Jodie Ward is an expert in all things bones and forensic DNA profiling.
Developing a specialist DNA laboratory to aid police in identifying Australia’s unknown and missing persons, Jodie is passionate about using science to make a positive difference to people’s lives.
On top of her impressive resume, Jodie is counted among the 30 Superstars of STEM for 2018. We spoke with Jodie to find out what being a forensic scientist is really like, and why we should have more women in the forensic workforce!
I established the Specialist DNA Laboratory at NSW Health Pathology in 2015. This unique service is used nationally by police, military and government agencies, because it offers new hope for bones that are very old or degraded, such as victims of crime, war and mass disasters.
From a young age I knew I wanted a career in STEM. I was interested in working with animals, completing work experience with a local veterinary clinic, and my science hero was Dian Fossey – a zoologist who dedicated her life to studying and conserving mountain gorillas. I enrolled in a Bachelor of Science, majoring in Botany and Zoology, but during my studies I found my passion for forensic science.
The future of forensics
The focus on intelligence-led policing will change the face of forensic science in the future.
In my field, new DNA tools such as forensic DNA phenotyping (the use of DNA to predict an individual’s ancestry or physical appearance) will see forensic biologists use DNA to generate investigative leads, like the skin, hair and eye colour of the missing person, even when only a single bone is recovered.
These tools will require new technologies such as massively parallel sequencing, meaning expertise in genomics and bioinformatics could be important new skills for a forensic biologist to have.
More women in the workforce
Unlike almost every other STEM discipline, the overall ratio of females is higher in many forensic science disciplines, so the focus for us needs to be on retaining and promoting the amazing female forensic scientists we have rather than attracting them in the first place.
We need to use the talents of both women and men to #solveitwithscience!
A Superstar of STEM
One of the drivers for me applying for this important program was that even though forensic science has exploded in the media over the last decade, there is a lack of female forensic scientists representing my field on TV, social media or news programs.
We need more female forensic scientists sharing our passion for using science for good and debunking myths about forensic science sparked by TV programs such as ‘CSI’.
Jodie’s best advice
Find a role model – a Superstar of STEM is a good place to start! Do what you love, dream big, work hard and embrace opportunities!
The future for Jodie
My ultimate goal is to be pivotal in establishing a national DNA identification service for missing persons in Australia, which could see the bones of hundreds of unknown Australians be identified as some of our long-term missing persons.
Things you may not know about her
I earned my black belt in Taekwondo when I was 12 years old, been skydiving twice and have a fear of sharks!
Jodie’s pathway to becoming a forensic scientist
> > Bachelor of Science (Honours), Australian National University
> > PhD (Forensic Molecular Biology), Australian National University
> > Forensic Biologist, Australian Federal Police
> > Forensic Biology Lecturer, National Centre for Forensic Studies
> > Forensic DNA Specialist, NSW Police Force
> > Adjunct Professional Associate, University of Canberra
> > Forensic DNA Specialist, NSW Health Pathology
Author: Eliza Brockwell
Eliza is passionate about creating content that encourages diversity of representation in STEM.