October 23, 2013 | By Alli Wilburn, ’14
This article was written during Alli’s summer 2013 internship.
Due to the strict regulations with the police, I cannot directly participate in real case work. Still, I am really enjoying my summer internship with the Michigan State Police in their Lansing toxicology lab. I have been interested in forensic science for many years, so this has turned into a perfect opportunity to observe the goings-on in a forensics lab and better get a grasp if this is what I want to pursue as a career.
My responsibilities have been similar to that of a lab technician, doing a lot of background work that helps the lab run smoothly and protects the chains of custody. Many of these tasks may come across as simply busy work and can be fairly tedious: I put labels on case files and sample vials, scan paper reports and file them into electronic case files and move samples in and out of the freezer as the technicians need them. These are tasks that need to be done. Also, I can complete them in the same vicinity as the scientists, so I can work as well as learn and ask questions about what they are doing and what information they hope to discover.
Being in the Toxicology unit I have been learning all about how drugs and alcohol run through the body and all the processes that the scientists use to acquire the necessary information. There are four main tests run in this unit: blood alcohol testing, THC (marijuana) testing, acid/neutral and basic testing. The acid/neutral and basic testing will scan for any drugs in the system besides alcohol or marijuana, and because it is not focused on one or two chemicals in the blood, it takes the longest to extract, test and analyze—usually a full week.
Besides the laboratory aspect of this job, I have also been exposed to the legal side as well. Forensic scientists appear in court as expert witnesses when they have performed the testing presented in a case. I have been able to follow a scientist to a trial, but due to the fact that the defendant never showed up, I was not able to watch the testimony. However, there are many opportunities for me to attend a trial in the future and I greatly look forward to it.
I am still very much interested in this career field, and working in different labs helps me to see where I want to be someday. This internship has taught me how different lab procedures can lead to a conclusion about whether a person was guilty or is a victim. I have also learned that even the small jobs can be a big help toward the bigger picture. Helping to sort files, to find the samples that need testing before others, or simply to label sample tubes—it all saves time for the scientists.