Written by Guest blogger
From childhood I’ve dreamed of one thing, working with venomous animal species. My fascination stemmed from my obsession with naturalist Steve Irwin. I remember waiting eagerly for Irwin’s shows and taking in my beloved VHS recorded ‘Crocodile Hunter’ and ‘Venomous Snakes of…’ to my nursery class, convinced everyone had the same passion as me; in fact it was quite the opposite. Various parents complained that their children refused to eat sausages claiming they were reminded of the King Brown Snake. This was my first experience realising that my interests didn’t necessarily conform to the norm!
Preparing to become the first of my family to attend university I found myself in a unique summer work-experience position; my neighbour was a Detective Inspector in Sutton Murder Squad (MS) for London Metropolitan Police (perfect for Forensics!).
During my weeks with the MS I attended court, watched CCTV footage and followed lines of enquiry. I met various forensic professionals, including an Odontologist who had helped identify victims of 9/11 using just their teeth. I also had my photos taken by a forensic photographer using an array of different lenses to see patterns of bruising, freckles, etc. beneath the skin.
This work-experience gave me a unique advantage on my personal statement and I found myself with five offers to study Forensic Science (FS). I chose BU after visiting an Open Day and being swept up in the magic, I didn’t even visit the beach! My work-experience, and the contacts I gained, gave me the opportunity to attend a post-mortem in my second year, a privilege often only extended to experienced medical students.
Standing in the clinical morgue having my first encounter with a dead-body, I didn’t know how to feel. The pathologist conducting the post-mortem allowed me to closely observe the whole procedure, he explained the scientific processes distracting me from the fact that I was standing over a recently deceased human. He began removing various organs for analysis and I stood captivated. It’s essential, when dealing with human remains, to have a strong stomach so I was happy to have proved myself.
I returned to BU with another contact (and a gory story!). Despite all the excitement forensics’ and crime scene investigation had to offer, something was still missing. During my second year of FS I caught the first glimpse of my future career path, Toxicology.
I was captivated as my Professor lectured the branches of toxicology including studying the effects of drugs in the body, traditional poisons, the effects of poisonous plants and venomous animals (Toxinology).
Barely containing my excitement I was aware that it would be possible to study toxins after-all! Suddenly, I was that excited 5 year-old girl again. I opted to study toxicology in my third year and gained an insightful understanding, but this was still not enough for me so, inspired by my professor, I applied to study an MSc in Forensic Toxicology.
Analytical Services International (ASI) – St. George’s Hospital & Medical School
I was eager to gain more practical work-experience before starting my MSc; I applied for a placement within the toxicology lab of ASI at St. George’s Hospital. I was excited to gain the placement following an interview.
Dressed in my lab-coat I shadowed three fantastic forensic toxicologists, they got me to grips with the basics, using their extremely effective and impressive analytical instrumentation. Towards the end of the work-experience I was trained on a machine that detects levels of deadly bacteria in the breath, and was notably nervous when they unleashed me on actual analysis!
I was decidedly impressed when I was granted permission to explore the dog-eared book of infamous cases ASI had worked on. Another highlight was being able to sit down with experienced toxicologists and discuss potential MSc projects and, their guidance on how they write forensic reports.
These contacts have been a wonderful source of knowledge, and it is great to see people I actually know when attending toxicology conferences; it also helps that I am the envy of others in my class when casually chatting with the bigwigs at said conferences (a nice ego boost!). I left the placement feeling immensely excited to start my MSc and improve my research skills…
To Be Continued…