Exploring the impact of forensic science in US law

After becoming fascinated by the US legal system while doing her Master’s, Amelia Shooter knew it would become the focus of her PhD. Once she discovered Birmingham City University’s renowned Centre for American Legal Studies, and succeeded in gaining a scholarship, Amelia knew studying in Birmingham was the perfect choice.

PhD student Amelia Shooter at the Library of Congress

Vital scholarship opportunities

Initially, however, Amelia’s journey with the University didn’t exactly go to plan. “I applied for a PhD but then the position got taken by someone else,” she says. “However, my future supervisors and I spoke about what other areas I was interested in, and from that we created a few ideas to pursue.”

Amelia then gained a STEAM scholarship, a Birmingham City University-funded opportunity for PhD students conducting innovative research across as a range of sectors. “I wouldn’t have been able to do my PhD otherwise,” Amelia reveals. “You don’t always feel you’ll get opportunities such as this, so once there was a chance of securing a scholarship, I jumped at it.”

Research – it’s in her DNA

Amelia’s research incorporates elements of law, science and public policy. “I’m assessing how judges understand, appreciate and make decisions about forensic science in the USA – do they know that DNA is highly reliable? Are they aware that there have been no major studies to show that fingerprints are unique?” she explains. “Law looks to find certainty in things, so when you’re challenging bullet marks and fingerprints, it’s a difficult thing for the law to process.”

Law in the USA

Birmingham City University’s relationships with other institutions has proven a huge boon for Amelia and her studies. “Sarah Cooper, one of my supervisors, helped me to set up a residency at the Library of Congress in Washington, DC last year, which was an amazing experience and completely changed my viewpoint,” she says. “I’ve also been able to go to London for workshops and to attain books from different libraries. My supervisors have always been able to get around potential issues.”

A winning PhD supervisory team

When it comes to advice for future PhD students, Amelia says it’s important to take time to enjoy yourself. “You can get so far into the research and so engrossed in it that you forget to spend time away from it,” she says. “It was something I learnt after being so absorbed for my first year.”

Amelia also believes it’s important to have a good team of supervisors around you. “My supervisors have been key to the direction my study has gone in,” she says. “I can’t underestimate the amount of guidance they have given me, especially at the beginning.”