#39 Career Close-Up: Forensic Scientist Transcript


Antionette Campbell 00:00
Science, technology, engineering, arts and math can be applied to forensic science. There’s even a forensic art field, you can become a forensic artist. If you’re good in art or a forensic anthropologist, there’s so many different careers in forensic science that many people do not know about, because they’re not all seen on television.

Lisa Marker Robbins 00:25
“CSI” and “Law & Order” have sparked an interest in forensic science for many, it’s not uncommon for teams to share career aspirations in the field. And tonight, Campbell, my guest on this episode is here to share with your family, the similarities and differences from what we see on TV. She’s worked for 20 years as a forensic scientist in a crime lab, and has established a successful youth forensics program in Philadelphia. She’s a perfect guest to give you the inside scoop. I was fascinated to learn about the very wide array of specialties within the field of forensic science. And you will be to, you’ll leave not only with a deep understanding of the field, but what it takes for your team to be positioned to win one of the highly coveted spots. I’m Lisa marker Robbins, and I want to welcome you to College and Career Clarity, a flourish coaching production. Let’s dive right in to a great conversation. Wow, it is my pleasure to welcome Antoinette camel, a Philadelphian with over 20 years in forensic science to the podcast, because I had to have her on once we crossed paths. Because I thought, oh my goodness, this is one of the most misunderstood jobs I think out there. You know, my heart is to set kids on a path for the right college major in the future careers. So they launched and they’re flourishing. And I, I It’s countless the number of kids who have said to me, I want to be a forensic scientist. And when we dig a little deeper, it’s all about CSI NCIS law in order all of the Hollywood versions of that job. And I know as a college major and career coach, they aren’t quite right. But I think I’ve got a lot to learn today, too. So, Antoinette, thank you for coming on the podcast.

Antionette Campbell 02:30
Thank you for having me. It’s nice to meet you in person. Well, again,

Lisa Marker Robbins 02:35
yes, it’s great to see you again. And and I should tell everybody, I mean, you’re not only here to talk professionally about the job that you’ve been in for over 20 years. But you’re also a mom of a 17 year old. So you totally get this stage of life that our listeners with teens are in trying to figure out all the things and what comes after graduation. So you’re looking at this from two different sides of it, right? Yes, certainly, for sure. Busy, busy stage. So what is the biggest difference? I think from what a teen originally thanks from television, movies, whatever, to the reality of a career in forensic science. So let’s just start with the career of a forensic scientist and what they do little later on talk about how you get there.

Antionette Campbell 03:32
Sure. So forensic scientists use science to solve crime. So a lot of forensic scientists have college degrees in science. So that would be chemistry, biology, or any other natural science. But because I work with teenagers a lot, as well as parents, and educators, they usually are not well informed about the different disciplines in forensics. And they assume that we all do the same thing, like how they see on television. So I spend a lot of time dispelling a lot of myths about what they see on television, versus what we do in real life. I come across questions a lot.

Lisa Marker Robbins 04:16
Yeah, so dispel those myths for us, like what would you say is the most common myth and how do you dispel it?

Antionette Campbell 04:24
So the most common myth would be that we need a criminal justice degree, to be a forensic scientist, and you need to have a science degree. So if you were a criminal justice major, and you’ve never taken any science classes, you probably would not land your dream job as a forensic scientist. Also, they assume that we all our crime scene investigators, and that we see dead bodies throughout our, you know, daily time doing our forensic sciences job. And that’s not true for either, because like I said, there are so many different forensic science disciplines in Crime Scene Investigation is just one of them. So we are not all lumped into this one particular area, and forensic science similar to if you went to a doctor, and they would refer you to a specialist. So it’s the same thing with forensic science.

Lisa Marker Robbins 05:26
That’s a great example. So if someone is interested in forensic science with thought, I cannot ever handle being around dead bodies going to a crime scene, do they have to have a stomach for dead bodies? Or somebody who gets easily grossed out, aka me? Would there ever be a job underneath that umbrella of forensic science that they would be able to do?

Antionette Campbell 05:50
Sure, like, for example, I spent 21 years working as a forensic drug chemist. And I never saw a dead body because I wouldn’t be able to work a job where I was either a medical legal death investigator or someone else, they had to work around dead people. So there are many options for someone who would not feel comfortable doing a crime scene investigation job.

Lisa Marker Robbins 06:15
Let’s talk about some of these specialty areas. I love your example of you know, there’s physicians, and then there’s all these specialists, there’s the general physician, and then there’s all these specialists that we go to. So you said yours was what

Antionette Campbell 06:27
draws chemistry. So I was the chemist, because my bachelor’s degree is in chemistry. And then I was hired straight out of college, well, maybe a year after college, I did have to wait a year before getting hired because it’s not easy. Getting a forensic scientist job. And so I was hired as a forensic drug chemist, which falls within the category of forensic chemistry, that would be to discipline. And I analyzed street drugs for a living. So an example of a street drug. Also an illegal drug would be cocaine, or heroin, those type of drugs that are confiscated from someone’s person or from a location where someone is violating a drug law. And those drugs were then transported over to a drug lab. And we had to use our chemistry knowledge to identify which type of drug was submitted to the laboratory. So that is a job where you’re just strictly in a laboratory, all day long, analyzing drugs. Some of those drugs are prescription drugs that were diverted, and use illegally. And we had to write a lot of reports, we handled a lot of our our case files. So if you’re not someone who would like to remain in a laboratory all day, because after a while, I did get bored from being in the lab and I wanted a change, then that may not be something that you want to do. So I do meet teenagers who would either want to who would feel comfortable working in a laboratory, and they want to go into research. So that’s what they want to do. Or they want to be out in the field being busy.

Lisa Marker Robbins 08:17
I’m curious, because I’ve never been in a lab. I was not a stem gal growing up. I was the talker. And I’m still talking to this day. What is the day to day like when you’re working in a lab, you’re working in the lab as a forensic scientist, but there are lots of jobs that are in labs, you know, I live a mile from Procter and Gamble beauty care headquarters globally. There are people in there coming up with different shampoos and smells and all of the things. So there are a lot of not just some forensic science, there’s a lot of lab jobs out there. What is it like? I mean, to what degree are you standing, working independently working collaboratively?

Antionette Campbell 09:02
What’s it like the day in the life of a forensic scientist, it could be different every day. So the more you have variety, there is variety, working in a laboratory. So speaking from the experience that I’ve had, over the years with working in the chemistry laboratory, I spent most of the day at either a lab bench or at a cubicle. So the laboratory is laid out similar to any laboratory, where you would work with test tubes and all of the science equipment that you become familiar with over your college education. You also have to analyze physical evidence. So it doesn’t matter which type of forensic job that is mostly spent in a laboratory you have to analyze physical evidence. So you do that you have to write reports. There’s a lot of writing. There is some collaborative sense Send what you do because you sometimes you have to assist your colleague with a big case that they may have, there are meetings, you’re not always micromanaged. Although there is a supervisory team on hand, but they will come and answer any questions you have, you do have to be familiar with policies and protocols for what you have to do. So there is a lot of time being spent with yourself where you’re working on a case by yourself, or you can still socialize whenever you have time. So sometimes the laboratory can seem isolated from everyone else, because you’re in the laboratory all day. And when you work at a crime lab, all of the areas, all of the sections of forensic science are divided into different units. So you are in your unit that you work in.

Lisa Marker Robbins 11:00
So your lab was the drug chemistry unit, it

Antionette Campbell 11:04
was the drug unit him, okay, it’s

Lisa Marker Robbins 11:06
a drug. And then, so then somebody else who’s looking at maybe like body tissue, or things like that, where, okay, now we’re getting into the dead body part. That’s a totally different lab than

Antionette Campbell 11:18
exactly, so we’re all separated by units, you would not see a firearms unit. In the same laboratory with a drug lab. It doesn’t work that way. We’re all divided into separate units. So you are working with your colleagues, the staff, they’re all trained and experienced in that same area. That’s it.

Lisa Marker Robbins 11:39
That’s a great way like we you say the unit, we’ve got the drug unit, then you just brought up the firearms unit. Exactly. That’s another area of forensic science. Yes. What are the other units, you have

Antionette Campbell 11:53
the crime scene unit, you have the criminalistics unit, which is made up, it varies depending on where you are in the world. But forensic biology is separate from forensic chemistry, because that deals with life science, anything that’s living, and also you have the pathology, laboratory and Medical Examiner’s Office, that’s a different unit, that could be a unit that is either located outside of your building, or outside of your building. And you have the latent print unit, that document examination unit. So So those are some of your most common areas of forensic science. And they are other agencies that have more units similar to those or they have less of those units,

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:36
probably depending, I mean, you were in Philadelphia, so a very large

Antionette Campbell 12:42
city, and it’s a lot of crime in Philadelphia, unfortunately. So we are the largest police departments here. So we’ve talked about kind of

Lisa Marker Robbins 12:51
the career side of it. What is the educational path to someone who wants to go there, because I’ve seen students under estimate, I would say, more than overestimate or underestimate what is going to take to get into the job of a forensic scientist, obviously, you’re you’re at least getting an undergraduate degree.

Antionette Campbell 13:13
I have my undergraduate degree in chemistry. So that’s how I got hired as a forensic chemists, also a forensic scientist, there are people who I have worked with and many people that I meet who have a master’s degree in forensic science, or they have a master’s degree and another STEM field. So at minimum, you want to get your bachelor’s degree in a natural science. Or if you want to go into the technology field up for music science, cybersecurity, or digital forensics, you would then get your bachelor’s degree, and something related to computers. So I’m really

Lisa Marker Robbins 13:51
looking at that undergraduate into what your passions and your aptitudes and your interests are. Life sciences, natural sciences, Computer Sciences.

Antionette Campbell 14:06
Exactly. This is totally related to all of those steam, fields, science, technology, engineering, arts and math can be applied to forensic science. There’s even a forensic art field, you can become a forensic artist, if you’re good in art or a forensic anthropologist. So there’s so many different careers in forensic science that many people do not know about, because they’re not all seen on television. Right?

Lisa Marker Robbins 14:35
What’s a good resource? Like if somebody said, I’m still interested in now all of a sudden, I’m even more interested because I’m hearing that like, I love art and art could have to do with there’s a forensics path there. Is there a great resource a listener could go to discover the different specialties in forensic science?

Antionette Campbell 14:55
Sure. So I have a website called Association of Women in forensic science and that stateless.org Or they can go to the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, which is AE Fs dot work.

Lisa Marker Robbins 15:08
And we will for sure put both of those in the show notes because they sound like important resources. And of course, we’re going to encourage everybody to go to your website, for sure. So you have your undergrad degree did not get a Master’s, is that correct? Yes, that’s correct. But that was also over 20 years ago not to age you or anything. But you know, for both of us, you’re right. You look like you’re 20. But you know, I mean, you did go to college, well over 20 years ago, as did I, I’m over 30. Now, as we talk about this, I’m wondering how it’s changed, like you were able to break into the field. And you said it wasn’t easy. It took you a year after undergrad to get your job? Have the requirements become more rigorous? Like what a current high schooler? I don’t know, would it be wise, or would they need the master’s degree now, instead of being able to break in with an undergraduate degree,

Antionette Campbell 16:07
I meet more people who do not have jobs in forensics after they graduated from a science or for master’s program, then I’ll do people who are getting jobs, because it’s so competitive. And the retention rate is high for agencies, because when people get a forensic scientist job, because it is a stable job, they tend to stay for a few years or until they retire. So the degree would not make a difference, I don’t believe because you can get a forensic scientist job with a bachelor’s degree, as long as you are applying to a discipline where that degree is required. But I always recommend that they network a lot and do internships that is so important that they do what they’re supposed to do while they are in college, and make connections to those professionals that can help them to get their foot in the door. I also meet so many, because not just teenagers, but people who are graduates and already in college who are shy, they are so shy and asking people for help. And I offer a services where I talk with them, and I tell them what they need to do. But I emphasize the importance of networking, getting on LinkedIn joining a group, a community where they can receive support for what they are trying to do in their lives. And many of them are not doing that.

Lisa Marker Robbins 17:43
I would agree. I offer the launch Career Clarity course. And I teach them how to get on LinkedIn. And we talk about being brave, and putting yourself out there, you know, start with just connecting with your family, and then take it out to the next level. But you’ve got to be able to put yourself out there and even someone who’s more introverted, you can build the confidence and start making what you’re what I’m hearing you say the necessary connections in a field that has a lot of competition for a limited number of jobs. That’s going to be necessary.

Antionette Campbell 18:20
Yes, I like how you mentioned the limited amount of jobs because the jobs in forensics are somewhat limited. That is what’s making it difficult for people to get in these positions.

Lisa Marker Robbins 18:33
Are there obviously like art forensics is going to be super limited, because it’s so specialized. Yes. Are there paths that tend to have more openings or opportunity within forensic science than others?

Antionette Campbell 18:47
I feel that is across the board. You know, a lot of the fields that people want to get into are the forensic biology fields like forensic DNA, forensic chemistry, they definitely are interested in crime scene investigation, that’s a really popular one, as well as being a medical legal death investigator. And I find that people may have more success with getting into probably medical legal death investigation, and chemistry, but they also have to be willing to relocate. So that’s another thing. Yeah, find a forensic job and your city. Are you willing to go across the world to get a job?

Lisa Marker Robbins 19:27
Yeah, so that would be something that they should consider as well. Yes. What advice I know you work a lot with teens, yourself, as do I would we both love that age group? What would be your advice to teenagers who might think like at first, they’re just enamored by all the things on television. But what practical advice and next steps would you give them to figure out if this is really a fit for them or not?

Antionette Campbell 19:58
I think that they should To sign up for a stem after school program, or join their science club at school, they also have programs out there. Many of them are free. There are some that are paid to go to the science museums and see if there’s anything that makes them interested in any specific field of science. It doesn’t have to be forensics. But forensics is an applied science. So you have to get that science introduction to know if that’s something that you want to do.

Lisa Marker Robbins 20:37
So figure out the science part first, like you maybe are doing well in your science classes. But do you have a love for science? Not just because sometimes I say just because we can do doesn’t mean we should do, right? I mean, we all have aptitudes that those tasks or responsibilities perhaps might drain us. So we have to figure out if it fills you up, or drains and depletes you. So you’re giving great advice, like go to the science museum and see what’s out there look for after school clubs, there science competitions, many high schools have Science Olympiad.

Antionette Campbell 21:14
Yeah. And also to it depends on what school you go to, because I do meet students who are in schools where that is not offered to them. So you know, there’s such a disparity in education. And you know, so you may be going to a school where they don’t have the funding to host a college fair, because I’ve been to schools. I’ve been to many college fairs and talk to students about what I do. And I’ve done some fabulous college fairs. And there are also schools that do not have college fairs, and they don’t get introduced to these careers at a young age. Also, they may not know about the science programs in their area. So a lot of that has to do with the type of access that they have. That’s being provided to them at home and in school.

Lisa Marker Robbins 22:07
So dig deep to find those opportunities out there. You know, I had a student one time, she just started like a medical sciences, it was a lunch and learn. And it really was zero cost, even at her high school. So she got the principal on board. And they basically once a month, had a speaker come in from some STEM field to talk about their career, and the kids just brought the lunch they would have been eating anyway, right? Whether they packed it from home, or they got it at school, and they just spent half an hour 45 minutes together, which is a low cost barrier to entry to get the exposure. But again, it goes back to what you hit on earlier, being willing to put yourself out there.

Antionette Campbell 22:55
Yeah. And also to there are opportunities for people at the schools. Maybe they’re principals and other leaders to organize events that are low cost, but they have to want to do that. Because if they reach out to professionals to come to the school, and like you say they do something like a lunch and learn or a chat and shoe, are you still working out the

Lisa Marker Robbins 23:17
chat and chill. That’s the best name ever. Antoinette? I am totally stealing that.

Antionette Campbell 23:24
Yeah, I used to organize those from my old job and chat and chew. And they would bring their own lunch and we arrange for speakers to come and talk about I love forensics. So but the teenagers have to be receptive to the information. And like you said, they have to do their work to meet the mentor where they are as well. So it has to be reciprocated as well,

Lisa Marker Robbins 23:47
it’s I mean, it’s clearly from the time a teenager might think they want this all the way up to trying to get a job in the field. It is not an easy path that is not for the faint of heart. So right you got to be able to dig in. You’ve taught me a lot. I literally had no idea all these specialties. I assumed everybody needed a master’s degrees. So it’s it’s good to learn that that’s not necessary for all jobs. So we will definitely put your resources in the show notes. Where can people stay in touch with you if they want to know more, learn more and stay in touch with you.

Antionette Campbell 24:28
So my organization is Association of Women of forensic science. So that website is avis.org. I’m also on Instagram, under women in forensics. And Twitter is women and forensic. So is Facebook. And you can also if you can’t remember any of this, you can follow me on my hashtag women in forensics and you will know all other platforms.

Lisa Marker Robbins 24:51
Well, that’s fantastic. And I will put all of those in the show notes that women in forensics. I love it. Thank you for sure. Knowing your expertise, I know it’s going to be so helpful to our families.

Antionette Campbell 25:03
Thank you. You’re welcome.

Lisa Marker Robbins 25:08
While I still like to pretend to play a crime scene investigator on TV, I now know the science aptitude required to achieve the degree is beyond my natural abilities, but your teen might just have that spark to keep going after it after hearing what Antoinette shared. If that’s the case, my college bound Challenge of the Week is to head to the show notes for links to learn more about the field, as well as a listing of accredited college programs for forensic science. One thing you’ll notice is some of the schools offer the degree as an undergraduate program, while others reserve it for graduate students only pay really close attention to that detail. If you have an idea for another career you’d want to hear a close up on, drop me a direct message on social or send me an email through our website. If today’s episode was helpful to you, please share it with a friend that needs us to sharing following the podcast rating and reviewing helps us resource more students to launch into a successful future. Thank you for listening to the College and Career Clarity podcast, where I help your family move from overwhelmed and confused to motivated clear and confident about your teens future