An MS in FS: Are you more qualified?

Have you mastered a science, more specifically forensic science? I, myself, have not, although I believe I have a good grasp on the subject matter area I work in. I find myself asking this question more and more lately: If I were to study and obtain my master’s of science in forensic science, would I become more qualified than somebody without one? We are going to navigate through my thoughts and see if we can shed any light on the situation.

Coming out of my bachelor’s program at Penn State with a concentration in biology, looking back, my knowledge of Forensic DNA and Serology was solid and felt comfortable entering an intro position in a laboratory. The scientific knowledge behind what I would be doing was already in place, it was just a matter of becoming familiar with how they did things; that was the largest learning curve for me. Right around the time I started working in my first laboratory, a now close friend of mine began in the same group; for all intensive purposes, he is about seven years older than me and has his master’s in forensic science. After we both went through training, we reflected on our experiences in the training program and both thought we were equally prepared and exhibited similar knowledge thresholds. Granted, some parts of analysis were troubling to me, we each had our strong points and excelled in different areas. Did this mean either one of us were more qualified?

In short, no, I don’t think either one of us was more qualified; some people will have more strengths than weaknesses, vice versa, or overall, just be a more well rounded analyst. Both of our trainers were great teachers and utilizing the current training program, helped us get up to speed with the way their laboratory functioned; it should be noted that during our training, our trainers only had their bachelor’s degrees but at least two years worth of experience. My last sentence really summarizes how I feel about this entire article; you can have two analysts, each with the same amount of experience, one with a bachelor’s degree and the other with a master’s, and the only difference in their qualifications are their inherit qualities and respective training programs’ they have gone through. Along the same line, it’s troubling when people believe you’re more qualified simply because you have a master’s in this field; I’ve encountered people with an advanced degree and personally thought some of my coworkers with bachelor’s degrees were more competent analysts. I understand people need a way to filter out possible candidates for a job, as an example, but I would recommend testing of their knowledge rather than their educational background.

What are you opinions? Use the comment section below to tell me your thoughts on it. Until next time, take care.



Validation and Quality Control / Assurance: Our Cornerstones

According to Merriam Webster, Validation and Quality Control are defined as such:

Validation: :  an act, process, or instance of validating; especially, the determination of the degree of validity of a measuring device

Quality Control: an aggregate of activities (as design analysis and inspection for defects) designed to ensure adequate quality especially in manufactured products.

Both areas are immensely important whenever you discuss the work we perform in the forensic DNA arena; without having confidence in the products you’re purchasing and operating procedures you’re performing, how can you have confidence in the end result. We rely on validation to prove the parameters of our procedures are correct and allow us to be as scientifically concise while QC/QA that the equipment, reagents, buffers, plastics, and training is in fact working the way it should. However, what happens when we reach those gray areas; You purchase new 96 well plates for amplification and sequencing or your R squared value for your quantification is less than the acceptable range. It’s those questions that we will talk about a bit today in this post.

The evaluation of each “grey matter,” as it were, should be looked at in a different light. Our first will be the purchasing of new 96 well plates. Several driving factors are easily responsible for the acquisition: simply run out of your current stock, vendor no longer carries the product, better pricing through a different supplier, or poor product quality, pushing you towards a new supplier. The first of the factors, simply run out of stock, is a simple enough fix; normally laboratories have standing orders but that is also contingent upon it’s size and throughput. The other three factors pose an interesting dilemma: I’m no longer using the same plates, so does that mean I am not following my standard operating procedure? Short and simple answer: That’s not true. You continue as you normally did. The QA/QC processes that you have in place will ensure that your SOP will not be violated. The plate characteristics should be similar and therefore, acceptable if it passes those tests. Such parts of SOPS, like plastics, are interchangeable as long as the proper procedures are in place to show the same result will be obtained.

On the other hand, what happens if your R squared value is outside the acceptable range? I’ve run into this issue before and in our SOP, we had a statement, indicating our technical leader could approve the quantification; granted, I worked in data basing and quantification wasn’t completely necessary. Casework’s outlook is significantly different and should be evaluated while considering more factors. How’s this avoided? QA/QC measures. The constant freeze thaws and exposure of light to quantification primers can be damaging, so although the lot of reagents currently in use may have passed, they could expire at an expedited rate. As analysts we must be educated on the ways to keep our data quality high and reagents in functioning condition.

We see how quality control and validation support one another immensely; without quality control, our validations wouldn’t mean much of anything. Sure, we proved a method works and so do those arrangements of reagents/buffers, but if we weren’t sure whether our essentials functioned properly, we could have complete faith in our work.

That’s all for today; I’ll be back early next week, not completely sure what topic I’ll be discussing, but surely a good one.



Introductions / bioFORENSICS

Oh, Hello there. You’re probably wondering who I am, why I’m here, what makes me qualified to talk about forensic science topics?; rest assured, I’ll be covering all those details in this post, giving you the reader an insight into me. Let’s start with the easiest of questions: Who am I and why am I qualified to babble?

I’ve been working in the forensic science field since March, 2010 with a private forensic DNA laboratory in Northern Virginia. I worked in the high-throughput reference group, also known by some as data-basing or data-banking. My position evolved over time at the company, starting from a lowly analyst in-training culminating in a promotion to a Forensic DNA Analyst II in 2 years time. Performing technical and administrative review, approving quality control runs, training new analysts, keep up with yearly continuing education and proficiencies, quarterly article readings, SOP review and optimization,  project management, and performing the normal laboratory procedures and subsequent analysis rounds out a summation of what I was involved with while working on site for three and half years. Both while working in Virginia and now living/working in Ohio, I’ve been involved with the Forensic Science Program at the Pennsylvania State University, as an online course assistant for an introduction Crime Scene Investigation class for the past three years. But we’ll get more into what I do now a little bit later on. I wanted to paint an initial picture, presenting my background within the community. 

Well… Eric, that’s all well and great.. You have experience working in the Forensic Science community…. A lot of people do as well.. Why are you here? I’m here to discuss topics that come up within the Forensic Science community. Articles…News… Emerging Technologies…. Arguments…. Announcements… Products. I want to cover anything brought to my attention as interesting. Now, I will preface this by saying some topics will be intuitive in nature and are meant to make us really consider all facets of the topic at hand while others may not be. 

This won’t be strictly a stand alone blog. The manifestation came out of a new line of products, bioFORENSICS, decision to have way to interact with the forensic science community besides simply social media. Ideally, I’ll be posting as much as I can; my schedule will be dictating this for the immediate future. Check out the line of products at The company’s goal is to assist private, local, state, and international forensic laboratories purchase their laboratory necessities for economical prices. Personally, I had some input into what plastics, consumables, and buffers to carry to assist laboratories. The quality is great and I highly recommend taking a gander.

Until next time,