A forensic biologist and a UTM alumna, Dr. Nicole Novroski recently joined the UTM faculty as an assistant professor. Last week, The Medium sat down with her to discuss the journey she undertook after graduating from UTM, her current research on DNA mixtures, and the advice she would give to students who are interested in pursuing a career in forensic science.
Originally interested in pursuing accounting, Novroski’s interest in forensic science was ignited in eleventh grade when a biology assignment on DNA finger printing “changed [her] perspective about biology, science, [and] about how you can use science to help the community and society.” As someone who was always volunteering and loved to give back to the community, she “felt that forensic science was the perfect balance of using your intellectual abilities [and] contributing to your community both on a small and large scale.”
Novroski completed her undergraduate degree at UTM in 2009 double majoring in forensic science and biology. She went on to pursue a Master’s degree in Forensic Molecular Biology at the University of Albany, SUNY, and after completing her degree, worked as a Criminalist at the New York City Office of Chief Medical Examiner in the Department of Forensic Biology. She explains that she got the opportunity to do “a lot of interesting research both here in Canada and in the United States.”
For her Ph.D., Novroski moved to Texas and studied molecular genetics at the University of North Texas Health Science Centre. Following the completion of her Ph.D., she returned to UTM as an assistant professor. Novroski believes that “being in an environment [such as UTM], where the main goal of people’s work and people’s attitude towards life is to be better and to help” inspires her to continue to learn and push herself to the best of her abilities.
Novroski’s current research delves into DNA mixtures and how to more specifically identify individuals. “DNA mixtures are really, really, complicated. When you’re trying to interpret a DNA profile that has more than one individual in it, it can be very difficult to understand how many people are in the DNA mixture and how much DNA each individual is contributing to the DNA mixture,” she explains.
Her research explores “new areas of DNA that allow for better differentiation between individuals. When you generate a DNA profile using these other locations in the DNA, there’s a little bit more discrimination power, or the ability to decipher how many people are in the mixture, and maybe at what ratio they have contributed to the mixture.”
Novroski’s research will prove to be useful in cases where a DNA profile does not provide enough information to make a conclusion. With new information gained from DNA, Novroski says that more crimes can be solved, and “you’re ultimately able to help more individuals in society.”
When asked about what inspired her to research DNA mixtures, Novroski answers that “in forensic biology, there are particular areas of study that are problematic for everyone [and] that everybody in the community will encounter some difficulty with in terms of being able to interpret them.” One of these areas is DNA mixtures. With all the new techniques and equipment being introduced into forensic biology, Novroski believes that “if we go back a step, we might be able to go ahead leaps and bounds.”
Novroski’s advice to students who are interested in pursuing forensic science is “to make the most of your program.” She had her “biggest successes and grew the most as an individual and scientist” when she took risks and left the GTA, and she also encourages students to take risks because “there’s a world out there of opportunity.” Although she loved her experience in the United States, she acknowledges that one downfall is that “there’s just more crime in America. [However,] from a forensic position, that means there are more positions, more opportunities, and more exposure to a variety of cases.”
Alongside her research, Novroski is teaching many courses this school year including FSC315: Forensic Biology, which she describes as being “geared for the specialists and the majors in the forensic programs;” FSC416: Population Genetics, a course “for geneticist biologists and forensic biologists alike [and which] focus[es] on math and the understanding of why we care about populations and how they diverge from each other;” FSC350: Forensic Biology in the News, which is “intended for the minor students to just kind of talk about the big themes in the news[such as] genealogy and typing.”
Novroski loves being a forensic scientist as she believes that the job results in “every day [being] exciting.” She concludes by saying that “being here in Canada, being able to teach, [and] having my own research program is a luxury that many scientists abroad are not afforded” and she truly considers coming back to UTM as “a once in a life time opportunity.”