Being a student is full of adventures of its own but being a forensics student has a whole bunch of different hurdles and interesting twists.
People always ask, “so what course are you on?” and when I tell them I study forensic investigation I am met with the standard replies of, “OMG, that’s so cool,” “So like CSI and stuff, I would love to do that!” and “That sounds so interesting.” The truth is it is all of those things… it is cool, and interesting and something which I have always wanted to do. But what is it really like, behind the scenes of CSI’s and Criminal Minds, what does a student studying such a wide and varied subject actually do?
Sadly, there is a lot of contact time! While some courses at university only require you to rock up one day a week for a 2 hour lecture, forensic investigation is not one of them. There is a lot of things to cover and again while most students only have to sit through the occasional lecture, a forensics student has a timetable filled with lectures, seminars, lab sessions and practical workshops. Not to mention the hours I have spent reading at home just to gain a basic understanding of what was apparently taught in the last lecture!
But despite the time and effort this course really is the s***. I don’t know a single other student who gets to play with fancy £1 million pieces of equipment or learn details of high profile crimes such as the Harold Shipman case quite as often as I do! As a first year the majority of my units involve gaining a basic understanding of science. I study Chemistry, Cell biology and Human anatomy, all with lab practical sessions to show how the chemicals and systems we learnt about actually work in practice. I have assessed the effects of drugs and poisoning, examined tissue samples and finally mastered titrations! These units are great because they mean you have the best possible foundations for the next 2 years but they aren’t as exciting as the others…
An introduction to forensic investigation has to be one of my favourites so far. Covering everything and anything from basic techniques in fingerprinting and packaging evidence to terrorism and drugs I have been introduced to so many new areas which I have never had the opportunity to study before. The crime scene house is just a great as it sounds, suited and booted in the white overalls and hair nets, fake scenes are set up for us to observes, record and collect evidence from…a task not as simple as you may think! So many minute details cover a crime scene that I would never have thought of, let alone looked for before starting this course.
As part of the course we get to process a whole range of scenes from those in the crime house to fire investigations and outdoor scenes set up on a local forest estate. Each of these environments brings its own challenged from remembering sensible footwear (trust me some people didn’t think about the fact that the woods would be muddy!) to knowing where to look and what to collect in such an open space. The opportunities and experience you gain as a forensic science student are truly unique and it is something I wish more students had the chance to learn about earlier in education.
A down side to the course is how soon you realise that everything you are learning has been used at real crime scenes. All of my lecturers have such fascinating stories about scenes they have visited and people they have worked with and whilst it is all exceptionally interesting and gripping it is also a major reality check!
One lecturer who has some of the best stories I have heard is my psychology lecturer. As one of the UK’s only criminal profilers she has worked in some of the highest security prisons and special hospitals in the country and as a result, worked with some of the most dangerous and hideous criminals. In our forensic psychology unit she has shown us how profiles are made, interviews are carried out and how prisoners are assessed and treated.
The whole course covers the process from crime scene to court with insight into the criminal mind and the process of investigation. Each day never fails to introduce new and exciting scientific knowledge and real life scenarios that have taught me deductive reasoning, critical thinking and what CSI is really like!