“It’s not like what you see on TV,” says Ashley Fetch, Master of Biological Sciences (MBS) graduate, about her work as a forensic scientist trainee in the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension.
There are no rogue cops or over-eager DAs. Just dedicated puzzle-solvers applying their training and skills in a highly controlled environment.
“It’s a collaborative effort among many different individuals with a common interest,” Fetch adds. “It’s not about praise and glory, but about being a part of a process to reach a conclusion that will potentially impact many different people.”
It’s this desire to seek the truth, via facts and her expertise as a technician, that make Fetch an excellent scientist.
From Stay-at-Home Mom to Firearms Expert
Fetch was a stay-at-home mom for about seven years before she decided to return to graduate school. She had already laid substantial groundwork for graduate studies with an undergraduate degree in Biology, Society, and the Environment from the University of Minnesota.
The MBS program, she believes, gave her a professional edge. “It prepared me for my current position by providing opportunities to enhance my scientific knowledge, written and oral skills, and networking initiatives, and heighten my confidence.”
Fetch began working at the BCA in April 2016 (after an internship in the trace evidence lab), and she is currently in a two-year training program that will prepare her to be a firearm and tool mark examiner.
“I really love my job and am incredibly thankful to be able to work in my desired career path with amazing minds, while utilizing my strong scientific background.”
She is learning how to determine whether a questioned bullet or cartridge case was fired from a suspect firearm, as well as the caliber and type of firearm used to produce fired bullets and cartridge cases when no firearm was recovered. At the end of her training, Fetch will be qualified to provide expert witness testimony in court.
Focusing on the Facts
While the Forensic Science Services Division in the BCA contains many labs—toxicology, biology, trace evidence, latent prints, firearms and tool marks, and crime scene—they are all governed by four primary principles: science is neutral; honesty and integrity; laboratory excellence; and accountability.
“These are values I strongly believe in,” Fetch says. “And I feel privileged to be able to work at an agency that shares them. We are held to high ethical standards that provide guidelines that help to reduce any sort of bias that could possibly be encountered.”
Unlike television, drama serves no purpose in the lab. So it’s comforting to know that Fetch is there, equipped with the knowledge, training, and focus, to uncover the truth.
“Science is neutral, and that is the mindset a forensic scientist must maintain.”
Tip for Future Students
"Although there may be times when you feel overwhelmed, see each assignment, paper, and presentation as a stepping stone to achieving your overall goals and as a means to providing you with experiences and tools to help you grow as a person."