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How Forensic Entomology Gets Students Excited About Science

Krystal Hans, Ph.D.

Krystal Hans, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of forensic entomology and director of forensic science at Purdue University. She is also a forensic entomology consultant with law enforcement, pathologists, and coroners and often conducts trainings on collection of insect evidence. Here, Hans examines a decomposing pig carcass during a “Forensic Aspects of Death” course. Hans will present research on teaching forensic entomology at the ECP Recognition Symposium at Entomology 2021, taking place in-person and online, October 31 – November 3, in Denver, Colorado.

By Carly Tribull, Ph.D.

Editor’s Note: This is the next post in the “Standout ECPs” series contributed by the Entomological Society of America’s Early Career Professionals (ECP) Committee, highlighting outstanding ECPs that are doing great work in the profession. (An ECP is defined as anyone within the first five years of obtaining their terminal degree in their field.) It is also the second in a set of four featuring ECPs selected to present their work during the ECP Recognition Symposium at Entomology 2021, taking place in-person and online, October 31 – November 3, in Denver, Colorado. Learn more about the work ECPs are doing within ESA, and read past posts in the Standout ECPs series.

Krystal Hans, Ph.D.

Krystal Hans, Ph.D.

Krystal Hans, Ph.D., is currently an assistant professor of forensic entomology and director of forensic science at Purdue University. She received her Ph.D. from the University of Windsor in 2016 and was formerly the director of forensic biology at Delaware State University from 2016 to 2018. She is a forensic entomology consultant with law enforcement, pathologists, and coroners and works on death investigation cases.

Hans was selected to present her research at the ECP Recognition Symposium at Entomology 2021, taking place in-person and online, October 31 – November 3, in Denver, Colorado. Her presentation in the symposium, titled “CSI (Cultivating Scientific Inquiry): Teaching and research in forensic entomology,” is slated for 2:55 p.m. Mountain Time, on Tuesday, November 2.

Tribull: Can you briefly describe the research you’ll be presenting at the Early Career Professional Recognition Symposium?

Hans: I’ll be presenting a combination of scholarship-of-teaching-and-learning (SOTL) data on teaching pedagogy, experiential learning, and trauma-informed education as well as laboratory and field research on behavior and development of forensically relevant insects.

How is this research important to entomologists in ESA’s Medical, Urban, and Veterinary Entomology Section, entomologists as a whole, and non-entomologists?

My lab and field research are applicable to entomologists, as it deals with insect behavior and development and the basic biology of flies. I work with forensically relevant flies, so this work is also beneficial for criminal investigators, and forensic pathologists. My research in SOTL is applicable to numerous other fields, as these studies incorporate different teaching pedagogies and educational strategies that can be employed in other fields.

What’s your favorite part of your research? And what’s the most challenging or annoying part of your research?

My favorite part of research is bringing together a team of students from different backgrounds and getting them excited about lab or field research. I really try to motivate my students to work as a team and see the benefits of gaining different perspectives. The team dynamic, while highly rewarding, can also be overwhelming, as I often have up to 10 students working in my lab at any given time.

ECPs in our Society hold a wide variety of professional positions. Can you explain more about your current role?

My current position is an assistant professor of forensic entomology and director of forensic science. I teach forensic science and forensic entomology courses, perform research, and work on death investigation cases, and I’m trying to recruit students to the forensic science program and forensic entomology major at Purdue. I’m currently supervising two graduate students and six undergraduate researchers on different projects.

Lucilia sericata

Forensic entomologists are highly familiar with the fly Lucilia sericata, sometimes known as the green bottle fly, a common visitor to decomposing animal matter.

What do you like most about your current job?

My favorite part of my job is the interaction with students. There’s nothing I love more than describing how forensic entomology plays a role in investigations and getting the students to feel something about my lecture, whether that’s excitement, intrigue, or disgust! Students are often disgusted when we talk about decomposition and insect evidence, but they can still see the value in collecting insects and the natural recycling process of decomposition.

What is a memorable experience you’ve had or impactful challenge that you’ve overcome as an ECP?

A memorable experience that I’ve had was hosting a forensic science and investigation conference in my previous faculty appointment at Delaware State University. This was my first time creating and hosting a conference, and we had a fantastic turnout, both in student participation and in law enforcement and forensic science agencies. Students got to hear lectures and participate in hands-on training in different areas of forensic science and evidence collection. It was a lot of work, but the experience was incredible.

What advice would you give to other ECP members?

My advice would be to keep networking and meeting new people, even if they aren’t in your direct area of study. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for the mentors, colleagues, and students that I have interacted with over the years. Mentors can come in many forms, and I never turn down an opportunity to learn from people with different backgrounds and areas of expertise.

Learn More

Early Career Professionals Recognition Symposium

Entomology 2021, in-person and online, October 31 – November 3, Denver, Colorado

Carly Tribull, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of biology at Farmingdale State College and 2020-2021 chair of the ESA Early Career Professionals Committee. Email: cmtribull@gmail.com.

All photos courtesy of Krystal Hans, Ph.D.

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