Dr. Holly Porter uses forensic science to solve crimes

Aug 24, 2022

by Holly Porter, PhD

For #SummerOfScience, AWIS is highlighting members and partners to show the impact different fields of science have on society – and how these fields are impacted by women.

Introduce yourself and your work.

My name is Holly Porter. I have a PhD in molecular and cellular biology from the University of Maryland School of Medicine. I am a DNA analyst at the Baltimore City Police Department. My role involves completing the technical as well as analytical steps involved in recovering and analyzing DNA from evidence items. In addition, I author reports, review the work of other analysts, and testify in court. I have more recently begun working on audit teams to assess crime laboratories to ensure that they are maintaining high standards and performing quality work.

How does your work benefit people and society in general?

I am passionate about science and helping others. I love that DNA analysis allows me to apply my science, math, and critical thinking skills to directly impact society by aiding in solving criminal cases of various natures.

What barriers did you have to overcome to get where you are now?

Transitioning into forensic biology casework where few people have PhDs presented a challenge. Because I didn’t have a forensic specific background, attaining high rankings on forensic job applications was a roadblock as almost all of the questions were specifically related to experience in crime labs or working with evidence. Even after securing a position in a forensic lab, it often seemed as if my capabilities and my prior science training were not recognized. As a Black woman in science, I often found myself in situations where I felt as if I had to work even harder than others. I try to allow unpleasant, biased encounters to motivate me to reach my goals and be the best version of myself. I value mentorship, but have found it challenging to connect with other forensic scientists who are further along their career journey.

What advice would you give to those looking to pursue a career in science?

I was once told by an undergraduate college professor that I would never be a good scientist. I never knew the basis for his comment. What I do know is that if I had given his comment too much weight then I may not have advanced and attained my PhD. Do not be afraid to be your own advocate. Know your weaknesses so that you can continue to improve but also know your strengths. Don’t be afraid to be vocal concerning what you can bring to the table. Seek mentors in as well as outside of your career field to include those that have similar as well as different backgrounds than your own. Let the knowledge and support gained from those relationships encourage and guide your career steps.