At Criminology open days one of the first things I always heard was “This is not going to be like CSI. And also throw anything the TV programme taught you out the window, because it’s wrong.” At this point, I remember a girl getting up and walking out the room at another university open day. At University of Leicester, Dr Lisa Smith gave a fascinating ‘taste’ lecture about ‘The CSI Effect’ which has stayed with me ever since. If I wasn’t already sure about studying Criminology, the way Lisa challenged all my previous preconceptions and applied this to the real effects it can have on the criminal justice system, hooked me.
That was the day I chose University of Leicester to spend the next three years of my life. And I think, now that I am in my third year here, it can sometimes be easy to forget exactly how much I anticipated the day I’d find out whether I would be coming here. Studying the Forensic Science module this year has brought back to life the feelings I had then, as I’m finally studying the topics I’d been so anticipating since before day one.
Criminology’s Forensic Science module at Leicester is one of the most unique out there because we have the opportunity to analyse the discipline’s value and effectiveness from a criminological perspective. In any other department and at almost any other university, the main focus is on learning exactly how to use forensic science. While this is of course incredibly important, studying forensic science here gives me the great feeling that the fresh and critical approach given could make a truly positive difference to areas of the criminal justice system that might otherwise be overlooked. It feels like studying right at the heart of some of the most important research.
Forensic science also has the perk of interactive seminar activities that would probably be difficult to come by otherwise. In our first seminar, we each had police DNA swab kits and were taught to collect DNA using a saliva swab. We were told that if a suspect refuses this method, the alternative is to forcefully take at least 10 (!) hair strands in one go. We were not recommended to try this method! As well as this, we have been challenged to use footprint casts to find a suspect’s shoe, analyse fingerprints to identify a suspect, use blood identification techniques to examine substances found on fabric, and match potential weapons with indentations made on wood.
Interestingly, I just used the word ‘match’ to describe the forensic technique of examining the marks left behind by potential weapons. The use of the word ‘match’ to describe two samples which appear to be the same is just one of the myths dispelled by the Forensic Science module. In fact, experts are now encouraged to use terms such as ‘consistent with’ and ‘very likely’ instead so that juries and other individuals are not influenced by the ‘expert status’ of forensic scientists and common beliefs that forensic science is firm proof of guilt or innocence. The ease with which I used the word ‘match’ may begin to indicate how easy it could be for simple words and simple misunderstandings to cause real problems in the criminal justice system.
If you’re interested in learning about forensic science from a criminological perspective, the University of Leicester run a fantastic online course hosted by Dr Lisa Smith and Dr John Bond. In September, I wrote a blog post while I was taking part in this last year and I really enjoyed it! It was both great preparation for the degree module as well as incredibly interesting on its own.