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Spotlight: Catarina Sobreira, PhD Researcher at the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science




Tell us a fun fact about yourself


I still remember the songs my primary school teacher taught the class to help us memorise the name and order of the planets of the solar system and the months of the year and the number of days in each month.


Tell us about your career journey so far


I wanted to study a branch of science that I did not know much about, that I was interested in and that at the same time would challenge me. So I decided to study Forensic Science at university and I quickly became certain that this was the field for me. Throughout my studies and the placements I had the opportunity to do, I developed a considerable interest in forensic pathology and toxicology, and so decided to go for a Masters in Forensic Medical Sciences. Forensics is a competitive field and I knew I wanted to be as much educated as possible and improve my skills as much as possible before giving it a kick start. This led me to where I am currently, studying towards a PhD.



What was your favourite subject in school and why?


My favourite subject at school was chemistry. I have always enjoyed knowing the fact that you can observe chemical reactions in your daily life and it is a subject that really puts your critical thinking skills to the test for example when trying to understand how and why a certain type of reaction works and interpreting your results. I also had great chemistry teachers at school who really took the time to explain what we did not understand and made the topic exciting.


What subjects/qualifications are useful in your role?


Exams in subjects such as biology, chemistry and maths were crucial when applying to university. As I am originally from Portugal and wanted to study in the UK, I also had to take an extra exam called IELTS which is designed to test your English skills. In order to apply for my PhD, I was required to have an honours degree at 2:1 (Upper Second Class – grading system) or above, and/or a Masters degree in a relevant discipline. Work experience also plays a big role!


What is your favourite thing about your job?


Something I love about what I am doing that I am researching something that no one has really paid much attention to before, so what I am doing is novel. I particularly love the fact that I have the opportunity to do it at the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science. Everyone has different backgrounds and have studied different subjects which means that you’re in an environment where you are always learning something new. And it is particularly helpful when for example you are facing a challenging and you have all these different suggestions that you never thought about before and can be applied to what you are doing.


What is a normal day in your role like?


How your day looks really depends on what stage of your project you’re in and the type of work that needs to be done. I can’t start my day without to-do lists. List lists lists! I need to know what I am doing and I need the satisfaction of ticking the stuff I have completed off my list. I am currently on the second year of my PhD so at this stage I am really focused on data collection. This means the majority of my days are spent in the lab performing my experiments. With the results I obtain, I then focus on analysing and interpreting them. I also spend a good amount of time reading academic articles to ensure I am aware of the what’s happening in my field of study and keeping in contact with all the people I have collaborations within my project.



Suggest an activity that could be done at home that illustrates an aspect of your work?


At the Leverhulme Research Centre for Forensic Science we run projects to address some of the key challenges in forensic science. One of the projects I have been involved with is the Sole Searching Project where we investigate how footwear marks are made: https://www.dundee.ac.uk/leverhulme/citizenscience/details/sole-searching.php


Lately, we have also put together a week of home learning activities for children for the Dundee Science Centre where you can learn how forensic scientists identify people and objects and how they work out whether links may be made between them: https://www.dundeesciencecentre.org.uk/home-learning-programme



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Email: sae@sserc.scot

Address: 2 Pitreavie Court, Dunfermline, KY11 8UU

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The UK-wide STEM Ambassador programme is managed by STEM Learning Limited, which operates the National STEM Learning Network, alongside other projects supporting STEM education. To find out more please go to the STEM Learning website