Biochemistry and Forensics Studies at IUP Lead to Internship at Medical Examiner’s Office

Posted on 1/3/2019 11:55:15 AM
Diamond Madison

Diamond Madison

On a warm day last summer, Diamond Madison entered the Allegheny County Medical Examiner's Office for her internship, pausing to use her card to access the locked, restricted area. It was a Thursday, so she would be in the Autopsy Unit that day.

Learn more about Biochemistry and Forensic Biosciences at IUP, or see Chemistry and Biology

Wearing scrubs and old shoes, she made her way to the autopsy table to observe the histology-autopsy technician and the forensic pathologist as they began their standard procedures. Madison had been exposed to enough autopsies, and earned the respect and trust of the employees, to be able to also assist with various tasks under direct supervision.

Finding Her Career Path

When Madison, a senior biochemistry major with a minor in forensic biosciences, took the internship at the medical examiner’s office last summer, she knew what she was getting into. Her anatomy class at Indiana University of Pennsylvania had studied a cadaver. Madison had been intrigued with figuring out why the person had died, so she spent extra time in the IUP lab to investigate.

One day, when she went to the lab to study for an upcoming practical exam, she noticed a few things out of the ordinary. The heart was twice the size of a normal heart. Based on what she had learned in her classes, Madison concluded that the condition of the heart and other signs indicated that congestive heart failure might have been the cause of death. When she went to class the next day, she asked her professor about it. To her surprise, her professor confirmed what she had suspected—congestive heart failure was the cause of death.

“When it comes to solving cases, I feel like I’m a critical thinker,” Madison said. “Critical thinking is very necessary in forensic science. You have to think outside of the box.”

Madison struggled in high school to find a career path that she thought fit her. As she learned more about forensic science, the field felt right. During her sophomore year of college, she applied for an internship at the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. She didn’t get the internship at that time, but, with support from her professors, she decided not to let one rejection stand in her way.

Professors Encouraged Her to Reapply

“When I got rejected the first time for the internship, I wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t do it, but I talked to professors, who encouraged me to reapply. There are many professors who have been actively involved in my academic work, whether it be mentoring, supporting, guiding, influencing, or inspiring my academic opportunities and accomplishments.”

When Madison landed the internship the second time she applied, she was elated. She finally had a chance to experience the field of forensic science first hand.

“It was the greatest feeling when I saw I got the internship. This is it for me. This is what I want to do, not short-term, but long term,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to help out. This job is about closure for family members and loved ones. I look forward to providing closure and a sense of peace to family members. I have a strong admiration for this field. It’s very meaningful to me.”

Not an Easy Job

During her internship, Madison spent Tuesdays in the Medicolegal Death Investigation Unit. As an intern, she could accompany the staff on non-homicide-related calls, assist investigators with body removal using body bags, collect personal belongings on scenes, fill out medication lists, and help with many other tasks.

Some days, her tasks were more typical of the average intern elsewhere—sorting out boxes of old case files, creating case files, scanning medical records, and handling paperwork and phone calls. The interns were also assigned to read chapters in a medicolegal book on topics such as medicolegal death investigation, forensic autopsies, death scene investigation, and the identification of human remains.

“I never want to stop learning,” Madison said.

Though she found her job fascinating, there were some elements Madison had to adjust to at first, such as the smells that are an element of this profession, especially when working with decomposing bodies.

“This job is not easy by any means,” she said. “It depends on what kind of person you are, mostly on an emotional level. I was told by many to just put my mind to it, go in, get the job done, and get out, very professionally, following the protocol every single time,” she said.

Presented her Research at Conferences

In addition to her internship, Madison is conducting research with IUP professor Daniel Widzowski, a respected neuropharmacologist. As a result, she has presented at multiple conferences.

“The research that I am conducting involves the validation of a neurobehavioral pharmacodynamic test in mice for 5-HT2C blocking activity: 5-HTP-Induced head twitch responses,” she said. This involves validating behavioral tests in mice, focusing on the blocking activity on a specific serotonin receptor in the brain. She also studies effects of various compounds that have the potential to be useful in combating drug dependence in humans. “I am more knowledgeable now about the field of neuropharmacology as well as many other disciplines.”

College Experience Includes Leadership, Creating a Club

Madison is active in many campus organizations and even helped to found one—the Forensic Science and Investigations Club. She currently serves as the new club’s vice president. She is also an active member of the Gamma Tau chapter of the professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, the American Chemical Society, IUP Women in STEM, the National Society of Leadership and Success (NSLS), and CURE IUP, which helps children with disabilities around the world.

“I am incredibly happy to be a student at IUP,” she said. “There are numerous opportunities and amazing faculty and staff who make me feel welcome and assist me in any way that they can.”