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April 2015

What does it take to be a forensic scientist?

 

This week, I profiled forensic soil scientist Lorna Dawson for Nature. Her route into the profession was serendipitous, but not just anyone could do it -- her toughness and resourcefulness made her a perfect fit. 

Even as a student she was foiling miscreants. As an undergraduate at Edinburgh University and a graduate student at Aberdeen University, Dawson sailed a dinghy as part of a two-person team. “You have to secure your boat to make sure it couldn’t have been tampered with the night before, like shackles loosened and things like that,” she says. One year, she won best of eight on the Scottish circuit, becoming champion. “It’s all about strategy, as well as how fast you can sail.”

The sport also helped her practice extreme calm under pressure, which is necessary for testifying before a jury. “It is challenging, because there’s no training you can do that would give you that background,” says soil forensic scientist Rob Fitzpatrick, Dawson's counterpart in Australia. “They really hit you hard. They’re very clever people, these barristers.”

One of the first times she presented evidence in court, the expert for the defense confronted her in the toilet. “Watch out, I’ll give you a hard time,” Dawson recalls her saying. “It’s just a game, anyway.”

Taken aback, Dawson still managed to come up with a powerful retort. “I said, ‘I’m sorry, it’s not a game for the victim,’ and I walked out.”


News: Panel discussion at the European Geosciences Union General Assembly

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Geoscience rocks! Here's some lovely geology I photographed on a recent trip to the Dana Biosphere Reserve in Jordan.

Are you a scientist with questions about how to communicate with the public? Kathryn Adamson (@Climatica) of Manchester Metropolitan University has put together an intriguing and, we hope, helpful panel for the EGU General Assembly next week.

This panel-based question and answer session is part of the Public Engagement and Outreach series. Four expert outreach panel members will discuss their experiences of science communication, and provide an interactive discussion forum for other scientists hoping to develop their outreach skills. The panel members will focus on a range of science communications platforms including: websites and blogs; the news media; schools outreach; and film making. These topics will provide a range of practical advice for the audience, and will directly complement the other public engagement and outreach sessions during the General Assembly. 

My delightful co-panelists include Tim Lane (@glaciologytim), co-editor of Climatica, on communicating through websites and blogs, and Liz Whitfield (@lizwhitters), on public outreach and exhibitions. I am excited to meet them and hear what they have to say.

I (@chelseawald) will be talking about journalism and mass media, so come with your most probing questions. I've been told that I can be a tough interrogator, so fair's fair!

The panel is scheduled for Tuesday, 14 April, at 12:15 pm in room B4.