The University of Southampton
Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre SouthamptonOur alumni

Anna Sandiford BSc(Hons) in Geology (1988-1991), MSc in Micropalaeontology (1992-1993), 1993

Forensic Palynologist

Anna Sandiford's Photo

I started my academic career with a BSc(Hons) in Geology (1988-1991) and, after a year’s travelling, I returned to undertake an MSc in Micropalaeontology specialising in palynology with Dr Ian Harding as my trusty supervisor (1992-1993). After deciding that the UK wasn’t going to be for me, I moved to New Zealand in 1996 where I was lucky enough to be offered a funded PhD (Marsden Fund of the Royal Society of New Zealand).

I hold all my career achievements up as being a direct result of my BSc and MSc from the University of Southampton and I have often lauded the benefits of geology as a degree when I give evidence in court and when giving my many presentations to students, members of the legal profession and the general public.

My PhD was undertaken at the then School of Environmental & Marine Science (now the School of Environment) at the University of Auckland. My PhD was in palynology (the study of organic-walled microfossils such as spores/pollen and plankton) and tephrochronology (dating sediments by means of volcanic ash horizons). The project was to examine the impact of volcanic activity and climate change on vegetation in the Auckland, NZ, region over the last 1 million years. Because Auckland is built on a volcanic field with over 50 volcanoes identified, it was never too far to travel to a volcanic source.

In the fourth and final year of my PhD I decided (some might say somewhat late in the day!) that I didn't want to be fighting for research funding all the time and that I wasn't designed to be a lecturer. So I retrained in forensic science whilst concurrently writing up my PhD, completing a Postgraduate Certificate of Proficiency in Forensic Science in the Department of Chemistry, also at the University of Auckland, in 2001.

Between 1998 and 2002 I was a Consultant Forensic Scientist in Auckland where my casework varied from food contaminants to murder reviews. In 2002 I moved back to sunny England for career progression reasons, spending 6 years as a Forensic Science Consultant, Senior Forensic Science Consultant and, finally, Practice Manager at an independent consultancy. My specialities developed into glass, footwear, drugs, drug driving, drink driving and other alcohol-related cases as well as reviewing and assessing cases from all over the UK.

Again, being of the restless persuasion, I moved back to NZ in 2008. Within six weeks of returning to New Zealand I was instructed for one of the biggest cases in NZ legal history, that of David Bain. My work on that case inspired me to develop the independent forensic science industry in New Zealand and I now have my own forensic science consultancy. The consultancy provides a wide range of forensic science skills to the criminal justice system and beyond and we provide services largely to the Australasian and UK markets.

My palynological skills are still in use, as I am one of only a handful of forensic palynologists worldwide. I provide advice and training to police forces, crime scene managers, forensic pathologists and intelligence agencies. The kinds of casework involving pollen include identifying geographical regions where drugs such as cannabis may have originated as well as associating items, people and places using pollen signatures. I have also headed a research team developing a new technique for collecting pollen samples from the nasal cavities of cadavers – all very exciting stuff.

My first (general interest) book was published in 2011 by Harper Collins, Expert Witness, which has been quite a cool experience - it's all about forensic science and what it really involves: it's not all like CSI, NCIS and Bones!

I hold all my career achievements up as being a direct result of my BSc and MSc from the University of Southampton, and I have often lauded the benefits of geology as a degree when I give evidence in court and when I give my many presentations to students, members of the legal profession and the general public.

Forensic science is my ideal job – it just took me a while to realise it. Without the sound geological training I obtained from the University of Southampton and Dr. Harding, I would not have been able to adapt to as many areas of forensic science as I have been able to do, so a big thanks to the University and long may it continue to inspire new scientists.

"Forensic science is my ideal job - it just took me a while to realise it!"
Anna Sandiford
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