Ashleigh Whiffin, BSc (Hons) Forensic Science, 2012

What are you doing now?

I work in Edinburgh at National Museums Scotland, where I am Curatorial Assistant within the Natural Sciences department. My role involves caring for the large insect collection and making it accessible to both researches and the general public. There is a lot of variety in my job, from working on my own curation projects, to dealing with enquiries and looking after visitors. One day I might be out in the field collecting new specimens for the collection, the next day bringing them back to the lab to prepare and identify them. On another day I might be putting together a display and preparing for some public engagement. No two days are the same.

You might wonder how I ended up doing this after studying Forensic Science! Well, in the final year of my BSc I specialised in forensic entomology and become fascinated with carrion insects; the insects attracted to decomposing bodies. This interest led me to an MSc in Entomology, where I gained a broader knowledge of the subject.

On completing my MSc, I volunteered at the Natural History Museum in London. This experience inspired me to pursue a career in curation. However, I couldn’t quite leave the carrion insects behind. I worked for a year at the University of Edinburgh as a research technician, studying burying beetles. When the opportunity came up to work at National Museums Scotland, I grabbed it with both hands! Two years later, here I am!

What were the main reasons you took that course?

At the time I dreamt of a career in Forensic Science, I wanted to be a CSI. I chose to study forensic science at university to better my chances at getting a job in that field.

Why did you choose to study Forensic Science at the University?

I short-listed the course at Derby as it was one of the courses accredited by the Forensic Science Society (now the Chartered Society of Forensic Sciences). When I attended an Open Day, the staff and students I met were so welcoming I immediately felt at home and knew that Derby was the place I where wanted to study.

What impact has studying this course at Derby had on your career?

It has had a huge impact. Although I haven’t pursued a career in forensic science, without studying this subject I may not have unearthed my interest in insects. Also, the staff were incredibly supportive, they really pushed me to do the best that I could and encouraged me to do things that I thought were out of my reach. Without that I don’t think I would have gone on to do an MSc.

How did the lecturers inspire you?

I had a lot of respect for the level of expertise and enthusiasm they had for their subjects. For me it was contagious, it made me want to strive to gain expertise of my own and do something that I was really passionate about.

How do you feel the University has helped you in your career so far?

When I started my degree at Derby it’s fair to say I was pretty shy. At the time my worst nightmare was talking to large groups of people and giving presentations! The thing that really helped me to overcome this was working as a student ambassador for the Student Employment Agency. Talking about my subject and sharing my experiences with prospective students took me out of my comfort zone and developed my confidence. I’ve since built upon these communication skills and would say they are vital for my current position, especially for public engagement.

What are your future plans?

I hope to continue working with entomology collections and learn as much as I possibly can about insects. Museum jobs are few and far between but my goal is to be a curator. I’d also love to be able to help inspire the next generation of entomologists.

What would you say to anyone thinking of coming to study this course at the University of Derby?
I would say go for it! It’s a great place to study, with really good facilities and top notch teaching staff. The course covers such a fascinating range of topics and would certainly equip you with the knowledge and skills required for a career in forensics. But be prepared… it may also open doors and opportunities you didn’t know existed!

Who are you still in touch with from the University?

I am still in contact with a number of the staff, including Dr Kate Barnes, Professor Karim Vahed and David Gee who all helped nurture my interest in entomology. I also keep in touch with Dr Ian Turner, who was a fantastic mentor during my time at Derby.