Forensic Anthropologist & Outreach Coordinator, University of Toronto Mississauga
I was born/grew up in: I was born in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa, but grew up in Oakville, Ontario, Canada
I now live in: Oakville, Ontario, Canada.
I completed my training/education at: I obtained my Honours Bachelor degree at McMaster University, and my Master of Science at the University of Toronto
Describe what you do at work.
Day to day, my job is never the same! I can spend a day recovering bodies in the field, or helping in an autopsy, or examining biological remains in the laboratory. At other times I can be found giving tours to prospective students of our science facilities. What ties them all together is a passion for contributing to society through analysis and scientific method.
For a forensic anthropologist, my job relies heavily on precise mathematical formula and equations to determine human identity (e.g., measurements and geometry of the skull). Some forensic anthropologists work closely with 3D scanning and printing technology to research new methods in assessment. I personally research elemental analysis of bone. This involves looking at how calcium and phosphorus ratios change as we grow older or using a Scanning Electron Microscope with an Energy Dispersive Xray (SEM-EDX). And of course, no assessment would be complete without statistical data to prove our results are accurate!
Ultimately, the police will rely on the expert assessment of a forensic anthropologist to answer important questions about a victim. A strong foundation in STEM allows us to be confident in our results, and also assures the community's confidence in us. I work with other forensic anthropologists both at crime scenes and in the lab. On a scene, it takes a whole team of people to retrieve human remains, to make sure they don't receive any further damage! We also work very closely with other emergency services, like police officers and the fire marshal. In the labs, we always work as part of a team, to make sure remains can be identified efficiently without sacrificing accuracy, but also to ensure our work can be double-checked for any errors.
When I was a student I enjoyed:
How does your job affect peoples lives?
The Chief Coroner of Ontario has a motto- "We speak for the dead to protect the living". This means that we try to ensure that every life is given value and meaning through our work. We try our best to prevent future crimes by examining previous ones. For me personally, knowing that I can bring closure to surviving families in any way is very important- the loss of a loved one may be a very bewildering and tragic experience, and we may ease some suffering through the respect and proper treatment of the deceased.
What motivates you in your career?
I am always motivated by the unique nature of my job- it is never repetitive! I love to see visitors get excited about science and explore our labs and workshops. I also enjoy the quiet solitude of analysis in the lab. I would have never imagined myself in a STEM field in high school. But what I didn't know was that my interests in creativity, communication and hands on learning were directly translatable to this field. And, most importantly, in this career I can give back to society in a meaningful way. For those reasons, I think this has become my perfect job!
When I was a student, I would have described myself as someone who:
Describe your career path to this career.
The path to my current career was definitely not a straight line. I started university for Fine Art. Then after many changes, I graduated with a degree in classical history. After working in an office job in marketing, I decided I wanted a more meaningful career. A former classmate invited me on an archaeological excavation, and I fell in love with anatomy, biology, and bones! I returned to school for anthropology, but found that through forensics, I can apply a field I enjoy to modern, important issues. During my Master's degree, I was taken into the field to assist in real casework of crimes ranging from homicide, suicide, arson, and unknown deaths.
What activities do you like to do outside of work?
Outside of work, I enjoy nature. I have recently been exploring all Canada has to offer in the outdoors. I also enjoy small social get togethers with friends - board game night, movies, anything where we can just hang out and have fun! I also find that when I need some quiet, alone time, that creating with LEGO has been a very therapeutic activity!
What advice or encouragement would you give others seeking a similar career?
While there is a recommended path through schooling, never think that your choices close a door forever. I took many twists and turns, and I made it happen!