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How I picked Forensic Science as my career

- By Malvika Mehta

“I am a believer in dreams, whatever I dream, I have the power to bring it to reality and for that I must begin somewhere."

It was during my Class XII (2012) when I had to decide how my career would look like. My parents loved the idea of seeing me in a white coat, a stethoscope around my collar", and" the very thought of giving something back to society got me to a medical school. I applied for a bachelor’s degree in Ayurvedic Medicine and Surgery (BAMS) at one of the best universities in my hometown. Like many others, my first day wasn’t very exciting, with reality hitting really hard. A dead body lied in front of me, taken out from the preservation chamber ready for dissection for in-depth understanding of the human body. Personally, the thought itself was depressing.

I gathered enough strength and took the scalpel, followed the instructions given by the professor. Days went by and I did not enjoy being in grad school anymore. I took it to my parents and asked if I could drop, and they thought it was just a passing phase. They also advised me not to give up too soon. I was convinced. A year passed by, but nothing changed. Parallel to my degree, I was pursuing a course in Handwriting Analysis and it had almost come to an end. While, I was researching on the internet about the highest form of qualification one could have in Handwriting analysis, I came across the concept of Questioned Document Examination (QDE).

In the second year, I was introduced to a subject called Medical Jurisprudence and Toxicology. I developed interest in this area and one day while I was reading a recommended textbook, I read a short paragraph on the role of Forensics in Medicolegal aspects. I could connect a few dots with the area of QDE. I returned home, did some more research on the possibilities of becoming a Medico Legal Officer at first. I discussed it with my family, that’s how we function and take better decisions. Winter break was near and I wanted to pursue a Diploma in QDE. It took a while to convince my parents at first because this course required me to leave my hometown for a month and I had never been away for long, it was the first time that I lived as a PG in Delhi.

I joined SIFS India, pursued the course. I met Dr Ranjeet Singh there, who has been the most influential person in my career. I look up to him as my mentor, he has been my constant guide ever since then. I gained experience by getting involved in real-life cases, took up many other diplomas alongside my medical degree and used all my vacations willingly to explore myself into an investigative career. I realized how much interest I had developed and how content I felt after each report I made. In the meantime, I also focused on achieving better scores and in understanding the concepts of BAMS.

By then I had already accomplished myself as a Handwriting Expert in India, I started my own firm called National Centre for Handwriting Studies (NCHS) simply to strengthen my concepts while teaching others. With time, I gradually started as an associate for SIFS India and managed similar cases in my city. I used to work after college hours, sometimes in college too. Friends and colleagues often asked me how I would multitask so efficiently, whether I had three different brains in one which could switch from subjects smoothly.

I actively participated in all college events and established myself in the field of art and dance, people started recognising me. I was approached by many students who felt that I motivate them to choose what they want to do in their lives and not follow the crowd blindly. I used to feel very satisfied when anyone would approach me to discuss their future with me, even though I myself was not sure of what my future beholds. College life came to an end, I moved on to complete the attached internships. I learnt the most during those 12 months. I was an intern in three hospitals attending emergency cases, I was rotating in different wards and seeing 100s of patients each day. I developed skills in case handling, meeting patients, understanding their concerns (problems), finding solutions to them, diagnosis and report writing skills. Further, it helped me understand the legalities of my profession and my responsibilities associated with it.

Ever since my school days, I had a dream to pursue further education abroad. I had started visiting many consultancies who would help you with applications and the available countries to choose from 2016 (third year) onwards. I did a lot of research to choose my course, university and country. I had a plan! By 2017 I knew where I wanted to study, it was Cranfield University for MSc Forensic Investigation. There were many parameters which I considered before choosing this course and the diverse modular structure at Cranfield impressed me. I began with all the preparations, initially I was told by a few consultants that it would be difficult to get an offer in my case because BAMS was an Indian degree and not valid abroad. This put me in a fix, I was still confident to apply but I also had backup plans in mind.

I applied to 8 universities and waited to hear what they had to say regarding my profile. To my surprise, I had an offer from all 8 universities within 2 months. I had never expected this, especially with the fact that 4.5 yrs of my bachelor's has been in Sanskrit and not typically in English, the concepts were different from the regular MBBS degrees. I had lots of options to choose from. At that time, I was also thinking of applying for scholarships, to see if I could save some money. I started applying for Indian as well as international scholarships.

Again, to my surprise I was approached by a university, they asked if I would like to be nominated for a scholarship, I said yes that would be fantastic! I did not trust this was happening, I gave it a shot. And there I stood, cleared!

I was overwhelmed with the kind of support I received throughout and the fact that an organization as elite as British Council sees potential in me and they want to fund me. To be honest, at first, I thought it was a scam. As much as I wanted to accept the offer, but this university was my second option on the list, my first was still Cranfield. I wrote to the organization if they were willing to fund me for the chosen course in Cranfield. Initially, the response was no, so I let go the scholarship. After a few months, I got a call back saying that they are willing to fund in my choice of the course, I couldn’t believe it was happening to me. This is how I landed at Cranfield Forensic Institute, studied at the Defense Academy of the United Kingdom and pursued post-graduation in Forensic Investigation. I grew both on personal and professional fronts there. I developed skills that were current, had hands-on experience to latest technology and was taught by the most knowledgeable mentors at the university. I was a part of a lot of networking events, this was exactly how I dreamt my life to be.

I got a chance to work at Kenyon International Emergency Services as an intern in Bracknell, the UK for a few weeks while I was studying. I met Otibho, my manager, another turning point in my career. She has been mentoring me ever since then. I engaged with people from all walks of life, learned about their local food, languages and culture. It helped me become more open and increased my level of acceptance to different types of cultures and thought processes. I was an even more independent version of myself than before.

From 2018 to 2019 I alongside my studies I applied to more than 250 jobs. These were my weekend tasks- job applications! I faced a lot of rejections, purely based on the conditions put up with my work visa and the security vetting. I did not lose hope, I moved on to applying for international organizations where people from different nationalities work together. Even then, 99% of the companies did not respond. It was in the last month before I came back to India, I got an email from an International Law Enforcement Organization, congratulating me on my selection for an internship. I had applied for this position in February 2019 (it was September 2019 then), almost forgotten and lost hopes that I could make way through it. Otibho was more excited than me, she advised that this was the breakeven curve in my journey and helped me prepare for the interview. She along with my friends and family believed in me. I cleared the interview and now as I write this, I complete 3 months of internship in Singapore. Another destination ticked on the globe and another experience to write about!

Now when I look back, I strongly feel that:

  • My life is a jigsaw puzzle, every experience and every event has fallen in its perfect place and at the perfect time.
  • There were many rejections and failures that I went through, but I was twice as optimistic after each one and found solutions to my problems instead of thinking how my life sucked!
  • It wasn’t easy, to manage different aspects of studying, working and doing serious business, after all, I had to be better than before with each coming day.
  • If I decide something, I stick by it. Slight deviations are okay, but my end goal is definite.
  • Always have back-up plans, it is rare that your first plan works out always. I have plan A to plan Z in my mind right now accompanying my vision for the next five years.
  • If I hadn’t taken the risks, I wouldn’t be able to explore the world, meet different people and interact with high ranked officials which automatically come with restricted access for common people.
  • Every person you meet, teaches you something. So, keep your judgments to yourself and see what the other person has to offer you. I have never had any negative experiences with people because I never looked for those, you get what you attract. Attract people with goals and determination to achieve them.
  • I always saw myself in positions I have been at so far, I imagined my life in the UK, I made it, I imagined working in Singapore, I am here. I imagined myself as an investigator, I am one. Vision helps you to increase your will power and determination thereby making you more focused towards your goal.
  • For every situation where you think “why you shouldn’t do xyz thing” think about “one reason why should you do it” a positive attitude towards everything in life will make your journey smoother.
  • Last but not the least, I have left my family in constant worry because of the career path I have chosen. Forensics is a safe domain, but as my parents say that with every case, I will be creating enemies. But that’s not my area of concern at the moment. I just want to do my bit! Isn’t this the best form of social service I could do from my end towards the betterment of the justice system.

My key achievements include:

  • Offered an internship at an International law enforcement organization amongst 400+ applications from all over the globe.
  • Awarded £20,000 scholarship for post-graduation at Cranfield University amongst 100 other women in 2018/19 by the British Council-70th anniversary scholarship.
  • Covered by 6 magazines and newspapers in India, The Golden Sparrow, City Plus, Hindustan Times and Femina, recognizing achievement at a young age. Video recognition by Woman TV for pursuing a career in forensics.
  • Presented as an expert witness in crucial cases of signature forgery, it was a piece of crucial evidence for the success of the case.

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