Don’t give up and stay encouraged even if it means you have to encourage yourself. If you need help, ASK for it.
Who is Professor Kelly Knight?
Kelly Knight is an assistant professor with the George Mason University Forensic Science Program and a STEM Accelerator. As a STEM Accelerator, she guides and mentors undergraduate students in the Forensic Science Program and coordinates K-12 STEM outreach. As part of her outreach efforts, she is the co-founder and director of the Females of Color and those Underrepresented in STEM summer programs for middle and high school girls. Prof. Knight obtained her Bachelor’s of Science degree in chemistry from The George Washington University in 2006 and her Master’s of Forensic Science degree from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2008 with a concentration in forensic biology.
Professor Knight began her career in forensics fourteen years ago as a DNA technician for Bode Technology DNA laboratory. She then worked in the Dawson Cruz forensic biology research laboratory while completing her studies at VCU. After graduating from VCU, Professor Knight worked as a forensic DNA analyst with the Maryland State Police Forensic Sciences Division. Prof. Knight has qualified as an expert in both forensic serology and forensic DNA analysis and has testified in several circuit court trials.
In addition to her experience with forensic casework, she has many years of experience in research which has included areas such as laser microdissection and low copy number (LCN) DNA methods. Prof. Knight enjoys staying involved in the forensic science community and has remained active in professional organizations since beginning her education in forensic science. In her spare time, Prof. Knight enjoys teaching dance fitness classes and spending time with her husband and two boys.
B.S. in chemistry
M.S. in forensic science (forensic biology concentration)
American Academy of Forensic Sciences Regional Award
How did you choose to pursue this field?
In 11th grade, my Anatomy and Physiology teacher did a crime scene lab which first introduced me to forensic science. I loved how interdisciplinary forensic science was and how it was a true applied science.
Who was your inspiration or role model that guided you to this field?
Other than my teacher in high school, I really didn’t have any true role models in forensic science to look up to until I got to graduate school. My parents encouraged me to pursue science and that is why I continued to stick with it. This is one reason it has become so important to me to try to mentor and provide support to other young ladies interested in the field.
Did you always have the desire to work in this field? If not, what was your intended field? Why did you change careers?
Even though I had that forensic lab in high school, when I first started college I was pre-med. I thought I was going to be a doctor. Then I took my first biology class and got my first C. I was devastated and decided to pursue chemistry instead which I was excelling in. By my junior year, I accepted the fact that although I had done well in chemistry previously, I really did not want to do it as a career full-time. My senior year I interned in a forensic DNA laboratory and that sealed the deal for me that that was the direction I wanted to go in for my career.
What do you love most about your job or career?
As a teacher, I love breaking the traditional stereotype of what it’s like to learn and watching students fall back in love with learning through less traditional methods (i.e. active learning, etc.). As a forensic scientist, I have always loved putting together the pieces of the puzzle and contributing to the justice system.
What has been the most rewarding aspect of your job or career?
As a teacher, watching the evolution of a student has been so rewarding. To be able to contribute to their learning and to watch their confidence increase is amazing. As a forensic scientist, like I mentioned above, being able to contribute to the justice system is incredibly rewarding.
What things would you change about your job?
As a forensic scientist, I would take away all of the cases with victims who are children, elderly, and/or mentally disabled. All of the cases we deal with are difficult but those types of cases can be especially challenging.
What are the most difficult things or disappointing aspect of your job?
As I mentioned above, the cases dealing with children, elderly victims, and/or mentally disabled victims have been the most difficult.
How have you combated the stigma of being a “woman of color” in STEM?
I have just continued to perform at my top ability to combat any stereotypes individuals may have of women of color in STEM. I am a woman of color in STEM but that does not define me. At the end of the day, I want people to remember that I was an amazing scientist who happens to be a woman of color, not just a woman of color in STEM.
What advice would you give your younger self about your career journey as a “woman of color” working in a predominantly white, male-dominated field?
Don’t expect anyone to hand anything to you. You have to work to be seen and to be remembered. And when someone gives you an opportunity, go above and beyond to reaffirm that you deserve it.
What tips would you offer for anyone thinking about entering into your profession?
Network, network, network….get involved in the professional organizations (regional and national), talk to faculty and professionals, seek out internships (paid and unpaid), ask individuals in the field how you can help them and volunteer, seek out a mentor….all of these things will help.
Can you provide some words of wisdom to young ladies thinking about entering a STEM field as a career choice?
Don’t give up and stay encouraged even if it means you have to encourage yourself. If you need help, ASK for it. Just because you struggle in one area doesn’t mean that you don’t deserve to be where you are. We ALL struggle some times.
What is your favorite quote?
I honestly don’t have one quote in particular that I’d consider my all-time favorite. I research and follow inspiring people on a daily basis. I take little tidbits from them and apply it as necessary. What I need for inspiration changes on a daily basis.
How has your family been a great influence or support system?
I have an extremely close-knit family. I have 2 older sisters and we all live within 10 minutes of my mother and father. I, myself, have two young boys. If it weren’t for the support of my family, I probably would have dropped out of STEM in my K-12 years because the institutional support just wasn’t there. My family, especially my father who worked in aviation and my mother who was a teacher, continuously encouraged me to stick with my passion.
How do you juggle motherhood and your career?
What are your future goals related to your career?
I am planning to get a Ph.D. in Higher Education and study in more depth the STEM pipeline of young women of color beginning in elementary/middle school through their college years and what factors affect their decisions to study and ultimately stay in STEM majors in college. I’d like to have an impact on this pipeline from an administrative level one day.
What are some interesting facts about yourself that you would like to share?
Contact Professor Kelly for any further questions:
@kellythescientist on Instagram