Case study

Higher digital forensic officer — Michaela Bradshaw

After initially considering a career as an IT teacher, Michaela instead decided to pursue digital forensics. Discover her top tips for choosing a Masters and embarking on a career in this field

How did you get your job in forensics?

Using sites such as Forensic Focus, I came across a position at West Midlands Police working in the digital forensics department and successfully secured the position.

What are your main work activities?

A typical working day usually involves gathering and analysing data from computer devices that have been seized by the police in relation to criminal investigations. These investigations can relate to offences of varying severity and complexity, so I have also needed to gain a broad understanding of criminal law and the criminal justice process.

I am frequently involved in attending scenes, so I can be present at the point of seizure and involved in assisting the search teams with seizing items in the right manner to maximise opportunities for gathering evidence. This may also involve examining devices in situ.

Whether examining devices in the lab or out on location, I'm required to dynamically risk assess situations and opportunities for gathering evidence - prioritising the most likely sources of evidence and fast-tracking information to the investigation teams.

The reports I produce go on to form part of the investigation file that goes to court, meaning that I could be requested to attend court to explain my findings.

What do you enjoy most about the job?

I most enjoy the job satisfaction I get from contributing to and aiding the investigation and judicial process. The dynamic nature of the industry means I'm able to see and be part of the evolution of the technological era and get the opportunity to learn about new techniques and technologies.

What are the challenges?

The pace at which technology is evolving means that we are regularly seeing new technology being introduced into society, such as drones. Because of this, individuals and groups of individuals are utilising these new ideas for the purpose of crime. Within my job, the need to study and understand how these new technologies work and implement methods to enable evidence to be recovered is paramount.

Due to the nature of my job, I can face stressful situations, content and pressures on a daily basis. The important thing is to be aware and put in place a mechanism to help you deal with stress, such as utilising the services offered by your employer.

How relevant are your degrees to the role?

My role is directly related to both my undergraduate and postgraduate degrees and this has enabled me to apply specialised knowledge and skills to deliver a high standard of work to clients.

How has your role developed?

I have only recently been promoted to my new role, so am keen to learn and develop within my current position.

Any tips for choosing a Masters?

  • Select a subject area that you are interested in and passionate about.
  • If you have a career plan, select a course that can give you the skills and knowledge required to be successful within your future role/career.
  • Research the faculty and staff who will potentially teach you. I was taught by lecturers with specialist knowledge and skills, who were also influential figures within the forensic industry.

Any words of advice for someone looking to get into this job?

This industry is competitive and continually evolving and may therefore seem daunting, but it's important to be brave and put yourself out there.

Stay up to date with new technology: research, read articles, maintain an interest in any newly-available technology in the marketplace and consider the forensic implications and value associated with these devices.

Work experience can be key in giving you the skills and experience required to apply and secure jobs. Speak to your university and approach companies about potential work experience and internship opportunities.

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