the body could work together so in sync that you don’t even know its happening.  My earliest memory of being interested in science was a microscope set I had as a kid. I remember trying to find more things around the house to look at under the microscope, grass, hairs, carpet fibers, anything really.  I was interested in being an E.M.T. (Emergency Technician) at one point., Mmy sister and I would look through an EMT book my Dad had and read about injuries and how to deal with them.  I also remember my sisters and I scheming of ways to engineer fun things.  One example being: trying to convert old Radio Flyer wagon into some kind of go cart., Tthat didn’t go so well…but we always had fun doing it and never let any failures stop us from trying new projects.  We just hadn’t figured out the best way yet. I think making things with my hands was also a big part of my childhood.  My dad was a Ham Radio Operator and he would let us help him make antennas in the garage.  Having an interest in making things has followed me for years, in middle school I discovered Drafting class which led me into wanting to scale up my projects from at home projects to homes; pursuing architecture or engineering.

 

Materials and Methods- How I got here

I’ve had a pretty windy road to get to where I am. I did not go into school with a set plan.  In middle school I was interested in biology, but really enjoyed drawing up housing plans.  Throughout high school I took a CAD class and learned more about drafting, but I had a great biology teacher who got me really interested in science as well.  There was also the always crazy Chemistry/physics teacher… The one that would ask how big of an explosion did you want, or consistently had blood on his lab coat from things like a failed potato launcher.

 

As High School was coming to a close and college was looming I had a few options in front of me.  It is really interesting how things work out, while a lot of things can seem like doors getting shut, I am extremely grateful for all these doors being shut – it got me to where I am now.  My senior year of high school I moved states, the new school had a different grading scale,  causing my GPA to drop.  Sadly this greatly affected my ability to go to my first choice school, North Carolina State which had a great Engineering program, the route I was hoping to pursue. Moving to another state had another effect as well.  I picked up my running training, and my running times for cross country dropped down to a competitive level.  I had moved from highly competitive California to North Carolina which was less populated and less competitive opening doors to getting a running scholarship to college.  In my senior year I was able to secure a scholarship to a small private university, Pfeiffer University. Pfeiffer had both options for a Biology degree as well as engineering, so I decided to go there.  

 

While at Pfeiffer my track continued to change.  My hopes were dashed for engineering – I am terrible at math.  So I focused on Biology.  The professors were fun, they kept things interesting.  I worked on extra research, specifically on Twin’s DNA since I am a twin and found this to be interesting.  About half way through college I was seeing myself at a crossroads, I needed to figure out if I was going to pursue an advanced degree and if so what?  What are your options as a Biology major?  As a Biology major, basically all jobs required additional degrees and I knew I didn’t want to go to be a Doctor. I felt pretty trapped in my options. I had no interest in going to medical school.  This was the wagon project again, I had a problem, figure out “what I want to be when I grow up”, I just hadn’t figured out the answer yet. While in college I had continued to develop my interest in making things, more specifically – Art class.  So I started to think of ways to combine both these topics I enjoyed.  I came up with Forensic Sketching. After researching this option I found a dead end, this profession was a dying field and mostly done digitally now.  Looking into Forensics did spark my interest though, and I started looking at other fields in Forensics. There were a lot of options in Forensics I could do DNA or crime scene photography. I already had some DNA research and was learning the basics of photography in my art courses.  I knew that as a kid looking through EMT books that blood and injuries didn’t bother me, so likely I could handle messy crime scenes. As I researched it the more interested I got in the subject.  I also discovered Pfeiffer had a Forensics concentration and I already had most of the classes.  So I decided to pursue that track and eventually decided to get a Masters in Forensic Science and focus on DNA testing.

 

Results- What I do now

After obtaining my Masters I decided I wanted to work in a crime lab and landed a job in New Mexico, at the state crime lab.  I get to test items of evidence that law enforcement submits to our lab for testing.  Our goal is to help answer what happened at the scene.  It starts with identifying where DNA could be in the form of biological fluids and after identifying possible fluids to test who could be the source of the fluid through DNA testing.  DNA testing helps to answer questions about the crime – who was touching these items? Is this substance blood?  Whose blood? Was this item used in the crime? etc…

Discussion- Passion for the subject

While working in the Crime lab, it has been amazing to help solve crimes.  You can both clear people and identify an unknown person.  Answer important questions like what the weapon was.   This job always keeps you on your toes and keeps you thinking.  There are a lot of puzzle pieces to put together.  It is great to see the direct results of your testing and know that you are helping all those involved with these crimes.

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