From Griffith to Crime Scenes: My Year with the AFP
Meet Griffith University Bachelor of Forensic Science /Bachelor of Criminology and Criminal Justice graduate Brittany Sawyer. After watching and reading countless crime shows and novels at a young age, Brittany developed a keen interest in forensic science. After graduating high school she decided to follow her passion and moved interstate to Brisbane to pursue studies in the field. Brittany graduated from Griffith University in 2019 with a double degree in Forensic Science (Majoring in Molecular Biology) and Criminology and Criminal Justice and now works for the Australian Federal Police (AFP) as a part of their 2020 Graduate Program.
I’ve always been a lover of learning, so naturally I really enjoyed my time at university. Whilst I have always wanted to pursue a career in forensics, I had struggled to narrow down the exact field. However, throughout the final year of my degree I was exposed to forensic anthropology and quickly developed an interest in it. During my final semester I decided to undertake a research project – probably the best experience of my uni career! This allowed me to utilise the skills I had learned through my biology studies to plan the project and perform DNA analysis on skeletal material.
Applying for the AFP Graduate Program
You always hear that university years will fly by, but you never really believe it… until you experience it. Suddenly it was October of 2019 and I had sat the final exam of uni. I expected myself to be elated and relieved, but I just felt lost! I had dedicated the previous four years to university and study and now I had nothing to do while I waited for job applications to return. At the start of 2019 I had applied for the AFP’s 2020 Graduate Program and throughout the year had progressed to the final interview stage… where I didn’t eat or sleep for about a week prior!
Finally, I got an email to say I had unfortunately missed out on the job but had made it into the merit pool; a list of suitable applicants that could be later drawn upon for employment by the organisation. This rejection didn’t bother me, as I had a backup plan to commence an Honours degree at Griffith University, continuing the work from my small research project. Over the next month, I was working in the lab to get me ready for Honours. Here I learnt that things will always go wrong and you are always learning from those around you and your own mistakes – I know I did!
“It went to a whole new level when I was asked to join the Graduate Program as a Forensic Scientist – this was my dream job!”
Getting the call back
In December I received a phone call from the AFP offering me a job in their intelligence division (independent of the Graduate Program). I was beyond excited and words could not explain how thrilled I was to be starting work in the organisation. Not long after, in January I received another call asking me if now wanted to join the 2020 Graduate Program in the forensics division, as a position had arisen. If I thought I was excited when I was asked to join intelligence, it went to a whole new level when I was asked to join the Graduate Program as a Forensic Scientist – this was my dream job!
How the graduate program works
The AFP Graduate Program is a 12-month program where you complete three rotations through different departments, before commencing a full-time permanent position in your ‘home team’. Your first rotation is in your home team, the team who hired you, before moving to an internal rotation. Finally, you complete an external rotation to a team outside of your home division. The program also facilitates multiple professional development and training days, such as project management and emotional intelligence, and you participate in the completion of a community project. Whilst my home team is yet to be confirmed, I have undertaken a rotation through the Search Precinct of forensics and am now in ACT Policing’s Criminal Investigation Unit.
“We would search these items for fingerprints and collect potential trace samples, such as DNA, fibres and hairs. It was here that I was exposed to many new and exciting experiences and able to apply knowledge from university to participate in real case work.”
Applying my university knowledge
The Search Precinct is a fairly new and developing area of forensics, where all initial examinations of evidentiary items are conducted. This was very hands-on and predominantly lab-based. It was highly unpredictable work, with items including anything crime scene investigators or detectives submitted to us. We would then search these items for fingerprints and collect potential trace samples, such as DNA, fibres and hairs. It was here that I was exposed to many new and exciting experiences and able to apply knowledge from university to participate in real casework.
I also occasionally ventured into other disciplines which facilitated steep learning curves. I am currently in my second rotation in ACT Policing and it has been amazing to see how an investigation is conducted on the front line of law enforcement. Here I have been able to participate in both active cases and the review of older cases.
Whilst I am only half-way through my graduate program experience, I have been exposed to so much that I could never have imagined! Everyone I have met throughout the year has been incredibly supportive of graduates and so willing to assist, offer advice and open new opportunities. I am now waiting to hear where my final rotation and home team will be but am hoping it will be in Forensic Biology. This is where I am qualified, and they have many new exciting opportunities coming up that I hope I get the chance to be involved in.
Hear more from Brittany about studying forensics in the video below.