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"Oh, it's like CSI...": A Qualitative Study of Job Satisfaction Experiences of Forensic Scientists

by Tharinia Dukes-Robinson, Ashraf Esmail
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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780761862840
Publisher: UPA
Publication date: 02/28/2014
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 98
Product dimensions: 5.90(w) x 8.90(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Tharinia Dukes-Robinson is a former Questioned Document Examiner with California Department of Justice Bureau of Forensic Services. Dukes-Robinson is currently an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Piedmont College in Demorest and Athens Georgia.

Ashraf Esmail is an assistant professor of Criminal Justice at Dillard University. He serves on the board of directors for the National Association for Peace/Anti-Violence Education. He serves as the proposal review lead for the National Association for Multicultural Education. He is senior editor for the Journal of Education and Social Justice.

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"Oh ... It's like CSI ..."

A Qualitative Study of Job Satisfaction Experiences of Forensic Scientists

By Tharinia Dukes-Robinson, Ashraf Esmail

University Press Of America, Inc.

Copyright © 2014 University Press of America, Inc.
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-7618-6285-7



Introduction to the Problem

As demonstrated by the barrage of television shows and other media, forensic science has never been more popular. The field has not seen such an interest in forensics since the 1970s when television shows such as Quincy, MD thrust forensics into the spotlight. In the 1980s interest in forensics seemed to dwindle. However, in the 1990s with the breakthrough of DNA analysis, forensic science once again became one of the most popular fields of study and work. Today forensic shows such as the CSI and Law & Order franchises have sensationalized forensic science and one of its key players, forensic scientists. These shows often depict forensic scientists as laid back, well dressed, stress free super crime fighters who experience enormous job satisfaction (Bassett, 2006; Kruse, 2010; Ramsland, 2009). This glamorization of the forensic scientist has become such a phenomenon that it has begun to impact university curriculums (National Institute of Justice, 2007; Stankiewicz, 2007).

Forensic science curriculums are rapidly being added to university academic agendas across the country as well as abroad. However, a vast majority of these programs lack standardized academic curriculums and are producing graduates who are improperly trained (Desio, Gaensslen & Lee, 1985; National Institute of Justice, 2007; Sykes, Holland, & Shaler; 2006). According to the Council on Forensic Science Education, a great number of students are completing these substandard programs and finding that when they seek employment at crime labs and other law enforcement agencies the agencies are not impressed by the curriculum completed (Council on Forensic Science Education, n.d.; National Institute of Justice, 2007). Recognizing that there is a shortfall in forensic education, forensic science organizations such as the American Academy of Forensic Sciences (AAFS) have been expeditiously assisting universities with their curriculums to ensure quality forensic education is being provided (FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin, 2007; Jones, 2009).

American Academy of Forensic Sciences and other reputable forensic science organizations employ committees that use evaluation and accrediting processes to improve university curriculums (Jones, 2009; National Institute of Justice, 2007). With the help of such consortiums, universities have improved their curriculums and are providing accredited forensic science education programs that will meet the needs of potential students. These improved forensics curriculums will also meet the demand of a workforce seeking qualified individuals who are educationally and not television trained in forensics (National Institute of Justice, 2007; Stankiewicz, 2007). Additionally, strengthening and continuing to add forensic education to the academic curriculum will also minimize the valuable time and expense it costs forensic agencies to train new hires (National Institute of Justice, 2007; National Research Council, 2009). It can often take up to two years of training an individual before a single case can be assigned. If an individual receives a forensic education from an accredited forensic science program then an employer, crime laboratory director, or other hiring body can be more assured that a potential applicant meets the job qualifications (Almirall & Furton, 2003; National Institute of Justice, 2007).

Having university accredited forensic science education programs is a great leap in the quest for quality forensic science education. However, what is immediately needed is the institution of professional forensic training centers as well as advanced educational programs in forensic science ("Science in Court", 2010). Just as bachelors and masters level forensic education programs are becoming commonplace in university curriculums, it is with great hope doctoral forensic science programs will have similar results.

With all the media attention given to forensic science due to television shows such as CSI, Law & Order, Criminal Minds, Cold Case, and Court TV, the public has developed a fascination with forensic science (Dowler, Fleming & Muzzati, 2006; Mann, 2006; Mopas, 2007). The fascination is so great that the shows' creators are having a hard time trying to keep up with demand (Stankiewicz, 2007). These shows commonly depict forensic science, forensic scientists, and the evidence recovered as flawless. These shows also conclude every week with the forensic team always "catching the bad guy". These depictions are somewhat misleading because it gives the nonprofessional the impression that forensic science is infallible and that forensic scientists are glamorous, stress-free, super crime fighters (Bassett, 2006; Minn, 2009; Ramsland, 2009). Often, as with media portrayals, these views are unrealistic when it comes to how crime and the justice system interact (Bassett, 2006; Dowler, Fleming & Muzzati, 2006; Ramsland, 2009; Toobin, 2007). Real issues, such as the potential stress and poor job satisfaction the forensic scientist may experience in their day-to-day quest to solve crime, often do not find their way into the storyline. One reason may be that such things may not capture and retain the attention of the viewers. What many entering the field quickly discover is that forensic science and forensic scientists are not "as seen on TV."

The primary duty of the forensic scientist in a crime laboratory is to conduct day-to-day analysis of evidence while adhering to very stringent laboratory, bureau, nationally or internationally accreditation guidelines as well as various other organizational requirements. To add even more pressure, the forensic scientist must complete such day-to-day evidence analysis in a timely and accurate manner, ensure chain of custody, maintain strict quality control and data management, write the completed report, and testify in court to the completed analysis just to name a few of many miscellaneous duties (American Academy of Forensic Sciences, 2008; Barbara, 2008). Additional demands forensic scientists often experience with each case include last minute requests for evidence processing, competency and proficiency testing, case backlogs, dealing with investigators or prosecutors, and dealing with many other organizational requirements (California Crime Laboratory Review Task Force, 2009; Houck, 2006; McDonald, 2008; U.S. Department of Justice, 2007). A rigorous load such as this makes working within a crime laboratory anything but glamorous. All of these factors as well as other factors necessary to complete analysis of a case could make for a potentially stressful work environment, which may yield job dissatisfaction.

Background of the Study

The area of police and law enforcement stress and job satisfaction has been the subject of continual research and discussions (Brough & Frame, 2004; Manzoni & Eisner, 2006; Mire, 2005; Sewell, 2000; Wells, 2003). With the success of forensic science shows on television today the image projected of forensic scientists and the job is a very entertaining one. The image often presented is that solving crime takes nothing more than the forensic scientist effortlessly collecting evidence and having high-tech instrumentation yield immediate results. Frequently such imagery perpetuates misconceptions of the job real forensic scientists perform.

Forensic scientists and forensic laboratories are increasingly under pressure to yield rapid, superior, and inexpensive forensic services (Becker & Dale, 2007; Mannell & Shaw, 2006). Forensic scientists and their labs are expected to meet many extraneous demands. These individuals and their organizations must also maintain high ethical standards and integrity set by the individual laboratories, the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors (ASCLD), the International Organization for Standardization (ISO), or other forensic accrediting bodies they wish to be affiliated. Meeting demands for excellence compounded by the increase in evidence submission (often line police officers cannot discern what evidence is or is not important so they often submit everything found at the scene) to crime laboratories has created backlogs in many laboratories across the country (McDonald, 2008; Murphy, 2007; National Institute of Justice, 2007; Rincon, 2005). In fact, according to Lyons (2006), the recognized backlogs are greatest when it comes to DNA and many state crime laboratories are unable to keep up with the requests for analyses. These demands are not only causing case backlogs in forensic laboratories across the United States but are also placing forensic scientists in potentially stressful work environments. Similar to any other type of work environment a negative, work environment in the crime laboratory setting could potentially lead to job dissatisfaction among the crime laboratory's forensic scientists.

Statement of the Problem

According to one of the executive producers of the television show CSI, shows likeCSI do create misunderstandings as to the capabilities of forensic science and forensic scientists but at the same time, such shows demonstrate how forensics can be a powerful tool in solving crimes (Sappenfield & Goodale 2003). The reality is that crime laboratories in this country are often understaffed, lack the latest technology, operate out of antiquated facilities, and are often forced to operate on meager annual budgets ("CSI Experts Showcase", 2007; Houck, 2006; Sewell, 2000). Furthermore, trying to schedule casework around court dates, dealing with investigators and attorneys, meeting organizational and accreditation protocol, or even dealing with individuals who actually believe that forensic scientists can solve a case in 24 hours or less, are only a few more of the many daily challenges encountered by forensic scientists (Sappenfield & Goodale 2003). Having to efficiently and effectively deal with so many variables when it comes to forensic science casework can be exceedingly stressful and can make the job less satisfying. Regardless, it is extremely important for forensic scientists to be alert because the bottom line is that the results of their analysis have an impact on a suspect or victim's life.

Pressure within any type of work environment could lead to poor job satisfaction amongst employees. With respect to forensic scientists, dealing with the many types of pressures or stressors experienced on a daily basis that comes with the job of crime solving could yield low job satisfaction. Research and literature on job stress and job satisfaction among law enforcement has been significantly researched and discussed for many years. As Sewell (2000) points out, "academicians, researchers, and practitioners have critically examined subsets of the law enforcement population, including executives and administrators, investigators, officers with unique responsibilities, and non-sworn personnel such as dispatchers" (p. 1).

Some of the Sewell's (2000) subsets, as discussed above, have been extensively studied by researchers such as Castle in 2008 (jail officers), Burke in 1995 (dispatcher stress), and collaboratively by Childress, Talucci, and Wood in 1999 (correctional officers). There are countless other researchers and subset areas that have been profoundly researched with respect to law enforcement be it stress, satisfaction, attitudes, and so on. However, one area that still seems to be under-researched and not mentioned in the peer-reviewed literature is that of job stress, job satisfaction or any other potential variables that affect forensic personnel. In fact, the entire forensic science field as a whole is significantly under-researched. A recent detailed report on the current state of forensic science in the United States released by the National Research Council (2009) sites a number of concerns in forensic science that needs to be addressed to ensure the discipline's future a success. One of the concerns listed in this report includes the fact that forensic science suffers from the lack of an adequate research base compared to other disciplines (National Research Council, 2009).

Except for defining what a forensic scientist or forensic personnel is or is not, literature related to any attitudes, feelings or behavior of forensic personnel is relatively sparse. A few non-peer reviewed articles on forensic technician or crime scene responder stress were located but the articles did not reflect that any type of in-depth research in the topic area had been conducted. Additionally, dissertation work in the area of forensic science personnel stress or job satisfaction was sparse. While conducting this research, only two dissertations focusing on forensic personnel were located. The first dissertation partially focused on traumatic stress of forensic technicians in Israel and the information was later published in a traumatic stress journal (Hyman, 2004) while the second dissertation's focus was on dispatcher stress (Burke, 1991). An extensive review of the literature gives the appearance that the current trend or focus of the bulk of forensic science research, dissertations, and articles centers around the coined term CSI Effect. The term CSI Effect is used to describe the ideology that due to all the television shows such as CSI, Law & Order, and other similar media the public acquires an unrealistic expectation of forensic science and its capabilities (Mann, 2006; Willing, 2004). The concern with the CSI Effect literature is how the "CSI" phenomena affect the science or business of forensic science. What is often not addressed in the CSI Effect literature is how the rapidly expanding field of forensic science is affecting the forensic scientist and other forensic personnel mentally and physically. This further demonstrates that the recent report released by the National Research Council (NRC, 2009) is correct in that forensic science research is indeed lacking compared to other law enforcement entities.

There was modest success in locating research on the effects of the nature of forensic science work on specific forensic personnel, laboratory directors. Research on this specific forensic personnel, laboratory directors, was located in the Federal Bureau of Investigation's literature archives of Forensic Science Communications. In that April 2000 issue of Forensic Science Communications, James Sewell investigated stress among forensic laboratory managers. Sewell's investigation effectively pointed out all the stressors that are placed on forensic laboratory managers and what can be done to mitigate some if not all stressors that come along with the job of forensic laboratory manager. What this particular piece of literature demonstrated to this researcher is that there is growing awareness of the impact that the rapidly expanding field of forensic science is having on all forensic personnel.

Though there are articles that are often presented as feature topics in some news magazines, there appears to be no existing research that examines stress and job satisfaction among forensic scientists. The review of the literature on various other law enforcement personnel stress and job satisfaction experiences assisted in identifying that indeed there is a gap that exists on forensic scientist and forensic personnel stress, job satisfaction, and other pertinent issues that could potentially affect the job of conducting forensic work.

Forensic science personnel (dispatcher, scientist, crime scene responders, and others) is an area that is in need of research. The primary way that organizations can effectively address the needs of its forensic personnel is to learn how to identify and deal with any potential issues that may arise. Research or literature specific to forensic personnel could provide forensic organizations with the ability to recognize and address issues its forensic scientists may be experiencing. Prominent researcher Sewell's (2000) review of the law enforcement literature confirmed that there indeed is a need for further research of psychological, physiological, and other manifestations of forensic science personnel distress that are often overlooked by management.

This study's primary goal was to provide information that will assist crime laboratories and other law enforcement entities to understand some of the issues its forensic scientists may potentially experience. A secondary goal of this study was to stimulate research in the forensic sciences with respect to forensic science personnel and symptoms they may encounter such as job satisfaction, stress, and other psychological and physiological issues.

Purpose of the Study

The purpose of this study was to examine how forensic scientists experience the role of job satisfaction in their daily employment setting. A phenomenological approach allowed the study to explore job satisfaction experiences among forensic scientists by asking questions about daily work setting experiences. The resultant research from the study will add information to the rather scant amount of data related to the variable job satisfaction when it comes to forensic scientists, thus filling the existing gap in the literature.


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Table of Contents

Chapter One. Introduction
Introduction to the Problem
Background of the Study
Statement of the Problem
Purpose of the Study
Research Question
Significance of the Study
Definition of Terms
Assumptions and Limitations
Nature of the Study
Theoretical/Conceptual Framework
Previous Methodologies Used to Measure Job Satisfaction
Theory Guiding the Study
Organization of the Remainder of the Study
Chapter Two. Literature Review
Relevant Literature
Overview of Stress in Law Enforcement
Overview of Job Satisfaction in Law Enforcement
Forensic Science and Forensic Scientists
Job Satisfaction and Forensic Personnel
The Current Study
Chapter Three. Methodology
Theoretical Framework
Research Design
Sample Design
Field Testing
Data Collection Procedures
Data Analysis Procedures
Limitations of Methodology and Strategies for Minimizing Impact
Expected Findings
Ethical Issues
Chapter Four. Data Collection and Analysis
The Researcher
Participants’ Demographics
Interview Guide Questions
Participants’ Profiles
Data Collection
Data Analysis
Data Clustering and Thematizing
Research Findings
Theme One: Comparison to Forensics on TV
Theme Two: Unrealistic Expectations From Others
Theme Three: CSI Effect Hinders Job
Theme Four: Job is Satisfying
Theme Five: Work Affects Lives of Others
Major Findings
The Research Question
Goals of the Interview Questions
Chapter Five. Results, Conclusions, and Recommendations
The Research Question
Summary of the Theoretical Perspective
Summary of Results
Conclusions as Related to the Literature
Limitations of the Study
Significance of the Study
Implications and Future Recommendations
Future Recommendations
About the Authors

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