Case study

Forensic scene investigator — Emily Curtis

Emily achieved her goal of becoming a forensic scene investigator by completing a relevant degree and a work-based placement with her local police force

How did you get your job?

During my degree, I completed a sandwich year and was lucky enough to get a 10-month placement with the West Midlands Police, in the Forensic Services Department (FSD).

Even though I didn't work as a forensic scene investigator (FSI), I gained valuable experience in other departments such as the Fingerprint Bureau, Footwear Team, Fingerprint Development Lab, Major Crime Lab, National Ballistics Hub (NaBis) and the Forensic Investigation Resource Submissions Team (FIRST).

When I graduated, my main focus was getting back into the FSD. Eventually, a role in FIRST was advertised. I went for it and got it! I feel that the experience I gained during my placement was crucial in making me stand out from other applicants and enabled me to get my job. After a year of working in the FIRST, I gained even more experience working closely with FSI and other departments, and an FSI role was advertised.

As well as the practical experience, working for the police for a year gave me an insight to how the organisation works and its fundamental principles and values. This also helped significantly at interview.

What are your main work activities?

Examining stolen vehicles and attending burglaries are my main public-facing activities. I also have to ensure that all my exhibits are sent to the relevant departments for further treatment/investigation and write my jobs up on our case management system. Another task is to deal with case enquiries from officers and other police staff.

What do you enjoy about your job?

It may sound cliché, but all of it. Paperwork can get a bit boring sometimes but it's something that needs to be done to progress the case further. I love the fact that this job provides variety and no crime scene or stolen vehicle is the same - they all have their own story to tell. Getting a DNA or fingerprint identification, and seeing a criminal found for the crime they committed, provides a sense of accomplishment.

What are the most challenging parts?

This role is always challenging and you're constantly learning, whether it's deciding which powder or lifters to use on which surface, or how you can take perfectly exposed photos when lighting conditions are difficult. Dealing with a frustrated victim, who has been burgled and had to wait for us to attend, can also present a challenge.

How relevant is your degree to your forensic job?

My degree in crime scene science is very relevant and helps my understanding of the fundamental principles of forensics. Although attending live scenes is quite different to the mock scenes the university set up, the initial skills and thought processes you learn are very helpful.

What are your longer-term career ambitions?

As I've only been doing this job for roughly a year, I have no plans to move on any time soon. I want to learn the ins and outs of the role and gain as much experience and knowledge as I can, through attending scenes and further training. My ultimate goal has always been to become a forensic scene investigator for West Midlands Police and I've managed to achieve that. However, in years to come I'd like to progress to the position of crime scene co-ordinator.

What would you advise someone who wanted to get into this job?

I'd certainly recommend gaining some on-the-job experience, even if only slightly related. Not only do you get the chance to see if the job is right for you, but you also build on your university knowledge and put what you've learned into practice.

It's also important not to give up. If it's what you really want, keep trying, no matter how many times you are told you've been unsuccessful in getting a job. Determination and passion are excellent qualities and ones that are usually noticed.

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