Early in her undergraduate years of college, Elena Shelepak had several career paths in mind. She was good at biology and curious about genetics. During freshman year, she took a few psychology courses. Criminal justice also piqued her interest.

Then Elena stumbled upon the field of forensic science, and it clicked. This would be a career that would allow her to do a little bit of everything.

She had seen network television crime shows and had a general idea of what forensics involved, but she wanted to learn the specifics. A quick Google search led her to the University of Kentucky College of Medicine’s new professional master’s degree program in forensic toxicology and analytical genetics.

“You always hear on these shows that ‘DNA matched the suspect,’ but there’s so much more to it,” Elena said. “This program shows you how you extract the DNA, how you’re going to quantify it, how you’re going to separate the fragments and actually create the profile.”

The UK Master of Forensic Toxicology and Analytical Genetics is a two-year program that includes a common core curriculum with foundational knowledge in advanced forensic science, as well as two concentrations offering targeted training. The program is the only one of its kind in the state of Kentucky, and the fifth of its kind in the country.

A defining feature of the UK program is that it requires two internships, at least 200 hours each, in the spring semester of the second year. Elena completed her first internship at the UK Gluck Equine Research Center, conducting genetic testing and gaining hands-on experience working with equipment. She completed her second internship at the Metro Nashville Police Department Crime Laboratory, shadowing scientists and studying how technology is used to collect and analyze human DNA, which is useful in identifying potential suspects and assisting in court proceedings.

“I want to work in a crime lab doing forensic biology, like DNA casework,” Elena said. “That’s what I was able to see up close and personal, which was really great.”

This spring, Elena will graduate from the program, and she is not only capable of being the in-house expert on crime shows for her friends and family (though she enjoys that). Her experience also helps her stand out amid a competitive workforce in the field of forensics. She credits that to the UK program, particularly the well-rounded internship experiences that showed her what a career in forensics will entail.

“I really feel much more prepared to go into another lab and do the same thing,” she said.

Learn more about the Master of Forensic Toxicology and Analytical Genetics by clicking here.