July 2015 Young Forensic Scientists Forum News

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in the articles contained in the Academy News are those of the identified authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Academy.

Editors: Brianna B. Bermudez, BS, and Jacob Griffin, BS

A Letter from the YFSF President
The Young Forensic Scientists Forum (YFSF) is hard at work planning for the AAFS 68th Annual Scientific Meeting in Las Vegas, NV! The Academy’s August 1 abstract deadline is steadily approaching and the YFSF has important abstract deadlines in December.

The YFSF has several committees dedicated to providing presentation opportunities to students and young scientists. For details and deadlines, look for information in the YFSF Bring Your Own Slides (BYOS) and YFSF Bring Your Own Posters (BYOP) sections below. Presenting at professional meetings is a great way to build your résumé, to get involved, and to make connections throughout the professional community. If you are interested in participating in either the YFSF BYOS or BYOP Sessions, please contact the YFSF committee chairs for more information.

If you have any questions on how to become more involved or need presentation advice, please do not hesitate to contact any of the YFSF committee members!

Lara Frame-Newell, MA
YFSF President

A Note from the YFSF Secretary
In preparation for the upcoming annual meeting, the YFSF will be reaching out to universities to encourage students to attend the Young Forensic Scientists Forum’s Special Session. This forum provides attendees with the opportunity to learn about AAFS membership as well as network with experienced professionals throughout the annual meeting. This is a rewarding experience for young professionals and students alike. Please read up on what is happening with the YFSF below and feel free to contact any of the committee members if you have questions. We hope to see you in Las Vegas!

Brianna Bermudez, BS
YFSF Secretary

Jacob Griffin, BS
YFSF Assistant Secretary

Things Every Young Forensic Scientist Should Know
Importance of Higher Education in Forensic Science

Source: Amanda R. Hale, MA

Forensic science is a unique amalgamation of both apprentice-like training and advanced degree attainment. Depending on the discipline, a student could find him or herself training on-scene or meandering the halls of academia. There can be value in both, I think. In addition, many forensic disciplines specialize in specific areas of the “hard” sciences; these can vary from odontology to entomology. These sub-specialties require advanced scientific or medical training as well as certifications and continued education. Thus, in this instance, they are little distinguished from cardiologists and dentists, yet we expect these practitioners to have gained the most education and training possible. Should forensic practitioners be different?

Higher education contributes to the training of forensic scientists in many positive ways to include understanding the underlying scientific basis for forensic testing, applying new information from general science fields to forensic issues, and the ability to identify the biases and error that can contribute to the validity of forensic evidence. These conspicuous features of higher education also allow for a more fine-tuned analysis of forensic data and instruction on the limits of interpretation, which has likely been a contributing factor in the many instances of laboratory fraud that have arisen in recent years. As noted by the 2009 National Academy of Sciences Report, higher education, in particular PhD programs, has a positive effect on basic research proliferation as well as advancing new methods and mentorship that is unmatched in day-to-day application and apprentice-like training. Research is also the general mission of most academic programs, and limited grant funding is typically awarded to academic-based research. Graduate programs also supply eager and fresh graduate students to challenge conventions and validate current research regimes. This inspires more rigorous approaches and less “science fiction” in the research world. Current programs also benefit students as they are commonly introduced to multiple fields with different resources and methods that have benefited a number of areas in forensic science including, but not limited to, postmortem interval estimation, positive identification, and tool mark analysis.

Relatedly, this paucity of general forensic science graduate programs can be a drawback to specializing in forensics at the graduate level. As of 2015, the Forensic Science Education Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC) has 23 undergraduate, 22 graduate, and one (1) graduate certificate accredited, or conditionally accredited, forensic programs. Most students wishing to pursue research-based graduate degrees are usually enmeshed within fields like chemistry and biology and may have a major advisor who contributes part-time to the forensic sciences. The dearth of advanced programs is related to a lack of funding and the unusual inter-disciplinary nature of forensics. As a result, there is currently no central accepted standard for the advanced education of most forensic disciplines, making employment evaluation even more difficult. However, the development of FEPAC has begun to address some of these issues with requirements for program accreditation.

Some forensic scientists have suggested a divide between researchers and practitioners and have suggested many researchers are unaware of the practical needs of the field. However, I disagree. A perusal of the Journal of Forensic Sciences suggests much forensic research is case-driven due to the distinctive nature of forensics attempting to understand single instances of phenomena. This is enhanced by the involvement of most forensic researchers in assisting law enforcement or other legal bodies in forensic cases. Also, much research has been assessed from a meta-perspective that relies on real case reports and information in order to understand patterns that come directly from the forensics mission. Cadaver decomposition and postmortem interval research commonly capitalize on this approach. Thus, arguments that forensic researchers are out-of-touch with the needs of practitioners are, for the most part, unfounded.

All in all, higher education plays a vital role across all the forensic science sub-fields allowing it to expand and encouraging more fine-tuned analyses and technological advances. Higher education plays an important role in advancing fields such as public health, economics, engineering, and many more. Forensic science should want to achieve similar progress and proliferation in both scientific and legal arenas. Increasing the number of programs and requiring advanced education is one way to achieve this growth. More advanced education also lessens the financial burden for crime laboratories, state agencies, etc. in training forensic scientists. More collaboration among researchers and practitioners is also an avenue that can provide more auspicious research to be employed by practitioners on a day-to-day basis. Ultimately, higher education is necessary for the expansion of forensic science and the incorporation of more conversations between researchers and practitioners could strengthen this field by combining both innovation and practical approaches.

YFSF General Information

YFSF Financial Liaison
Each year at the AAFS Annual Meeting, the YFSF hosts a special session including a Breakfast Session, along with the BYOS and BYOP presentations. These events assist students and young professionals who are starting their careers in forensic science, entering the work force, or who aspire to work in the field one day. These events give students direction when starting out in the field and provide a wonderful learning and networking opportunity for all involved.

The YFSF would not be able to provide these opportunities without the support and financial contributions that we receive from the forensic science community. Each year, the YFSF receives educational and financial support from universities, forensic science vendors, AAFS sections and individual members. The YFSF Financial Liaison will be reaching out to these groups seeking support in order to continue to provide these invaluable experiences to young forensic scientists. If you are interested in contributing to the 2016 YFSF events, please contact Lindsay Saylors.

Lindsay Saylors, BS
YFSF Financial Liaison

YFSF Special Session
The theme for the 2016 YFSF Special Session is Viva La Forensics. The speakers at this year’s session will focus on memorable forensic science cases during their careers. Speakers will give young forensic scientists insight into real forensic science and, in some cases, what it is like to testify in court.

We are pleased to announce that the majority of AAFS sections have already committed to speaking at the special session, providing a well-rounded program with a variety of different topics. We have a great line-up this year including: Raymond Miller and Gary Berman from Odontology, John Williams and Joan Bytheway from Anthropology, Ja’Neisha Hutley from Criminalistics, Jamie Downs from Pathology/Biology, and more.

A schedule of the presentations for the 2016 YFSF Special Session will be published in the fall. We look forward to seeing you in February. If you have any questions, please contact yfsfss@gmail.com.

Sara Ellis, MS
YFSF Special Session Chair

Amanda Hale, MA
YFSF Special Session Co-Chair

YFSF Breakfast Session
The YFSF Breakfast Session focuses on professional development for students and new professionals in forensic science. This year, the breakfast session will still focus on professional development but will use a new format. The theme is Ask the Expert. Instead of speakers, there will be a panel of professional forensic experts from each of the different sections of the Academy. The panel will be there to answer questions from the audience as well as serve as the résumé review panel. This is a great opportunity for young scientists to have a one-on-one with established professionals in the field.

If you are an experienced forensic scientist, please consider serving on the panel as an expert and as a résumé reviewer for the next generation of forensic scientists. If you are interested or would like more information, please contact Christina Hayes or Kelsey Carpenter.

Christina Hayes, BS
YFSF Breakfast Session Chair

Kelsey Carpenter, BS
YFSF Breakfast Session Co-Chair

YFSF Bring Your Own Slides Session
If you are looking for the perfect opportunity to enhance your public speaking and oral communication skills while presenting your research, the YFSF BYOS Session is your chance! The YFSF BYOS committee is looking for students and young professionals interested in presenting their research at the AAFS 2016 Annual Meeting during the YFSF BYOS Session in Las Vegas, NV.

The YFSF is currently accepting submissions through December 1. If you are interested in presenting at the AAFS 68th Annual Scientific Meeting, please submit a one-page abstract and CV to yfsf.byos@gmail.com. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact Betzaida Maldonado or Jeremy Manheim.

Betzaida Maldonado, MSFS
YFSF Bring Your Own Slides Chair

Jeremy Manheim, BS
YFSF Bring Your Own Slides, Co-Chair

YFSF Bring Your Own Poster Session
The YFSF Bring Your Own Poster Session (BYOP) is an ideal opportunity for individuals to share their research and gain invaluable feedback in a comfortable environment. Mentors, please encourage your students to present their term paper, research project, or interesting case at this year’s YFSF BYOP Session. The December 1 abstract deadline provides plenty of time for students and young professionals to put together their summer research projects or case write-ups.

Interested individuals should submit a one-page, detailed abstract by December 1 to yfsf.postersession@gmail.com. If you have questions, feel free to email Alicja Lanfear or Rebecca McKerlie. We look forward to hearing from you!

Alicja Lanfear, PhD
YFSF Poster Session Chair

Rebecca McKerlie, BS
YFSF Poster Session Co-Chair