What I Wish You Knew is a series about jobs and careers. Today's entry was contributed by former DNA Analyst and Crime Scene Investigator Jennifer Vogt.
I was a forensic DNA Analyst and Crime Scene Investigator. I went to school for Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, and had anticipated entering the research arena…until I discovered that I hated research. I’m definitely glad that there are people who WANT to do research; I’m just not one of them. Maybe it’s immature of me, but I needed more immediate satisfaction than working on a project for years, possibly decades, and then maybe discovering that the project simply wasn’t going to pan out.
I had always been interested in the criminal justice system as well, and being a forensic scientist definitely married my interests in science and criminal justice beautifully. It also allowed for that instant gratification that I was looking for: you start working a case, examine the evidence, develop the DNA profiles, make comparisons to the DNA standard profiles (known profiles belonging to victim(s) and/or suspect(s)), write your report, then move on to the next case!
The ten years that I spent as a forensic scientist have been the most incredibly rewarding and fulfilling years of my life to date. The sense of satisfaction that you have when you’ve been able to help achieve justice for a victim of a crime is indescribable. It is also incredibly rewarding to be able to exonerate and free a wrongly convicted individual.
The power of politics
The biggest challenge of my career as a forensic scientist has been trying to accept the politics that go along with the job. Now, I know that every job has some sort of ‘office politics’ that go along with it, but most forensic scientists work within a governmental branch (whether it’s local, state or federal), so there are actual POLITICS politics that go along with the job. That wasn’t really a surprise, since I knew going in that I was going to be working for a state office.
What did come as a surprise (five years into my career) was that state employees in Wisconsin were soon going to be demonized on a level that had never been seen before, thanks to Governor Scott Walker’s war on public employees and public sector unions. That came as a total shock, and ultimately drove me (and thousands of others) from civil service into the private sector.
What I wish you knew
It is nothing like you see on TV. It’s much less glamorous and much harder work. And most of us don’t carry guns. In addition, forensic scientists usually have very defined roles (as opposed to on TV, where one individual is responsible for crime scene processing, fingerprint analysis, DNA analysis, questioning the suspect, arresting the suspect, and notifying the families of the victims – that just doesn’t happen).
I have moved into the private sector, and now I work in the pharmaceutical Quality Assurance field. However, I truly hope that forensic science units throughout the country are able to obtain the funding that they require to function, and that civil servants will once again be appreciated and valued instead of demonized.