Ask a Forensic Chemist by the NSW Early Career Chemists Group

Written by George Lewis
UTS Ambassador, NSW Early Career Chemists Group



Ask a Forensic Chemist 2.0 was back by popular demand and have invited panellists including Brynn Hibbert (UNSW), Daniel Coghlan (NSW Health Pathology) and Morgan Philp (UTS). Its purpose is to give an insight of everyday life as a forensic chemist. ECCG Treasurer Sherly Hadi hosted the event.

Emeritus Prof. Brynn Hibbert of Analytical Chemistry at UNSW and Vice President of Royal Society NSW provided a virtual experience working as an Analytical Chemist.  Throughout his career, he was mostly involved in sports drug testing and drugs of abuse.  He also described about how crimes were solved through analytical techniques such as the use of ICP-MS for isotopes, using this information to assist in court as an expert and stand firm on his grounds of his research.  Doping preventive techniques of horses by measuring TCO2 and cobalt content in equine urine was also another area that Brynn went to in his career.  Brynn emphasised that no matter where one goes in the field of science, it is about standing firm on his grounds based on data collected, truthful and unbiased at all times even with his career and major parties at stake that at one point, were quoted after a case of Optus Networks Pty Limited & Ors –V- Leighton Contractors Pty Limited & Ors, Hunter J, April 2002, “Professor Hibbert was an extremely impressive witness whom I found reliable, responsive in cross-examination and without any apparent bias in his answers which were given promptly and with authority.”  I believe that this is definitely a point to take from this virtual networking event.

Dr Daniel Coghlan followed next.  He took a PhD on organic chemistry based in University of Adelaide and currently work as a team leader of field operations in NSW Health under Forensic and Analytical Science Service (FASS).  His career path is similar to Emeritus Prof. Brynn but he analysed on final products, drug/chemical precursors or intermediates such as measuring pH and use of analytical techniques such as HPLC, LC-MS to determine chemical structure.  Although he did not study Forensic Science, it does not apply that one is unable to take a career in forensic science.  He gave very detailed virtual tour on his career as a forensic chemist, such as inspecting crime scene, use of gridding apparatus and separation of organic and inorganic compounds and brief tour of what career path he took before taking this role, such as doing antibiotics research at University of Wollongong for 5 years using molecular modelling, going to Europe for his first job and Macquarie University in growing of fungus research.  He emphasised on the importance of lifelong learning, forming of opinions and core fundamentals as everyone refers back all the time no matter where one works.  It is therefore important to learn and ask questions all the time.  Last but not least, take care of personal wellbeing while at work.

Dr Morgan Philp was the final panellist of this virtual event.  She is currently doing a postdoctoral on illicit drug retention and developing new screening method to detect synthetic cathinone for Australian Federal Police using coloured tests.  Her research involves fingerprint, forensic biology, criminalistics, forensic intelligence and analytical chemistry, lastly forensic toxicology.  Although her experience is limited, she supervises and coordinates honours students in UTS and is the Co-chair for Women in Chemistry Group.  She concluded in giving advice by highlighting the importance of networking, sharing information and hear about what clients need in conferences, through networking, it provides limitless opportunity as graduates.  Skills obtained from universities, fundamentals and lifelong learning are also key points.

In conclusion, this virtual event “Ask a Forensic Chemist 2.0” shows that results do not mean as much as they used to in the past, job availability are mostly through networking and knowing the right person based on one character for the job.  Great communication, experience combination of good character and core fundamentals such as lifelong learning and continuous upgrade of one skillset will definitely be advantageous in job applications. There are definitely various opportunities out there while studying at university, you just got to find it!  Coming out as a fresh undergraduate in 2020, I have enriched myself in several programmes at UTS and an internship but COVID-19 happened and it had to be suspended. Meeting people is definitely not a comfortable thing to do, but if not now, then when?