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A Master Student’s Experience at UCL

By Maria Schizas, on 3 June 2016

As long as I can remember, I have always wanted to attend UCL, and this became a reality when I was accepted to join a diverse group of students for a Master’s degree in Crime and Forensic Science at the prestigious UCL Centre for the Forensic Sciences. The CFS was founded in 2010 and is the first research centre in the world to develop pioneering and holistic forensic science research for the effective interpretation of forensic evidence, and contribute to the prevention and detection of crime

The courses in the MSc programme are challenging but very enjoyable. I never thought I would end up doing a variety of topics from crime scene investigation to psychology. There is more to forensic science, and crime science in general, than I originally thought – but we still need a whole lot of research, because there are so many areas that need exploration, understanding, and communication.

UCL quad (UCL Media Relations)

UCL quad (UCL Media Relations)

My experience at UCL has been an unforgettable one. Firstly, the city of London is out of this world – there are so many things to occupy your time with. Experiencing such a multicultural city opened my eyes in many ways, especially in thinking of the future and the endless possibilities that a world like ours can offer. Secondly, my Master’s has taught me a lot about the subject I chose as my career path, and the multidisciplinary aspects of crime and forensic science. The lecturers and the PhD students are very knowledgeable in what they do, so getting first-hand experience from the experts themselves enabled me to explore a variety of topics in much more detail. Additionally, having guest speakers talk about what they do in seminars gives crime investigation a diverse spin, and enabled me to see things from different perspectives. Seeing the different perspectives is very important, not just in the crime and forensic sciences, but in life too—it empowers you to understand others and this is an essential skill for living in London, or any other multicultural city.

Each individual is different, and everyone copes with stress in different ways but my top 5 tips for surviving UCL are as follows:

  1. Sleep: never go sleep-deprived. Trust me, I learned it the hard way. Sleeping is important for cognitive functions and without functional cognitive processes, you will find it hard to follow the lectures/seminars, which adds more to your ‘to do list’ at the end of the day.
  2. Look out for learning resources: there are great resources out there to help with writing assignments, I found ‘The elements of style’ to be a lifesaver on many occasions – essays were more enjoyable to write and hopefully better for the markers to read
  3. Choose your optional modules wisely: the last thing you want is to choose a module that you do not enjoy. Make sure to go to the first lecture of each optional module to get an overview of the content, and then make a decision!
  4. Get involved: whether this is through volunteering or by joining societies, make sure to explore the city and the university. This is also a great way to network, meet new people, develop as a person and also de-stress from the work overload.
  5. Finally, have FUN: although it is important to study and get all your coursework done, allow time for doing the other things you enjoy—from going to the pub with friends to walking in the park.

I hope that these top 5 tips and my insight have inspired you to do more research and expand your knowledge through further studies. Whether you are looking to apply to this particular MSc programme or to UCL in general, I promise you that there will be many opportunities for you to develop, which will guide you into your future endeavours!

Careers Event

By Maria Schizas, on 3 June 2016

There are a variety of career paths that you can pursue after completing one of the MSc courses in the Department of Security and Crime Science. However, choosing a career path becomes more complicated when you are unsure about what you actually want to do, or completely lost as to your future (which is mainly why I attended this careers event!).

http://www.integritystaff.com/files/2014/10/your-caree.jpg

http://www.integritystaff.com/files/2014/10/your-caree.jpg

This career’s event aimed to firstly provide an opportunity to network with former students. Secondly the event enabled us to get insight into the experiences of the alumni since completing their degree and get guidance from their experience in pursuing their chosen careers, as well as picking up some essential tips. Thirdly, it opened up our minds to considering careers we had not thought of before.

The event resembled ‘speed dating’, so we each got about 7 minutes with five former students of the department who are now working in different fields, including the Home Office, the National Crime Agency, Metropolitan Police Cyber Unit, Forensic Outreach, and business development. The alumni talked about what they do and we then got the opportunity to ask them anything we wanted. It was helpful to ask about how they came across the opportunity, what they do during their day-to-day, and what they truly think about their jobs. They all really enjoy what they do and feel that the course they completed at UCL has helped them get to where they are now. Afterwards, there was an opportunity to ask any further questions. As always, drinks and snacks were provided, which helped to break the ice!

This experience showed me that the transferable skills you gain by working in our department and networking can be used in pursuing different career paths. The event had a great mix of people, with different backgrounds and interests within crime and forensic sciences. Finally, the sky is not the limit, and this careers event really inspired me. A big thank you to all the alumni who came back!

“Out of Africa – A Forensic Journey” – Dr David Klatzow Seminar

By Michaela Regan, on 27 May 2016

This week we were fortunate to have Dr David Klatzow visiting us to give us an overview of the history of forensic science in South Africa by looking at the apartheid era up until the Oscar Pistorius trial.

In 1984, Dr Klatzow established the first private forensic laboratory in South Africa and during a period of 28 years he has investigated over 2000 cases ranging from criminal matters to civil disputes. He has also worked with the Legal Resources Centre (http://www.lrc.org.za/).

Dr David Klatzow

Dr David Klatzow

During the seminar, Dr Klatzow demonstrated the issues of having forensic science departments closely linked to police or government agencies; as it creates a dangerous situation because experience has shown that these departments can be left open to mistakes and even corruption.

He further emphasised that the first step to changing this process is at the crime scene management stage. The Oscar Pistorius case is a prime example where rigorous crime scene analysis was not followed. The bathroom door was removed from the scene for ballistics analysis and even later brought into the courtroom, when such analysis could have been carried out at the scene. By doing this they risked contaminating the scene as well as introducing unnecessary bias to the case

Dr Klatzow’s talk represents current debates that are prominent in the field of forensic science. Ensuring the robustness of forensic evidence at all stages, from the crime scene to the presentation in court, is essential to ensuring accurate and unbiased conclusions. Encouraging the use of experimental studies to validate our assessments as forensic scientists, rather than just relying on craft knowledge, is an obvious trend in the field and something that we at the CFS strive to incorporate into our teaching and research.

We are very grateful to Dr Klatzow for taking the time to talk to us about these issues and share his experiences.

Curious Case of the Cat Burglar

By Sian E Smith, on 13 May 2016

As part of Inspire’s exciting iDiscover programme, myself and Simona had the wonderful opportunity to talk to some primary school children about the forensic sciences and how we help ‘fight crime’!
We spent the day with the nursery and reception classes at Colvestone Primary School and tried to wow them with our science-witchcraft. Using coffee filters and felt pens we ran a little experiment to replicate chromatography; using the rainbow coloured papers we made them into beautiful butterflies.

Chromatography butterfly

Chromatography butterfly

Then, our budding little forensic scientists solved the crime of who stole the money using footprints… or paw prints as it turned out. The lion had made off with the cash!

Who stole the cash?

Who stole the cash?

Michaela and Agathe also took the show on the road to Hackney New Primary School. They received a lovely welcome from the children and teachers, who all really enjoyed the session.
We all had a great time taking our love of forensic science to the schools, and hopefully inspired our lovely audiences to one day become forensic scientists

You can follow Inspire’s twitter updates here

My Master’s Dissertation: Secondary Transfer of Trace DNA

By Samuel H A Tobias, on 17 April 2016

One of the forefronts of forensic DNA research is the secondary transfer of trace DNA. Secondary transfer is an example of passive transfer and occurs when one person’s DNA is deposited onto an object by someone (or something) else. Trace DNA is usually found in small amounts from sources such as skin cells which are deposited on an object after it has been touched or casually handled.  If this object becomes evidence in a criminal investigation, the possibility of placing an innocent individual at the crime scene arises. The occurrence of secondary transfer of trace DNA has only come to light in the last several years and so there is currently not much known about it. The study I have proposed for my dissertation will evaluate if relative pressure of contact has any effect on the transfer of trace DNA. Knowing this will reveal what factors are required for secondary transfer to happen, and help uncover its relevance in a forensic context.

Tobias, Samuel

Me dusting for prints in a CSI practical session

Forensic DNA technology has progressed to the point where genetic profiles can be generated from samples where only a few cells are present. For this reason, steps have to be taken to prevent any contamination of the samples. The research undertaken by the UCL Centre for Forensic Science is carried out in the collaborative UCL division of Biosciences, UCL CFS and UCL Institute of Archaeology Ancient DNA facility. The ultra-clean lab provides a safe and contamination-free space to extract the DNA from the low-template samples of trace DNA.

As the use of DNA in forensic science continues to expand, the need for scientific literature on the subject will only grow as well. The occurrence of secondary DNA transfer is on the leading-edge of forensic biology research; therefore, my ultimate goal is to create a publishable study that will contribute to the field of forensic DNA research in a beneficial way.