Co-authored by Scott Chadwick, Harrison Fursman, Teneil Hanna and Samara Garrett-Rickman.

Forensic Research Project is a core subject for 3rd year students in the Bachelor of Forensic Science. It offers a practical preview of a Postgraduate research experience, providing a useful scaffold for students deciding on their next steps. It also provides a strong connection to industry in what is a fast-growing field with a plethora of complex problems to engage curious minds.

As Forensic Science students prepare for careers in criminal justice, government and scientific research, intelligence agencies, and commercial settings such as banking, consulting, and cybersecurity, the Forensic Research Project can provide opportunities to connect with future employers to help solve industry relevant problems. So how do you provide an authentic, scalable, industry-connected research experience for large undergraduate cohorts whose specialisms span chemistry, biology, crime scene investigation and digital forensic science?

Authentic learning with a future focus

In this subject, students act as forensic science research consultants, working in groups to design, implement, analyse and report on forensic research questions. Past projects have included topics drawn directly from industry, including:

  • Understanding illicit drug cryptomarket trends 
  • Comparison of the effect of different wall paints on Bloodstain Pattern Analysis
  • What are the success rates of fingerprint powders vs super glue?
  • What are the effects of environmental exposure on fingermark enhancement? 

Work-integrated learning like this can provide students an opportunity to work with an external organisation to gain real-world experience. Industry partners may come to us with new questions or problems to explore, and each subject closes with a poster presentation session where findings are presented back to academics and industry for feedback.

The ALURE of research at scale

The subject structure takes inspiration from the ALURE framework, which describes an ‘Authentic, Large-Scale Undergraduate Research Experience’ (Rowland et al., 2016). This means that the subject works for large cohorts of 50-500+ students, who are supported primarily by tutors; it takes place during scheduled hours in undergraduate teaching spaces, with an opportunity for students to generate new knowledge and communicate the findings to an interested audience as part of their assessment structure.

In practice, our Forensic Research Project tends to have 50-75 students per session, working in groups of 4-5. There are 4-6 projects to choose from, acknowledging the different specialisms and areas of interest students have across the cohort. Students are supported by a 2-hour workshop each week, and 3-hour practical sessions.

The workshop classes help students to develop their research literacy, data analysis, written and oral communication skills, whilst the practical classes develop skills through the inquiry-oriented practical nature of the subject.

Assessments include a lab notebook, journal article and poster presentation to an audience of researchers, academics and industry partners. By the end of the subject, students have produced an original body of research that contributes to the research culture of forensic science.

Feedback and career-oriented outcomes

Through the process, students gain valuable insights and experience in driving and owning their own research initiatives and generating data which informs professional practice as it is shared back with the industry partners who proposed the projects. This has not only led to an increase in Honours students, but also positive feedback from students on the experience of the subject overall and its impact on their future ambitions:

Even though research isn’t something I want to pursue, the course itself has made me consider further studies. I have thoroughly enjoyed the entire subject, and it is one of, if not the most enjoyable subject I’ve done in this degree.

I think this subject really captured a great introduction to research. This was odd for me, since I always saw research as ‘scary’ or ‘too difficult’, but I think this class definitely warmed me up to the idea.

Being able to simulate what an honours project is like and what a research project is like. This subject actually, encouraged me to take up honours.

Along the way we have learned some practical lessons ourselves about careful planning and resourcing, ensuring that the right kinds of projects are available for students, and of course managing group dynamics in teamwork. Many of our students go on to receive impressive job offers from an industry hungry for talent – some even before they graduate! We look forward to continuing to bridge the gaps for students looking to both research and workforce pathways in their forensic science careers.

Further reading

  • Rowland, S., Pedwell, R., Lawrie, G., & Worthy, P. (2016). Developing and resourcing academics to help students conduct and communicate undergraduate research on a large scale. 

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