As a spectator, we are observers and sometimes participants. Each experience, even if they are bounded in some factor of commonality, brings new perspectives. Earlier this month, I was a speaker for the Forensic Science Day at the University of Toronto in Canada, a poster presenter at the University of Leicester’s New Frontiers in Forensics conference, and an attendee at the Forensics Europe Expo in London. All three events, though united in the theme of forensic science, provided a platform for diverse and interesting observations.
This year marked the 20th anniversary of the forensic science program at the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM). For this milestone, I was invited to speak at the annual Forensic Science Day, which is a conference-style event for the final-year undergraduates to present their research. This time, two-thirds of the student presenters were former students of mine. I remembered being in their position when I was one of them three years ago, anxiously hoping to get through my presentation without forgetting everything I had practiced. Now, no longer a student of the institution but a guest, it felt very different to be back. There was no pressure or anxiety to provide the perfect presentation this time (three years ago, this was worth 20% of our final mark!). Additionally, I was representing not just UTM, where my academic roots began, but also the University of Leicester and the INTREPID Forensics programme where I am continuing to develop myself as a researcher. This move away from my “home” university has really taught me about innovative and interdisciplinary research, and in turn I am able to bring the principles of what I’ve learned from UTM to my current position here at the University of Leicester. There are parallels and differences in how research is conducted depending on the institution and the research area, which is a fascinating paradigm to witness.
Presenting about my PhD research at the University of Toronto Mississauga’s 20th Anniversary of the Forensic Science Program.
A week later, there was another anniversary to be celebrated – the 30th anniversary of Sir Alec Jeffrey’s discovery of DNA fingerprinting at the University of Leicester. As such, a conference was held at the University of Leicester where professors presented on various emerging topics in forensic science, as well as recent applications of new technology to forensic science. Some of the INTREPID supervisors were presenting, including mine (Professor Sarah Hainsworth). This time, my role as a spectator was that of a student, as opposed to a teacher. As a student, I watched my supervisor’s presentation to learn more about her research background and what she would potentially expect from me if I were to ever give a presentation about my research. Previously at UTM, however, I had witnessed my former students’ presentations with a different perspective – there was a touch of satisfaction in seeing them act so professionally during their research presentations, and knowing that I had been a small part of their academic journey.
I was not just a passive observer at the University of Leicester’s New Frontiers in Forensic Science conference, however. We presented research in the form of posters and had the opportunity to speak and be spoken to about our PhD topics. I was no longer a passive observer as a student or a teacher, but now an active participant as a researcher disseminating my own research.
Standing by my poster, explaining my research to interested attendees, and smiling for the paparazzi.
As a researcher, it is important to remember that the end result is not just research dissemination. Especially in forensic science where application is important, the end result is really the implementation of research in practice. The Forensics Europe Expo in London was a great reminder of this, as there were hundreds of booths exhibiting new technology, programs, and educational opportunities in forensic science and counter-terrorism efforts. The new methods that become commercially available are ideally the happy consequences of good research that ultimately become ingrained in practice.
Photos were prohibited at the Forensics Europe Expo, so instead I have a picture of a peacock in the nearby Holland Park.
In academia, there are many roles that one assumes. We can be passive observers, just listening, watching, and learning; we can be active participants as we speak to others about our work; and we can be instigators, innovators, and inspirators. Each role comes with their own perspectives, which hopefully gives us insight into our own work and motivation to keep striving for better research.