Anyone who enjoys channel surfing knows that there is no shortage of television shows about crime scene investigation and forensic science. These shows have shined a spotlight on a career that many people may not have known much about. Forensic scientists are very real and they are integral part of any police force, but if you think that a career in crime scene investigation sounds a little far-fetched, consider the story of recent Hamline graduate Nicole Lenway. Lenway is a forensic scientist for the Minneapolis Police Department Crime Lab working in the Field Operations/Fingerprint Unit. Her department responds to a wide variety of crime scene calls dealing with everything from burglaries and property damage, to shootings and homicides. Details are everything in forensic science and when examining a crime scene, Lenway’s unit is responsible for capturing all those little details as extensively as possible. “When we process the scene we are responsible for taking photographs and documenting the scene as we come across it,” Lenway explained. “Along with documentation, we also collect any evidence that is necessary, including bullets, firearms, clothing, drugs, or anything pertinent to the crimes that may have been committed.”
Additionally, Lenway and her team search the scene for any footwear impressions and of course, fingerprints. Once the work at the scene is complete, the evidence is brought to the lab for analysis and then inventoried and stored for further processing.
“My time at Hamline University helped me prepare for my current position by allowing me to learn the necessary skills that I use today. I double majored in biology
and criminal justice
and received a post-baccalaureate certificate in forensic science
,” Lenway said. “I am a huge advocate of Hamline’s forensic science program and so are many of my co-workers. In fact, almost half of our lab employees are Hamline alums. Because of Hamline, I was able to get an internship and I learned the ropes of what is done in a lab, and how actual casework goes.”
Even the non-science classes played a helpful role in Lenway’s career. For example, the writing intensive classes at Hamline gave her valuable skills she calls on when writing the various reports necessary for her position.
“The advice I would give someone looking to get into the field of forensic science is to get an internship with a local crime lab,” Lenway said. “And never stop working on your current education, you can never have too much knowledge. This field only keeps growing and changing, and the more you know, the better off you will be.”
Those interested in pursuing this career should be aware though that the day-to-day work of a forensic scientist may not be as dramatic as it is on TV.
“Real life CSI is nothing like television, seeing the evidence from crime scenes can be tough, and there is lots of paperwork,” Lenway said. “So if you’re looking for something glamorous, this is not the right place for you.”
If you want to know more about Hamline’s forensic science programs, check out the Forensic Science Department’s webpage here
For additional information about a career as a forensic scientist, see the U.S. Department of Labor’s career profile page for forensic scientists here