Med­i­cal de­tec­tives

If you love the TV show CSI and don’t mind work­ing long hours, a ca­reer in foren­sics is worth pur­su­ing

CityPress - - Ca­reers - GE­ORGE VON BERG projects@city­press.co.za

Do you ever watch the TV show CSI? Have you ever thought that fig­ur­ing out how some­one died is some­thing that you would be in­ter­ested in pur­su­ing as a ca­reer? Work­ing with dead bod­ies and find­ing a po­ten­tial killer is just part of this ex­cit­ing ca­reer. Don’t be­lieve ev­ery­thing you see on the TV show. There is more than meets the eye. This job re­quires hard work, long hours of stand­ing on your feet and hav­ing a strong stom­ach.

Nandi Slab­bert, a mas­ter’s stu­dent in foren­sic tox­i­col­ogy at the Univer­sity of Cape Town (UCT), says there are two sep­a­rate fields in foren­sics.

“There is a dif­fer­ence be­tween foren­sic science and foren­sic pathol­ogy. Some­one who does foren­sic pathol­ogy has to have stud­ied to be a doc­tor and then spe­cialised in pathol­ogy or foren­sic pathol­ogy. These are mainly our doc­tors who work in mor­tu­ar­ies and per­form au­top­sies. Foren­sic science as a spe­cialised topic is some­thing else.

“Foren­sic sci­en­tists can’t cut up a body – only pathol­o­gists can do that – be­cause you need a med­i­cal de­gree to work on a hu­man body. Pathol­o­gists, on the other hand, don’t work with DNA. They send the sam­ples to the foren­sic sci­en­tists to per­form anal­y­sis, which in­cludes DNA pro­fil­ing, tox­i­col­ogy or bal­lis­tics,” says Slab­bert.

Orig­i­nally, only post­grad­u­ate cour­ses in foren­sics were of­fered at a hand­ful of uni­ver­si­ties in South Africa. You needed to have done a gen­eral BSc in molec­u­lar ge­net­ics or its equiv­a­lent and then do an hon­ours de­gree. Af­ter that and some ad­di­tional in-house train­ing, you would be able to work in labs that work on DNA pro­fil­ing.

Since 2012, how­ever, the Univer­sity of the Free State has of­fered cour­ses for stu­dents to study foren­sic sciences from an un­der­grad­u­ate level. It also of­fers an hon­ours course in foren­sics, as do Wits and UCT.

Slab­bert started her stud­ies in foren­sics in Aus­tralia, when there were no cour­ses avail­able at un­der­grad­u­ate level in South Africa.

“My friend’s fa­ther worked for the Aus­tralian fed­eral po­lice and sug­gested I look at the pro­gramme there, which is how it hap­pened,” she ex­plains.

“I’ve al­ways been in­ter­ested in foren­sics. I loved read­ing about se­rial killers and I used to love CSI. Now I can’t watch it any more be­cause I’m con­stantly com­plain­ing about how wrong ev­ery­thing is. I knew that it wasn’t like what you see on TV, but it is even dif­fer­ent from what I thought was ‘real’.”

Re­cently, a foren­sic medicine and tox­i­col­ogy mas­ter’s de­gree has been im­ple­mented at UCT, which was the first in the coun­try to be specif­i­cally fo­cused

PHOTO: IS­TOCK

THE MORGUE

Foren­sic pathol­o­gists will send sam­ples taken from a body to foren­sic sci­en­tists, who then per­form DNA pro­fil­ing and tox­i­col­ogy anal­y­sis

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