I once spent my May term in a forensic anthropology class. For three hours a day, I held real human bones – some hundreds of years old – briefly learned how to pick up clues from a crime scene, and eventually could tell you what the bones I spent hours staring at said about the person they once belonged to. By the end of my class, I wasn’t any sort of expert. The most I could do was answer the “Is that a bone or a stick?” question that I asked myself so many times in my adventures through parks as a child. To be honest, I don’t know the first thing about forensic science. But IWU alum, Kevin Latman could probably teach me more than I ever thought went into that field of study. For this FBI employee, CSI is just a day in the life.
1. What did you study in college?
At IWU, I majored in chemistry. I also began a minor in psychology, before I created my own minor in forensic science by combining coursework from several disciplines.
2. What is your job title? What do you do?
My job title is “Chemist.” I work in the FBI Laboratory in the Hazardous Materials Science Response Unit (HMSRU). My primary duties involve responding to contaminated and/or high-hazard crime scenes, serving as 24/7 “reach back” to the field, writing scientific assessments, and training both internal and external entities in proper field screening and evidence collection techniques.
3. Were there any particular experiences you had or things you did in college that influenced you to work with for the federal government?
Although I wanted to work for the FBI since I was 14, the internships I undertook at IWU affirmed my interest in forensics. I interned at the McLean County Coroner’s office (where I realized forensic pathology was not for me), the Northern Illinois Police Crime Laboratory in Vernon Hills, and the Illinois State Police lab in Morton.
4. How did you apply to be in the FBI?
While working towards my master’s degree at University of Illinois at Chicago, I applied for and received a summer internship with the FBI. In recent years, they have really utilized former interns as a candidate pool. So I went online and applied like everyone else, and I received a conditional offer prior to graduation. I initially worked for two years in the Chemistry Unit at the FBI Lab prior to joining HMSRU.
5. What sorts of skills does the FBI look for with your particular field?
With the sciences in general, the primary requirement is a 4-year degree, preferably in the “hard sciences.” A chemistry degree is sufficient for almost any area of forensics, with the primary exceptions of biology/DNA. Advanced degrees can certainly make you more competitive, and I had a great experience at UIC earning my M.S. in Forensic Science. One of the strengths at the FBI is the diversity of its employees, so any kind of specialized experience is useful. In my current position, we write many scientific assessments, so writing skills certainly come in handy.
6. What would you encourage students to do if they’re hoping to work for the federal government?
I found that having a strong academic record and internship experience both go a long way. Sometimes even entry level jobs prefer some sort of “real-world” experience, so internships are a great way to show that you are passionate about your career. Also, many jobs in the federal government require security clearances, so staying away from drugs and mile-long rap sheets would probably be a good thing.
7. What makes your job interesting for you, besides the obvious of it being with the FBI?
What I love most about my current position is that no two days are the same. We do a lot of training, and I enjoy constantly learning new things, and teaching others as well. At times, we have unexpected travel with little to no notice. While people know that CSI is nothing like real life, I feel this is about as close as it gets!