By SARAH R. SCHWARTZ ’10
Photography CHRISTINA YEE ’13
Real forensic discoveries don’t come in half-hour episodes, neatly packaged. Anisha Paul ’13M, a second-year master’s student in the Forensic Science program, knows that when it comes to research, breakthroughs are all about persistence and finding a rhythm. For the past four months, Paul has been researching URBs, a new class of drugs that is similar to marijuana. With virtually no screening method for URBs in existence, Paul set out to develop a method to identify and differentiate them in blood and urine samples.
“It’s a lot of repetition,” says Paul of her research. “I know that they behave similar to let’s say marijuana or something like that, but they’re distinctly different. So I’m completing comparative testing to see if it works the same way or not.” After running hundreds of time consuming tests in NMS Labs, in Willow Grove, Pa., she still wasn’t finding any traces. It’s easy to become frustrated, but giving up was out of the question. After all, she’s come a long way to achieve her dreams.
Born and raised in Andhra Pradesh, India, Paul chose the field of forensic science at an early age. Inspired by her father, a police officer in the local intelligence unit, and his stories of catching thieves and drug dealers, she became interested in uncovering facts to serve the justice system.
Paul earned a bachelor’s degree in Biochemistry from Osmania University in 2011. Advised by her father and his colleagues to pursue a master’s degree in the United States, she joined the American Academy of Forensic Science for guidance in the process. “They told me to look for schools that are accredited. There are only 12 in the U.S. who actually have the FEEPAC accreditation.” Though she had never visited Arcadia, when she was accepted, Paul says she didn’t have any second thoughts. “It was something that I always wanted to do so I had to take the chance.”
Paul explains that acclimating to life in Philadelphia involved much more than just adjusting to the change of season and learning the grading system. Though she is currently living with extended family in a traditional Indian home in Cheltenham Township, she was grateful for Arcadia’s international student orientation, which occurs a week before domestic students arrive on campus in August.
“I had seen a lot of American media and TV shows, so I thought I had an idea of the way things actually go,” she says. “But it was really different when I came here and interacted with the people. It took me about a semester to adjust.” With some group coaching sessions with the Office of International Affairs, Paul felt better prepared for typical social interactions. After a few weeks, it became easier to engage in conversation with her classmates, many of whom have become her close friends. They are just one part of a supportive network that keeps Paul motivated during long hours in the lab.
“The program is really taxing sometimes, but this is what I’m here for. The professors here are really approachable and attentive. They are always there for me when I need something repeated or some clarification or a concept of project. They’re even helping me with finding a placement in the states when I graduate. They’ve really accepted me—my professors, classmates and directors—it’s really been a blessing.”
She describes a breakthrough moment in her research—a culmination of four months of diligence—as “beautiful.” By adjusting her methods and changing her testing instrument altogether, the elusive URB finally showed itself. “It was such a tiny thing, but it was the best feeling in the world.” She is currently is still working out some details of the testing methods.
Through many hours of research Paul has also started to master the instruments that she uses on a regular basis. Now that the new class of first-year forensic science students has begun working with the instruments, Paul often finds herself coaching them on some of the idiosyncrasies of the instruments.
“I feel really welcomed here,” she says. “I love my friends and faculty. All of them have become family to me, and Arcadia University has given me the platform to achieve my dreams. I will always be grateful for that.”