By Savitre “Rapture” Schaefferkoetter, Staff Writer

rapture_womeninforensicsciencemystory01Have you ever been so proud of something, yet you weren’t sure how to share it with people? That at times you wanted to yell it from the rooftops, while other times you would rather keep it private?

That’s how I often feel about my career.

For the past six years, I have worked proudly and discreetly for the Pinellas County Forensic Laboratory. The lab is a separate and equal entity to the District Six Medical Examiner’s office, which is housed in the same building.

I completed my 400-hour internship at the lab back in the summer of 2009 with the toxicology section, working on a project with solid phase extraction. I also learned about evidence inventory, court testimony and witnessed autopsies with the medical examiner’s office. I did not know what kind of lab I would work for in the future and if I would have the opportunity to take part in all of those things again.

As fate would have it, I returned here a year later as a forensic chemist. The chemists process evidence suspected of containing controlled substances. Some commonly identified substances include cannabis, cocaine, prescription drugs and synthetic cannabinoids and “bath salts.” Being able to identify the controlled substances and determine if they had already been scheduled, federally or statewide, required constant vigilance, and I had the opportunity to testify as an expert witness to my case results in court numerous times.

I served as a chemist for about two and a half years. In 2013, I made a horizontal transition to my old section to become a forensic toxicologist. Toxicology involves identifying controlled substances in postmortem as well as law enforcement-submitted specimen. I have completed training in ELISA (enzyme linked immunosorbent assay), carbon monoxide testing and volatile analysis. As of right now, I am finishing training in TOXI-LAB extraction with GC/MS analysis. I have now worked with blood, serum, urine, vitreous fluid and gastric contents.

My goal here today is to educate my audience about this field. Although discretion and integrity are highly prized in this career, by no means do I need to hide how rewarding and fulfilling it may be for those individuals who are in college currently or those who are thinking of a career change. Today, you have read my story. Please stay tuned for my series of articles in which I interview fellow female forensic scientists.

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Featured Image: Yumi Kimura

Article Image: Savitre Schaefferkoetter