We know there’s more to science than what we see on TV, but shows depicting Forensic Science may be the *guiltiest*.
Kelly Knight is an associate professor at George Mason University, where she also runs the forensic DNA lab, and a STEM Accelerator. Prof. Knight guides and mentors undergrads in the Forensic Science Program as the college’s STEM outreach coordinator, as as well as coordinates K-12 STEM outreach as the co-founder and director of the Females of Color and those Underrepresented in STEM summer programs for middle and high school girls.
Professor Knight earned her Bachelor’s of Science in chemistry from The George Washington University before going on to receive her Master’s of Forensic Science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University. Prof. Knight is currently pursuing a PhD in Science Education Research. As an expert in both forensic serology and forensic DNA analysis, she has testified in court trials and has significant experience with forensic casework on top of her research. Prof. Knight currently serves as the Biology Section Chair for the Mid-Atlantic Association of Forensic Scientists and is a Fellow within the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.
Using social media and her website, Professor Knight shares advice for other scientists, some of her research (check out her post on “Body Farms” if you aren’t squeamish!), and her experience in STEM. On Instagram, Kelly’s shared regular inspirational reminders, her experience with chemotherapy to fight sarcoma, and raising 2 young sons. It’s Kelly’s honesty and genuine spirit that make her not only an incredible scientist, but also such a strong woman that so many look up to!
How did you get into STEM?
My dad was an air traffic controller and my mother was an educator. My dad really exposed me to STEM at a very young age by way of aviation and aerospace. I used to build model rockets and airplanes with him as a child and my love for science blossomed from there.
What’s something about your field that you wish others knew about?
IT’S NOT LIKE CSI!
What does the average day in your field for you look like?
As a forensic scientist, an average day would generally include processing a case (screening for biological fluids all the way through to obtaining a DNA profile), writing up reports, calculating statistics, reviewing case files of others, and also testifying in court.
What are your research interests?
I am a forensic DNA scientist and my research interests include low copy number DNA methods and forensic serological techniques.
What’s been your most exciting experience in STEM?
I think the interview on CNN with Anderson Cooper was my most exciting experience! I got to weigh in on my opinion of a quadruple murder that had occurred from a forensic perspective.
What challenges have you faced in your career?
Wow, where do I begin. I’ll start with the imposter syndrome. This feeling of never belonging and not being deserving of my accomplishments. Some of it is self-inflicted and some is a side effect of the microaggressions I’ve experienced from classmates, teachers, and colleagues throughout my years of schooling and my career. I also struggled academically throughout my undergrad years after being valedictorian in high school. That was a real blow to my confidence. I lacked mentors until I got to grad school and that led to a lot of confusion around choosing a career and some bad decisions around my studies. And now as a working mom and wife and new PhD student, I struggle with the day-to-day work-life balance and the constant guilt of feeling like I’m not spending enough time with my kids.
What’s been your experience as an associate professor?
I love being a professor. As I mentioned, I am term faculty which means I’m on a renewable contract. Now that I have been promoted to associate professor I am up for renewal every 3 years instead of annually. Also, I am a STEM Accelerator faculty member (unique to my College) which means I get a reduced teaching load. I teach two classes per semester (instead of the normal 3-4 like other faculty members). The other 50% of my time is dedicated to efforts to recruit and retain our STEM students, reduce time to graduation, and to help place them in the workforce.
My favorite parts about being a professor are witnessing the impact you have on the lives of your students and also realizing how much more you learn about your field and yourself as teacher. I’ve learned things about my field on a much deeper level than I ever would have if I just stayed in the lab.
What’s been your experience as a mother in STEM?
It’s had it’s good days and it’s bad days. I think I have been lucky for the most part though. When I worked in the laboratory as a forensic scientist, I was surrounded by other working moms who were very supportive of having children and a successful career in the lab. And now that I am in academia, I am the PI of a lab but I am term faculty so there’s no real pressure to pump out research and publications like there is with tenure-track faculty. I get to do research on my own terms mostly which is nice and I’m in a supportive work environment again. Being a professor and a mom is still a lot of work though because sometimes I am on campus late. We have some classes and labs that run until 10 pm. And I often don’t get a chance to do any prep work, grading, responding to emails, etc. until I get back home from campus so that means I’m still working at home and into the night after bedtime routines with my kids.
Who inspires you in STEM?
My biggest inspirations in STEM right now are the women in my STEM circle on Instagram quite honestly. These women are so raw and so real about the issues they deal with on a day-to-day basis and about their journeys in STEM. I’ve never before been surrounded with women who were so inspirational to me and I’m so glad I found this community. They are the ‘family’ I never even knew I needed.