When it comes to the world of forensics, you could call Adam McConochie a Jack of all trades, master of ecology. In his current role he is an Ecology Services Manager and Quality Adviser, and his wealth of experience in the ecology disciplines has rendered him an integral member of the Alecto Forensics team.
As he progressed through his career, Adam managed casework involving the disciplines and evidence types of archaeology, anthropology, botany, entomology, limnology, palynology, soil science, stable isotopes and radiocarbon dating. From this, he has provided countless police forces with the most appropriate and effective forensic strategies to maximise evidence types within criminal investigations.
Walking us through the world of ecology, Adam reflects on the first time he knew he wanted to pursue a career in forensics, and even explains how he almost fainted during his first post-mortem!
When did you first know you wanted to pursue a career in forensics?
“When I was at college, I learned about the advent of DNA testing. The case of Colin Pitchfork piqued my interest in particular – he was the first person to be convicted using DNA. It was really that case that made me think I’ll get into forensics and got me started.”
What career path did you take?
“I did a degree in biology and anthropology, and after I finished university, I got a job at LGC Forensics. I worked as a biologist for several years, and then they took on an anthropologist to set up the ecology department.
I began chatting with her [the anthropologist] and asked if I could get involved. I started assisting at scenes and it snowballed from there really.”
What are the most challenging parts of your job?
“We work on massive scenes and they can be challenging themselves, due to the pure size and nature of them. But it’s incredibly rewarding at the end of it when you look at what you’ve achieved.”
How do you cope with the stresses of the more traumatic things that you see?
“The first time I went to a post-mortem I thought I was going to faint! I didn’t, but I was quite surprised that I didn’t.
“You do get desensitised eventually though. I think the importance of what you’re doing and the interest takes over your fear of what you’re looking at.”
Do you prefer working at a scene or in the lab?
“I like doing lab work and I like attending scenes. They’re both just as interesting as each other in my eyes.”
What’s the most memorable scene or case that you’ve worked on?
“I’ve worked on lots interesting cases over the years including the millionaires mansion murders; Ben Needham, Madeline McCann, and was even deployed to Lebanon as part of a search for a United Nations (UN) staff member. They have all been memorable in their own ways.”
How has forensic science changed throughout your career?
“It’s changed dramatically. When I first started in forensics, you essentially dictated to the police what needed to be done in regard to completing casework.
“Now it seems to be more focused by the police, with product coding for how they want things done. There is also a much higher focus on money now than there used to be, with budgetary constraints playing a big part in the work we’re commissioned to do.”
What do you think the future holds for forensic science?
“I think that more areas will become specialised, and I think that less work will be done by police forces and more by private sector companies.
“I think more research will be conducted privately rather than publicly too.”
How authentic is the crime scene investigation we see on television?
“In my opinion, it’s nothing like it. It’s completely glamourised, you don’t see many staff wearing PPE, everyone’s an expert in everything… and it just doesn’t work that way.”
“If you’ve got a job in forensics, you’ll find shows like that interesting, don’t get me wrong, but some programmes are most definitely worse than others.”
What does a normal day at work look like for you?
“I’ll get up and check my emails, dealing with any new and urgent enquiries. I will then check on any crime scene progress if our team are working at crime scenes. After that, it’s generally lots of administration and email tasks.”
How does Alecto Forensics differ from other companies that you’ve worked for?
“Alecto Forensics is a lot more scene-based. The majority of our work involves attending scenes and dealing with urgent casework.”
What has been more valuable in your career, your education or your experience?
“Experience. When I started out in forensics, the first thing I was told was ‘forget everything that you learned at university, we will show you the proper way of completing forensics work’!”
What advice would you give to someone who’s just starting out in the industry?
“For ecology it’s really difficult. There are hardly any jobs in ecology, to get experience I would say you’re probably better off working for a university in the first instance.
“For your traditional mainstream forensics (DNA, biology, toxicology etc.) there are jobs out there, and you need a degree generally to get into them.”
What are your hobbies?
“I enjoy going on walks and managed to climb a few mountains last year. Aside from that, I enjoy fishing and watching football.”
How do you motivate yourself and your team?
“The busier I am, the more motivated I get to achieve things! Great results in case work helps to motivate and provides a worthwhile reward for completing a good job.”