Get to Know the ISHI 32 Speakers

Tara Luther, Promega

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Before heading to ISHI (or logging on virtually) this year, let's get to know some of the ISHI General Sessions speakers a little better.

What tips would you give to someone who is just starting out in the field of forensics, or what is the best advice that you’ve received?

Ed Green: If you already know the answer, don’t bother doing that experiment. Think of a better one.

Allison Sherier: Graduate school is always a big decision. The best advice I suggest is to treat it like a job. Make yourself deadlines and goals and stick to them. The typical week should be working on your classes, research, and writing from 8 am to 5 pm Monday through Friday. Focusing on graduate school as a job meant that I had time for myself and my family. This approach also helped me prevent burnout early on in my program.

Dane Plaza: Work hard and be innovative. The forensics field can be demanding and stressful, but a strong work ethic and positive attitude can take you far in your career. Don’t be afraid to bring up new ideas as some of the most impactful programs/research I have been a part of started as blue sky ideas that resulted in successful and impactful projects.

Emily Simek and Lies Janssens:

  • Be open to change because forensic science is an ever-evolving field.
  • Own up to your mistakes, and don’t be afraid to ask questions.
  • If you have a passion for forensics, keep up with it.

Tarah Nieroda: The best advice I ever received also happens to be the same advice that I give today. To never give up and keep on trying, that once you get your foot in the door even if it is at the bottom of the barrel in an entry level position that is all you need to start a career in this industry.

Rachel Oefelein: Take every opportunity! Candidates with at least some experience tend to shine, not to mention many interns end up getting hired by their host laboratory.

Elena Zavala: The best advice that I received when I first decided I wanted to study forensics over fifteen years ago was to first get a strong foundation in the natural sciences. As you begin to identify your area of interest I would recommend talking to as many people as possible who do what you want to do. This will help you learn how to follow their path and/or gain better insights into the reality of their job.

Curt Hewitt: I’m on the R&D side of things, so the most important advice I can give is to be creative in how you approach problems and constantly check your assumptions against the data.

Laurence Devasse: I would say that passion for the topic goes a long way in the field of forensics, and you’re likely to meet a lot of very passionate people. Try to network as much as possible. Every person I have met in the field has given me fresh insights and inspired me. One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given was to always take any opportunity to present your work – even if you’re nervous, each presentation is practice for the next one.

Lawrence Wein: While in graduate school at Stanford, the late Sam Karlin told me: To be a good applied mathematician, you need to know ten times as much math as you are going to use.

Jianye Ge: Learn new technologies and listen to your seasoned colleagues.

Has there been anything good that came out of the pandemic that you’ll continue doing going forward?

Ed Green: Travel less.

Allison Sherier: The pandemic changed many things, but it did force me to be more intentional about time for myself. Working from home allows me to have extra time (not commuting), but I quickly realized I was working a ton of extra hours. I finally had to start scheduling my day a little more closely and adding specific time to go work out or take walking breaks. I hope to keep up this extra separate time as I start to work full time on campus.

Dane Plaza: We have further enhanced our reachback center and training program using the tools that have become more available during the pandemic. Much of our staff is more comfortable and experienced with virtual support and training, which is a large part of the Rapid program. While we recognize every mission is different, we believe we have an amazing infrastructure and baseline to further enhance our remote support for future operations.

Emily Simek and Lies Janssens: We have a bigger appreciation for our health as well as our coworkers. Working from home, although nice, made us miss our inter-office relationships.

Tarah Nieroda: I have started roller blading and bike riding with my family so now on weekends we make sure to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

Rachel Oefelein: Lots more FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, etc. I think being able to see someone’s face is so important in communication and I will continue more ‘video chat’ both personally and professionally.

Elena Zavala: I hope to be better about balancing my time. I found that there are certain tasks and areas of work that are easier when working from home and others that are essential for in person. Hopefully I can maintain this balance in the future.

Curt Hewitt: I think I will better appreciate not being in a pandemic once the pandemic is over!

Lawrence Wein: I am a Senior Associate Dean who oversees 130 Ph.D. students at Stanford. During the pandemic, my staff aggressively engaged with these students in an effort to maintain good mental health. We will continue this practice as we emerge from the pandemic.

Jianye Ge: Zoom meeting can be very productive if we spend time to learn how to use it. I particularly like the functions like recording and white board.


What is your favorite Disney character and why, or which Disney character do you most relate to and why?

Ed Green: Queen Elsa from Frozen. I love her songs!

Allison Sherier: Alice in Wonderland has always been a favorite of mine. Alice is just a young girl trying to work through her life and the world around her. She meets a bunch of super unusual characters that shape her experiences and guide her. A very close second is the Cheshire cat.

Dane Plaza: While a bit obscure, it’s Heimlich from A Bug’s Life. His dialogue and overall presence in the movie make me laugh every time.

Emily Simek: WALL-E (from “WALL-E”). I like that he is optimistic, curious, and he really cares about plants. He is a plant hobbyist just like me.

Lies Janssens: Belle (from “Beauty and the Beast”). I like that she is independent, smart, and adventurous. The movie is set in France, and that just reminds me of my childhood in France.

Tarah Nieroda: My favorite Disney Character is Princess Aurora, I love her story from the movie Maleficent because it shows her as a fun, life loving individual who also looks for the best in people and is the ultimate optimist. She is my favorite enough that I named my daughter after her.

Rachel Oefelein: Ariel, she has the best songs and I love being in the water 😊 I relate to how important love is to her and her inquisitive mind.

Elena Zavala: My favorite Disney character has always been Pluto.

Laurence Devasse: There was a mouse in Cinderella, I think his name was Gus? There was a scene where he tried to carry too much cheese – it makes me laugh every time I think of it.

Curt Hewitt: Probably Wall-E. I feel like we are equally amazed by and oblivious to much of the world around us.

Lawrence Wein: I have a pet California rabbit (white with red eyes) who lives in my living room and has been a good companion during the pandemic. So I guess I would choose White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland (it is also a great song).

Jianye Ge: Mickey Mouse. Mickey was the first Disney character I saw in the TV.

If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?

Ed Green: To be able to sing like Idina Menzel.

Allison Sherier: I am an animal lover. So above all else, the ability to talk to animals would be my pick.

Dane Plaza: The ability to bypass all traffic. If you have ever driven in the Northern Virginia area, you would agree!

Emily Simek: the ability to fly because I hate traffic especially rush hour.

Lies Janssens: the ability to teleport because it would cheaper and easier to see my family and friends overseas.

Tarah Nieroda: I could detect when someone was lying, honesty is something that is very important to me in both my personal and professional life. Although if I could detect lying, I should probably be an officer or a lawyer instead of a scientist.

Rachel Oefelein: Teleportation so I would never have to sit in traffic or be on a bad flight again! Plus, you could see all the people you love whenever you want!

Elena Zavala: Despite or perhaps because of my fear of heights, I would love to be able to fly.

Laurence Devasse: Time travel, so that I could go back in time to chat to loved ones and a few famous scientists. A hop into the future to read my finished thesis wouldn’t go amiss either.

Curt Hewitt: Time travel. Barring any universe ending paradoxes, when wouldn’t that be useful?

Jianye Ge: Make the Texas summer cool.

What’s one thing that others may not know about you?

Ed Green: I think most people don’t know anything about me. One random thing is that I religiously read the local newspaper from Nashville, Georgia (The Berrien Press) – a city where my 3x great-grandfather lived but I’ve never lived myself – for reasons that don’t make sense to anybody, including me.

Allison Sherier: I used to show Brahman cattle in high school and managed a show cattle ranch in Oklahoma for a year during my bachelor's degree. For the people not familiar with show cattle, you raise a heifer (female) or steer (altered male) and show them at county fairs or stock shows. The heifers are typically shown at multiple shows until they have their first calf, and steers are generally shown at one big show. While managing the show cattle farm, at 19 years old, I oversaw halter breaking heifers and steers from a few months of age up to 2 years. I also managed their daily needs and did essential work to prepare them for shows.

Dane Plaza: I grew up raising cranberries for Ocean Spray in Northern Wisconsin on our family’s marsh/bog.

Emily Simek: My free-lance makeup work was published in Utah’s “Rocky Mountain Bride” magazine.

Lies Janssens: I was a flautist and backing vocalist in a Jazz band named “Tourist in Paradise”.

Tarah Nieroda: I am not one of those individuals that wanted to be a scientist their whole lives. I wanted to be an artist until I was 17 and had already been accepted to multiple art colleges before changing my mind.

Rachel Oefelein: I find dolphins terrifying but happily swim with sharks!

Elena Zavala: I also have a degree in music and play both the viola and piano.

Curt Hewitt: I grew up racing go karts and I’m entirely comfortable going 90 mph three quarters of an inch above the ground.

Laurence Devasse: I grew up in Belgium, and my first language is actually French. When I first moved to England for university, a lot of people thought I was a Belgian princess (I’m not!).

Lawrence Wein: I don’t think anyone in this community knows me or anything about me – I don’t know anyone aside from my two amazing co-authors. I am not a forensic scientist. I am an applied mathematician, and in the years after the September 11, 2001 attack, my research on avoiding or mitigating catastrophic events was implemented nationwide on a number of issues (nuclear, smallpox, anthrax, botulinum toxin, US-VISIT Program, pandemics). In the last few years, I have become interested in crime solving via ballistic imaging, sexual assault kits and FGG.

Jianye Ge: I am a computer scientist, but not a statistician.