Outcome of Carnegie/Caledonian PhD Scholarships round 2020
Dr Jennifer Miller received a Carnegie PhD Scholarship from 1995-1997, while at the University of Glasgow.
I have been fascinated since early childhood by the natural world, the cyclical nature of events and consequences of change. I spent hours in an untamed part of our garden absorbing and observing nature. Aged four, I buried a Barbie doll then excavated it on various occasions, waiting for it to skeletonise. It never did. I made ‘cures for cancer’ from bathroom products, mud, leaves and tomato sauce before finally my exasperated parents bought me a microscope to detract me from their diminishing household resources. I guess I was always destined to be a scientist. I viewed undertaking a PhD as the natural progression from BSc, a route into research that could make a real difference and would satisfy my desire to understand nature and change. I am most grateful for the honour and opportunity provided by my Carnegie scholarship, which allowed me to follow my chosen career path.
The funding enabled me to combine my joint passions for natural science and archaeology, learning the foundational principles necessary for a successful career. My PhD was in archaeobotany, hosted at Glasgow University. During my studies, Strathclyde Police asked me to identify plant material from the stomach of a suspected poisoning victim. I did so, confirming that he had not died of blueberry poisoning! However, this piqued my interest towards forensic application of natural science. For many years, I worked at Glasgow University then York Archaeological Trust, running a bioarchaeology research lab and building my forensic casework portfolio into stomach contents analysis for criminal investigation. I also recover human remains from problematic circumstances, interpret timings and events using environmental indicators, teach police officers and advise on search and body recovery. I have given expert testimony in High Court many times and currently lecture in forensic science at Nottingham Trent University.
I am a senior lecturer in Forensic Science at Nottingham Trent University, where I teach suspicious death investigation, environmental forensics, the obligations of the expert witness and bioarchaeology to the next generation of forensic practitioners at all levels. I am course leader for the MSc Forensic Science and lead several UG Forensic Science modules. Incorporating casework within teaching enables significant authenticity, improves engagement and ensures students graduate with a solid knowledge base. I continue to undertake forensic casework UK wide in both stomach contents analysis and body recovery, give presentations at national Policing conferences and sit on an advisory panel for the Home Office. My research students are investigating factors affecting gastric transit to extend the applicability of this important forensic tool. I am also working with several police forces UK wide to improve understanding of factors affecting gastric transit to inform sudden infant death investigation where criminality is suspected.
A PhD from any source is a great accomplishment, but to achieve a Carnegie scholarship is a prodigious honour. It brings with it academic recognition and gave me a sense of personal achievement that has remained throughout my entire academic career. I wholeheartedly recommend anyone considering making an application to do so.
Awarded: Carnegie PhD Scholarship
University: University of Glasgow