Image of Criminology student Niamh McEnery-Cartwright University of Portsmouth

See how Niamh’s passion for forensic science developed during university, allowing her to bag her dream job!

3 mins

Before coming to university, I studied psychology, biology and photography at Godalming College in Surrey. I then had a gap year between finishing college and starting university, where I worked a full time job in a farm shop and lived at home with my parents. 

At the time of applying for university courses I was particularly interested in forensic photography. I looked around many universities, but the criminology and forensic studies course at Portsmouth stood out to me as the best option. I saw that this course had a broad range of forensic topics as well as being close enough to home to visit family at the weekend. 

Starting University

I was a bit hesitant to start university, especially because I was so used to earning money each month and knew that I would be spending everything I had earned just to live at uni. Despite this, I realised that I didn’t want to work that job forever and I knew that university would be good for me. 

I moved to Portsmouth, and found living in the city a bit daunting as I was so used to living in a relatively quiet area of Surrey, however I soon learned to love it.

I felt so welcomed by the university and got chatting to some people on my course fairly early on which made the transition easier.

Niamh McEnery-Cartwright, BSc (Hons) Criminology and Forensic Studies

I realised, very early on in the course, that I loved all the forensic science aspects – therefore I particularly enjoyed any forensic topic which involved a practical study. 

One that sticks out in my mind is the forensic taphonomy module which involved a few practical studies and field trips. I made sure I always volunteered for events / opportunities that came up, even if they were out of my comfort zone. For example, I remember in first year I volunteered to give evidence at a mock trial and be cross-examined in front of a whole classroom of people. I was never particularly outgoing so I was terrified, but I did it! Looking back I am so glad that I did these things as it allowed me to develop confidence that I did not have before which helps me daily in my job now. 

I definitely developed a ‘say yes to every opportunity’ attitude at university and I really feel like that has benefitted me later in life.

Niamh McEnery-Cartwright , BSc (Hons) Criminology and Forensic Studies

One thing I particularly enjoyed during my degree was my dissertation, which focused on firearms and photographing gunshot residue with infrared imaging. For this project I was able to travel to a real police firing range and involve the officers as my participants which was really good fun!

Putting myself out of my comfort zone and taking the opportunities offered to me by the university really built my confidence, which helps me in everyday life and in my current job. I also learned that working hard and putting your all into your studies absolutely pays off, and the importance of how to effectively work in a team – I remember finding some group working quite difficult at the start of university but by my final year I really enjoyed it as my communication and organisational skills had developed. 

Obtaining my dream job

I currently work as a Forensic Recovery Officer for Surrey Police. A degree in a relevant subject was required for this role, so I am definitely glad I did the course! 

Carrying out an internship in my second year with the Hampshire Forensic Digital Imaging Unit, helped me obtain my dream job.

Niamh McEnery-Cartwright, BSc (Hons) Criminology and Forensic Studies

In this internship I learnt about triaging and enhancing CCTV footage as well as preparing digital evidence for court. I also got to watch a day of a trial at Crown Court which the unit had been working on. This was my first real insight into working in a forensic role and I knew that that was something I wanted to pursue.

I was also a Police Support Volunteer for Surrey Police, which involved going to community events and engaging with the public which I loved doing. I now plan to stay in my job with Surrey Police for a while as there is still so much to learn and more to gain!

Advice to others

I would recommend the course at Portsmouth because the topics covered throughout the three years are so broad. As mentioned earlier, I began the course thinking I was only interested in photography but throughout studying all the different areas, learnt that I was fascinated by forensic science roles, which steered me towards the job I am in now. 

Not only that, but there are so many great opportunities throughout this course, including really useful professional links and connections which could be beneficial down the line. Moreover, I loved the city and in particular the seafront. I loved going for a run or just relaxing and having a break during exam revision. 

Thinking back about my experience, I don’t think I would do anything differently; I am so glad I enjoyed the course I was on and was able to get the absolute most out of it.

Niamh McEnery-Cartwright, BSc (Hons) Criminology and Forensic Studies