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URMC / Education / Graduate Education / URBest Blog / January 2020 / Handling Crime Scene Evidence With the Monroe County Crime Laboratory

Handling Crime Scene Evidence With the Monroe County Crime Laboratory

By John Varrone, PhD, Forensic Biologist at the Monroe County Crime Laboratory

While performing a postdoctoral fellowship at the University of Rochester Medical Center, I was made aware of a permanent position that was opening up at the Monroe County Crime Laboratory here in Rochester, NY. Being quite the fan of the ever-popular crime shows on TV and an even bigger fan of true crime documentaries, I decided to give it a shot and submit an application. After a series of lengthy interviews and background checks, I was officially offered a position in the Biology section as a Forensic Biologist Trainee. Although I was very excited to accept this position, and did so hastily, I was not fond of becoming a “Trainee” again. This felt like a demotion at first, but I quickly realized upon starting at the Crime Laboratory that this is a requirement for anyone possessing less than one year of experience in the field. In retrospect, this made complete sense, and I quickly learned everything I needed to in order to become an official full-time Forensic Biologist.

I settled into the laboratory alongside a group of twenty-nine other individuals like myself, and to this very day enjoy every day of work with these colleagues. I realized that even though I possessed a ton of laboratory skills, handling crime scene evidence was an entirely different beast. Samples are not perfect, and cannot be manipulated to be perfect. The input side of the equation is uncontrollable. Items are collected directly from the crime scene, whether it be a hoarder’s home, or a park, or the victim him or herself, and submitted to us in the exact condition in which they were collected. This excited me, as I felt personally tasked to pick apart the imperfect evidence for clues that may help solve the crime.

Becoming a Forensic Biologist is everything I thought it would be. It is a field that demands extreme attention to detail and the ability to communicate well with others, traits that I have little trouble with due to my past training and experience at both Penn State and the University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry. Each and every day I am driven by the fact that I am working on projects that are in the news, being discussed at a dinner table or other gathering, or debated by politicians as they try to advance their own careers. What a unique and cool opportunity. Where else can one directly impact their community, helping to convict or exonerate suspects, and thus put a family’s questions and/or fears to rest? Not many places that I know. It is exciting to know that programs like URBEST introduce students and postdoctoral researchers to the never-ending list of fields that PhD-level research are valuable for, and I appreciate the opportunity to share my experiences as a Forensic Biologist at the Monroe County Crime Laboratory. Please join me Tuesday January 14 (11 am - noon) in the Louise Slaughter Conference Room (1-9555). There will be pizza! I will also be staying for part of the Marshmallow Challenge that will be taking place right after my Career Story from 1 - 2 pm. I want to see what this challenge is all about and might stay for the cupcakes.

Tracey Baas | 1/10/2020

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