Forensic Scientist

Forensic Scientist

LIsa Black

Cape Coral, FL

Female, 49

I spent the five happiest years of my life in a morgue. As a forensic scientist in the Cleveland coroner’s office I analyzed gunshot residue on hands and clothing, hairs, fibers, paint, glass, DNA, blood and many other forms of trace evidence, as well as crime scenes. Now I'm a certified latent print examiner and CSI for a police department in Florida. I also write a series of forensic suspense novels, turning the day job into fiction. My books have been translated into six languages.

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Last Answer on July 21, 2022

Best Rated

I am currently working towards a B.A. in Biology. Would this be an acceptable major to go into forensics with?

Asked by Sammy C over 9 years ago

Absolutely! Even better if you could pair it with some coursework in forensics or maybe an internship.

What was your most challenging case?

Asked by bob over 9 years ago

That's a tough one, because unlike television I don't take it personally whether the case is resolved or not. Again unlike TV, I'm not in charge of the case, the detective is. I'm just a cog. I also don't deal with family or witnesses so I'm sort of emotionally once-removed from the trauma. So the most frustrating cases are those in which I can't find anything that helps. Say the victim and the suspect live in the same house so that any fingerprints or DNA of the suspect is to be expected and doesn't prove anything. Or we have no suspects and fingerprints and DNA at the scene don't match anyone in our system so that's not helping either. So then the most satisfying cases are those in which I find and analyze a piece of evidence that can tell us with certainty who was present or what occurred where. But either way I don't take it personally. I can't control what's there, only what I do with it. Sometimes you're lucky and sometimes you're not.  

Whose payroll are forensic scientists on, the coroner's office, or the police force?

Asked by MissPink about 10 years ago

Not to sound like a smart aleck, but you're on the payroll of whoever you work for--that can be the police department, the state police lab, the coroner's or medical examiner's office, the county sheriff's department, or an independent lab (usually doing DNA). You can also be a sworn officer or a civilian employee of same. Titles are not uniform. When I was at the coroner's office my title was forensic scientist because that was what the coroner said it was. At the police department I was an evidence specialist and then became a forensic specialist after I completed my training for fingerprint analysis. Your title is whatever your boss says it is.

Say a criminal parent drowns a child in the bathtub of their home, then buries the body (FL). How long could the body show evidence of drowning (foam in air passages, water in lungs, etc)before decomposition destroyed that evidence?

Asked by Meg over 9 years ago

Unfortunately, same answer as above--you really need a pathologist to answer that. But I will ask the M.E. investigator when she gets back to me on the BAC question!

Okay, she said:

Welllllll….. that one’s trickier. Drowning is often a ‘diagnosis of exclusion’ so you may NEVER see evidence of drowning, even moments after death (although we look for foam in the airway and fluid in the sinuses to corroborate investigation findings). The mere process of burial could potentially destroy any pertinent evidence that would exist in a drowning, even if decomp hasn’t begun by the time the body is “dug up”. Now in a child, we’d look for petechiae, bruises (that you can only see by removing the skin), torn frenulam, etc.…

How does 260mg/100g of liver tissue translate into for a BAC number? is is .26 or .026 or .0026? Got a bet going--thanks.

Asked by auntiev over 9 years ago

I do not know! So I asked the local M. E. investigator, who said:

It would be .26….

If this is liver, then I presume you’re talking about a decomp… and if you’re talking about a decomp, then keep in mind that the process of decomposition will raise the ethanol level in the body anyway so some physicians don’t even consider liver tissue entirely accurate when looking at alcohol.

What are the hours you work at your work?

Asked by Nikkie over 9 years ago

Right now I'm working 12 hour shifts, from 6 am to 6 pm, working out to 80 hours over 2 weeks. At the coroner's office I worked 7:30 to 4:30 and 8-12 on every other Saturday. When I started here at the police department we did 7:30-4:30 M-F. Then we went to, on opposite weeks, having one person work 10 am - 9 pm M-Th. Now there are more people so my 'shift partner' works noon to midnight. That way someone needs to be on overtime call only from midnight to 6 am. So in other words the hours will be determined by where you work, how many forensic people you have, how big the agency is and how determined they are to keep overtime to a minimum.

What type of classes did you need to take to become a Forensic scientist?

Asked by Nikkie over 9 years ago

If you see the two Q&As above, you can't go wrong with science classes. When I was in college they didn't have courses specifically in forensic science, so that wasn't an option. And different agencies will have different requirements, so you might want to go online and check out the different vacancies to get some idea of what requirements are out there.