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Top 8 things to make the most of your MSc year

Ruth MMorgan8 November 2016

We have arrived at reading week after a busy start to the academic year, and there is still a lot of (nervous) energy in the university. So to add into the mix, here are 8 thoughts (in no particular order) for making the most of your MSc year:

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Source: https://www.flickr.com/groups/734017@N25/pool/

  1. Think before you read

Always think what the question is actually asking before reaching for the reading list. If you can work out what the question is asking, you can work out what a good answer to the question is. Then you can decide what theories, context, facts and examples you need to make a compelling argument that answers the question. That will mean you can read in a focused and strategic way – you will know when an article is going to help you answer the question, and when it is dealing with a concept or issue that is a side issue for your assignment.

 

  1. Read widely

Strategic reading is a great skill, but also make the time to read widely. An article may not be dealing with precisely the topic you are addressing for an assignment, but it is likely to have insights into related topics that build the bigger picture or offer context to the topic you are dealing with. It is also likely that it will provide a window onto methods, schools of thought, ways of presenting results and approaches for drawing inferences that will be valuable in your current, or future assignments.

 

  1. Work together

In an interdisciplinary subject, always value insights and approaches from your colleagues that come from different disciplines to you. You have an incredible resource in your cohort, contribute to it, absorb it and value it.

 

  1. Never be afraid to ask a question

If you are thinking it, it is likely that someone else is too. Asking questions is the beginning of discoveries, and not asking questions can limit your vision of a topic.

 

  1. Always ask ‘so what’

If you can answer the ‘so what’ question you have made a good and compelling case. Justifying your answer is a critical part of giving a strong answer to a question, and part of that justification is explaining why the reader should sit up and listen, why this matters.

 

  1. Plan! (your diary)

It’s not glamorous but make sure you know when (and where) your lectures are and when your assignments are due in. You will often have long deadlines for assignments, so don’t wait for the time pressure to bite, plan your work schedule, and build in time for contingencies. Also build in time for editing, formatting, the computer to glitch, the train strike…

 

  1. Plan! (your work)

At the smaller scale, always plan your essays before you start writing – a plan will make sure you have a logical and structured answer, and it will make sure that you only write the number of words you have in the word limit. Cutting large swathes of words is time consuming!

 

  1. Take every opportunity to meet people

You never know who you will meet at an event, you never know where your future will take you. Knowing people who have experience in the field and who have expertise in particular areas is one of the best ways for working out where you want to go next. There is no better way of knowing what opportunities are out there, where your skills could be applied, and what you are interested in.

Presenting Evidence in Court: Courtroom Assessment Day

Samuel H ATobias14 July 2016

Sam here, checking in again. Classes have come to an end, and my MSc. colleagues and I are all working hard on our respective dissertation projects.

 

The Old Bailey. It's dome is topped by a bronze statue of Justice by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. © UCL Media Services - University College London

The Old Bailey. Its dome is topped by a bronze statue of Justice by sculptor F.W. Pomeroy. © UCL Media Services – University College London

 

When I first considered a career in forensic science, I sought advice from a friend in the field. He informed me that the skill most often lacking in applications to forensic science jobs is experience in presenting evidence in a courtroom. Knowing that I had to develop that skill to be a competitive applicant, UCL’s MSc. in Crime and Forensic Science appealed to me greatly because it places a great focus on the relationship between the forensic scientist and the criminal justice system.

In the module “Practices of Crime Scene Investigation and Expert Testimony”, we were evaluated on our ability to present our findings from a mock crime scene to a jury. After the presentation of evidence-in-chief (initial explanation of findings, led by questioning by the prosecution), we were grilled by the defence barrister (former forensic science master’s student turned lawyer). We had received formal training from Bond Solon on presenting expert evidence, and this mock court was a way to put that to good use.

 

Bond Solon provided expert witness training for us

Bond Solon provided expert witness training for us

 

Although it was intimidating at times, and questions were sometimes posed to trip us up or to create doubt, taking a deep breath and clearly thinking about how to answer each question was the best way to proceed. The experience showed me how much preparation is involved in expert witness testimony, and how difficult it can be to break down technical knowledge into language that anyone (in this case, the lay jury) can understand. I found that the training we received, along with visits to the Old Bailey to observe a real courtroom, were extremely helpful.

The experience of presenting evidence in court myself as well as observing my classmates’ testimonies helped to solidify the content of this module and the course as a whole.

See my previous posts on the UCL Centre for Forensic Sciences Blog here:

My Master’s Dissertation

Forensic Osteology Module

A Master Student’s Experience at UCL

MariaSchizas3 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!

My Master’s Dissertation: Secondary Transfer of Trace DNA

Samuel H ATobias17 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.