Just Higher Education and the CSI Effect

Just Higher Education and the CSI Effect

Original Release Date: May 13, 2022

In episode two of our Strengthening the Forensic Workforce season, Just Science sat down with Dr. Sarah Williams, a Research Associate Professor in Forensic Science at Virginia Commonwealth University, and Dr. Keith Morris, a Ming Hsieh Distinguished Teaching Professor of Forensic and Investigative Science at West Virginia University to discuss undergraduate, master’s, and doctorate programs in forensic science.  

This season, Just Science will explore a variety of forensic science programs and the growing need for more doctoral programs. Recent years have also presented unique challenges for hands-on research with the COVID-19 pandemic and misconstrued expectations stemming from the CSI effect, forcing universities and their students to adapt. Listen along as Dr. Morris and Dr. Williams discuss Ph.Ds. in forensic science and the role of NIJ and FEPAC in providing research and education opportunities for the next generation of forensic science professionals. 

This episode of Just Science is funded by the National Institute of Justice’s Forensic Technology Center of Excellence [Award 2016-MU-BX-K110].

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Guest Biography

Dr. Sarah Williams received her Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the College of William & Mary. She graduated from VCU with a Master’s of Science degree in Criminal Justice, specializing in Forensic Science, and with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology from VCU.  Dr. Williams is a Research Associate Professor in Forensic Science at VCU, teaching several of the forensic biology track upper-level and graduate courses. She started her career in forensic molecular biology when she was appointed to a forensic biology fellowship with the Virginia Institute of Forensic Science and Medicine in 2002. Upon the successful completion of the fellowship, she worked as a forensic scientist for the Virginia Department of Forensic Science until 2007. As an examiner in Forensic Biology, she performed serological and STR DNA analyses on hundreds of cases.  Since her time at the VA Department of Forensic Science, she has worked as a contractor in Iraq, where she mentored the Chemistry and DNA sections of the Erbil Forensic Laboratory, and conducted technical reviews of cases for defense purposes. Dr. Williams' research interests include body fluid identification using both standard and novel molecular methods, including Raman Spectroscopy, microRNA and mRNA analysis, nanopore sensing of DNA fragments, as well as optimization of DNA extraction and quantitation methods.  Dr. Williams has presented original research at conferences and in poster sessions, and has taught forensic biology related introduction and refresher courses for law enforcement personnel. She has testified as an expert witness in forensic biology in several circuit courts in the state of Virginia. She has publications in forensic science, molecular biology and biochemistry, has been a member of the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists since 2004, is a Fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and is currently serving as a Commissioner for the Forensic Science Educations Program Accreditation Commission (FEPAC), and as the FEPAC representative for the Forensic Laboratory Needs Technical Working Group (FLN-TWG). 

Dr. Keith Morris' research interests are focused on the interpretation of physical evidence and how multiple types of evidence are interrelated. Bayesian networks are used to model evidence relationships since they allow for general modelling as a basis to understand evidence interpretation. Daubert requirements of admissibility of scientific and technical evidence into court proceedings play an important role in evidence interpretation. Specific emphasis is given to the error rate requirement of Daubert. Dr. Morris's interest in evidence types is focused upon firearms evidence, ballistics, and latent fingerprint identification, and utilizing systems such as AFIS, IBIS, and confocal microscopy that relate directly to his research focus. These areas are studied from interpretational and fundamental perspectives. Before coming to WVU, Dr. Morris was the director of the Forensic Science Laboratory (FSL) system of the South African Police Service. He spent 14 years in the FSL at the bench and managerial levels. He performed casework in the area of trace evidence, precious metal theft, and bombing investigations. He was involved in the examination of the bombing of the Planet Hollywood restaurant in Cape Town in 1998. He received his B.Sc. (Chemistry and Mathematics)(1985), B.Sc. (Honors)(Chemistry)(1986), and Ph.D. (Chemistry)(1990) from the University of Port Elizabeth. He also has a master's degree in Business Leadership (M.BL.)(1997) from the University of South Africa. 

The opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this podcast episode are those of the presenter(s) and do not necessarily reflect those of the U.S. Department of Justice.

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