If you happen to be out walking in the countryside near the Dorset-Hampshire border in the next few weeks, and see a young woman burying what looks like blood-soaked rags in the middle of some woods, it may not be as suspicious as you’d think. You might just have stumbled across postgraduate student Hannah Larsen from Bournemouth University’s forensic and biological sciences department.
Larsen, 21, is one of eight students on an MSc in applied sciences and research, each coming from a different area of undergraduate study, hers being a BSc in forensic and crime scene science at Bournemouth. Central to the current course is a piece of extended research in each student’s chosen field, which, in Larsen’s case, is the behaviour of blood samples on different types of materials after being buried underground. The research will entail her returning to the burial site to bring specimens back to the university laboratory for analysis after two, four and six weeks.
“It’s an exciting time to be in forensics science, with a lot of new techniques coming out,” she explains. “The ultimate goal of the science is justice, and to be able to do something towards that is great.” A more immediate goal, however, is to produce something that is publishable. “So it’s about research skills, how to write and present statistics that help make a good argument in a paper.”
Larsen recalls an A-level biology unit which fired her enthusiasm for forensic science, as well as an undergraduate project, investigating commercially available kits designed to test whether a drink contains a “date-rape” drug .
“My dissertation at undergraduate level gave me a real taste for research,” adds Larsen, “but I thought I needed more research skills before trying to get a job.”
Those skills are being honed in the laboratories that have helped Bournemouth establish a reputation in these investigative fields.
“They have fantastic equipment – everything you can possibly think of. We had a bit of an introduction to using all the facilities during our first degree, but after the Masters, we’ll all be better equipped.”
As a postgraduate, she’s also enjoying her new status slightly higher up the student food chain at the university. “We get a nicer section in the library,” she says, “plus you get a lot more one-to-one attention.”
For the first half of this term, she and her colleagues had eight lectures a week, but that figure has now come down to four a week as the research project takes more prominence, a factor underlining her preference for a research-based (rather than a taught) Masters. “I prefer getting on with things myself. I’m excited just to get on with my project. That’s what this year is all about.”
But she’s not completely on her own. “I have a supervisor who knows what’s important in the research areas,” says Larsen. “She’s with me at every stage.”
Financially, Larsen benefits from a 25 per cent fees reduction because she’s a Bournemouth graduate, and via an additional scholarship from the university as a result of her undergraduate performance. That leaves her with fees of £2,350 plus living costs. She’s funding this herself, partly by working early mornings and afternoons at a local primary school breakfast and after-school club. And she hopes that acquiring the Masters degree will pay off financially in the long run.
“I hope that having a Masters degree improves my wages to the point that it all seems worthwhile!”