On a warm day last summer, Diamond Madison entered the Allegheny
County Medical Examiner's Office for her internship, pausing to use her
card to access the locked, restricted area. It was a Thursday, so she would be
in the Autopsy Unit that day.
Learn more about Biochemistry and Forensic Biosciences at IUP, or see Chemistry and Biology
Wearing scrubs and old shoes, she made her way to the autopsy
table to observe the histology-autopsy technician and the forensic pathologist
as they began their standard procedures. Madison had been exposed to enough
autopsies, and earned the respect and trust of the employees, to be able to
also assist with various tasks under direct supervision.
When Madison, a senior biochemistry major with a minor in
forensic biosciences, took the internship at the medical examiner’s office last
summer, she knew what she was getting into. Her anatomy class at Indiana
University of Pennsylvania had studied a cadaver. Madison had been intrigued
with figuring out why the person had died, so she spent extra time in the IUP lab
One day, when she went to the lab to study for an upcoming
practical exam, she noticed a few things out of the ordinary. The heart was
twice the size of a normal heart. Based on what she had learned in her classes,
Madison concluded that the condition of the heart and other signs indicated
that congestive heart failure might have been the cause of death. When she went
to class the next day, she asked her professor about it. To her surprise, her
professor confirmed what she had suspected—congestive heart failure was the
cause of death.
“When it comes to solving cases, I feel like I’m a critical
thinker,” Madison said. “Critical thinking is very necessary in forensic
science. You have to think outside of the box.”
Madison struggled in high school to find a career path that she
thought fit her. As she learned more about forensic science, the field felt
right. During her sophomore year of college, she applied for an internship at
the Allegheny County Medical Examiner’s Office. She didn’t get the internship
at that time, but, with support from her professors, she decided not to let one
rejection stand in her way.
“When I got rejected the first time for the internship, I
wondered if it was a sign that I shouldn’t do it, but I talked to professors,
who encouraged me to reapply. There are many professors who have been
actively involved in my academic work, whether it be mentoring, supporting,
guiding, influencing, or inspiring my academic opportunities and
When Madison landed the internship the second time she
applied, she was elated. She finally had a chance to experience the field of
forensic science first hand.
“It was the greatest feeling when I saw I got the
internship. This is it for me. This is what I want to do, not short-term, but
long term,” she said. “Ever since I was little, I wanted to help out. This job
is about closure for family members and loved ones. I look forward to providing
closure and a sense of peace to family members. I have a strong admiration for
this field. It’s very meaningful to me.”
During her internship, Madison spent Tuesdays in the
Medicolegal Death Investigation Unit. As an intern, she could accompany the
staff on non-homicide-related calls, assist investigators with body removal
using body bags, collect personal belongings on scenes, fill out medication
lists, and help with many other tasks.
Some days, her tasks were more typical of the average intern
elsewhere—sorting out boxes of old case files, creating case files, scanning
medical records, and handling paperwork and phone calls. The interns were also
assigned to read chapters in a medicolegal book on topics such as medicolegal
death investigation, forensic autopsies, death scene investigation, and the
identification of human remains.
“I never want to stop learning,” Madison said.
Though she found her job fascinating, there were some
elements Madison had to adjust to at first, such as the smells that are an
element of this profession, especially when working with decomposing bodies.
“This job is not easy by any means,” she said. “It depends
on what kind of person you are, mostly on an emotional level. I was
told by many to just put
my mind to it, go in, get the job done, and get out, very professionally,
following the protocol every single time,” she said.
In addition to her internship, Madison is conducting
research with IUP professor Daniel Widzowski, a respected neuropharmacologist.
As a result, she has presented at multiple conferences.
“The research that I am conducting involves the validation
of a neurobehavioral pharmacodynamic test in mice for 5-HT2C blocking activity:
5-HTP-Induced head twitch responses,” she said. This involves validating
behavioral tests in mice, focusing on the blocking activity on a specific
serotonin receptor in the brain. She also studies effects of various compounds
that have the potential to be useful in combatting drug dependence in humans.
“I am more knowledgeable now about the field of neuropharmacology as well as
many other disciplines.”
Madison is active in many campus organizations and even
helped to found one—the Forensic Science and Investigations Club. She currently
serves as the new club’s vice president. She is also an active member of the
Gamma Tau chapter of the professional chemistry fraternity Alpha Chi Sigma, the
American Chemical Society, IUP Women in STEM, the National Society of
Leadership and Success (NSLS), and CURE IUP, which helps children with
disabilities around the world.
“I am incredibly happy to be a student at IUP,” she said. “There
are numerous opportunities and amazing faculty and staff who make me feel
welcome and assist me in any way that they can.”