This week, we’d like to introduce you to Dr. Geraldine Fahy, lecturer in Biological/Forensic Anthropology at the Skeletal Biology Research Centre at the University of Kent. She is also part of our highly-skilled team of facilitators at Forensic Outreach.
Here, she shares her experiences, stories and research in her field. Read on to find her top tips for pursuing a career in forensic anthropology.
Describe yourself in one sentence.
Archaeological scientist who seeks to understand when an individual comes from using the premise “you are what & where you eat… isotopically”.
Describe your current work and research.
I am a lecturer in Biological/Forensic Anthropology in the Skeletal Biology Research Centre, University of Kent. During term-time I teach all aspects of Human Evolution from early fossil hominins, hunter-gatherer societies, to methodologies used to reconstruct the last common ancestor (LCA). I also convene a forensic anthropology module where I teach aspects of forensic taphonomy, excavation and recovery, disaster victim identification and biometric identification. In between terms, I conduct research into dietary ecology and subsistence patterns of past populations using stable isotope analysis. I have previously conducted such research on a population of wild Western chimpanzees, as correlates for the LCA; however, my current research focuses on medieval dietary reconstruction from East and West Europe.
What inspired you to join this field?
I wanted to become a forensic anthropologist from the first time I read Kathy Reich’s debut novel, Deja Dead. Of course, fiction is fiction however by the time I started researching the topic and where I could study forensics, I loved the topic for itself, for the science and so continued. I have turned more towards analytical chemistry techniques and human evolution in recent years; however, my interest in forensics continues, and my education and employment background remains relevant, as most forensic science disciplines, including forensic anthropology, have solid foundations in science, with the ‘forensic’ aspect being related to chain-of-custody maintenance and courtroom presentation.
Describe your education and career trajectory to this point.
I completed a BSc (Hons) Forensic Science from the University of Lincoln in 2006. I subsequently completed two MSc degrees over the next 4 years, along with anthropological internships in Portugal and the Netherlands. I worked as a forensic anthropology intern for the UN Mission in Kosovo in 2007 and as an Associate Forensic Expert for the UN International Independent Investigation Commission in Lebanon in 2008. I pursed by PhD at the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Germany from 2010-2014 followed by a postdoctoral position at KU Leuven in Belgium. I was offered a permanent lectureship at the University of Kent, which I took up at the end of 2014 and where I have worked ever since.
Tell us a story of something interesting you’ve worked on.
When in Kosovo, we were tasked with identification for repatriation of individuals missing as a result of the Yugoslavian conflict. One day we were sent to excavate a small field in the countryside; many family members of the missing were also there, giving digging advice from the side-lines! After a long time searching we found not one, but two skeletons, not in the place they were supposed to be! We were entertained with commentary from the side-lines on who these may be consistently throughout the excavation. While these types of excavations are grave and serious and a large amount of respect for the dead must be taken, this is also a good example of the necessity for some humour as well, if only to lighten the situation for ourselves to make the job bearable.
What tips can you provide for people wishing to pursue a career in your field?
Do your research but don’t be disheartened if you end up doing a different degree initially; as long as it’s not totally removed (e.g. doing a business degree when you then want to work in science) it is possible to get where you want to go without a straight path. I would advise doing as many unpaid internships as possible, this is where you gain valuable experience and make contacts for the future. Importantly realise that what you want can change as the years go by and this is fine… you may start out wanting to work constantly in the field, but then realise this is not viable for you and end up in a lab or a classroom, just go with whatever feels right for you.
Your turn: Have any questions for Geraldine or our team? Leave them here.