A look inside the chemistry and forensic science building at Sam Houston State University mirrors the set of crime shows like CSI or Bones. To forensic science professor Sarah Kerrigan though, these college labs will now be the place of extensive government-funded research.
Kerrigan was recently appointed to the Forensic Science Standards Board, a new organization committed to regulating the standards by which forensic science is developed and disciplined. The organization is composed of several forensic disciplines including, but not limited to, drug chemistry, anthropology, toxicology, DNA and legal death investigation.
“I think there were three or four researchers appointed in the United States, so I was certainly very pleased to be a part of that,” Kerrigan said.
The field of board members is broad and diverse, specializing in people with a very wide range of scientific expertise.The newly established board approached Kerrigan and offered her a position in research, a vital part of the organization.
Kerrigan has earned years of credentials from locations around the world. The professor studied in Vancouver, Canada as well as worked with the Scotland Yard Forensic Science Lab in London. After she moved overseas to California, where she was employed at the Justice Department, she then found her way to New Mexico where she ran a state crime lab. Eventually, Kerrigan ended up at SHSU because of her husband’s career.
“My experience as a practitioner, as a state crime lab director, and as a leader in forensic science service organizations, puts me at a real advantage [for the appointment],” Kerrigan said. “I have the perspective from academia and also the perspective from industry.”
While the board will require much dedication, Kerrigan is not abandoning her students at SHSU.
“I’m really pleased that our students are very successful when it comes to seeking employment in their preferred forensic discipline,” Kerrigan said. “We are also able to give them the skills [they need] and motivate them to become great leaders in forensic science. That makes me happy because we need really good leaders in those organizations.”
One leader, in particular came to Kerrigan’s mind. Shortly after graduating from SHSU with a degree in forensic science, alumna Anna Mudd became the toxicology manager for Texas Department of Public Safety.
“[Mudd] overseas toxicology in Texas state-wide,” said Kerrigan. “That’s a big responsibility for someone who just graduated from the program.”
Although a degree in forensic science is often paired with the illusion of a show like CSI, Kerrigan is reassuring that that is nothing more than a fantasy.
“There’s nothing glamorous about being a forensic scientist,” Kerrigan said. “It’s really hard work. You have to have really good, sound, scientific credentials. The pay is not good and labs are generally really underfunded. It’s just now beginning to get attention, and that’s a good thing, because we need to elevate those standards and make sure that we are adequately resourced.”