Dr. Paul Wilson
Chair, Forensic Science Program
Many forensic scientists frown upon the CSI television phenomenon and the resulting misconceptions of the profession, but Dr. Paul Wilson, Chair of the Forensic Science degree program at Trent University feels differently. In fact, Dr. Wilson believes that the so-called “CSI Effect” has brought about some very positive impacts for the field of forensic science, not least of which is a new appreciation for “both sides” of the field – collecting evidence and investigating the crime scene, and the lab work involved in processing the data collected.
“We have an impressive opportunity here to generate well-informed forensic science and to have a greater understanding of the discipline as a whole,” says Dr. Wilson, who is also a renowned wildlife DNA forensic scientist and conservation geneticist.
Creating a more comprehensive approach and understanding of forensic science is one of the key objectives of the new Forensic Science program at the University, which is a joint program between Trent and Fleming College. Throughout the four-year program, students are exposed to all elements of forensics, including both human and non-human applications.
Housed in the new DNA Building, the Forensic Science program has access to state-of-the-art teaching labs, designed specifically for program. In these labs students are able to perform a variety of hands-on tasks in addition to their academic work, including: studying blood spatter and looking at elements such as trajectory and source; detecting biological and trace evidence, such as hair fibres; and working to extract DNA from biological material as a means of identifying tissues to the level of species or individuals.
It is this “perfect compliment of theoretical foundations and an applied practicum component”, which makes the Forensic Science program at Trent so cutting-edge and highly beneficial for the students. It is a combination that would not be possible without the collaborative relationship between the University and Fleming College: “The fact that this is a joint program with Fleming is at the crux of what this program is all about,” Dr. Wilson says.
This notion of collaboration has been a significant component of the program since its inception. In fact, the program curriculum was developed by an advisory committee that featured not only Trent and Fleming but also private and public stakeholders, including the Ontario Provincial Police and the RCMP. The OPP is now a key partner in the program and practicing officers provide their expertise by teaching a crime scene investigation course. It is a course that Dr. Wilson describes as “hands down, one of the most interesting courses in the country”, in large part because it is taught directly by the practicing experts in the field.
Collaboration is also one of the main reasons for housing the program in the new DNA Building. Aside from the state-of-the-art facilities, through the use of open-concept labs and integrated work environments, the building presents students with opportunities to learn in a professional work environment and to share experiences with faculty and top researchers. “This is definitely the type of training ground we want our people to be in,” says Dr. Wilson.
In fact, according to Dr. Wilson, when the first group of students from the Forensic Science degree program graduate this spring, they will be amongst some of the most highly employable graduates in today’s work force.
“Our students are trained at a very high level and a forensic training background is viewed as favourable by a number of employers, not just in forensics,” he said.