Senior lecturer Brendan Chapman brings forensics to life

Senior Lecturer Brendan Chapman with his students in the lab

Senior Forensics Lecturer Brendan Chapman loves that Murdoch is a bit different.

For Brendan Chapman, Senior Lecturer in Forensic Science and Academic Chair of Postgraduate Forensic Science, teaching is more than just providing reading to students.

“The students at Murdoch are a real melting pot, we are a diverse bunch. It means that as educators, we have to cater to a wide range of backgrounds, beliefs and culture,” Brendan said.

“We have to be able to connect with everyone, we need to provide for all learning styles which includes practical and interactive classes.”

So it’s a good thing that studying both undergraduate and postgraduate forensic science at Murdoch is a fully interactive experience. One that takes students beyond the classroom to quite literally learn out in the field. This could mean anything, from reconstructing mock crime scenes, to lab work, collecting evidence or dusting for fingerprints. Forget what you’ve seen on TV – this is postgraduate forensics in real life.

A free thinker at heart, Brendan loves to explore new ideas and concepts and encourages his students to do the same.

“I'm a hands-on, pragmatic thinker myself so that probably comes through when I'm teaching. I tend to question everything, which to me is a fundamental requirement of being a scientist.”

Solving crimes led to a career at Murdoch

Brendan initially went to university straight out of high school, before quickly realising he wasn’t quite in the right place. After working for a bit, he ended up studying a Bachelor of Science in Molecular Biology at Murdoch, before going on to do honours research in ancient DNA.

“I actually fell into forensics, being in the right place at the right time when the WA DNA database was introduced,” Brendan said.

“I was working in the state molecular diagnostics laboratory when an opportunity came up to move departments to Forensic Biology. I fell in love with forensics in the lab first but in 2011 WA Police put out a recruitment call for six civilian scientists to commence as major crime forensic officers. I decided to get out of the lab and into the field and was very fortunate to get the gig.

“I was with Western Australia Police (WAPOL) for four years, where I worked on thousands of serious crime scenes, assaults and homicides. I would say this is where my interest in cold cases began.”

Brendan started as a guest lecturer at Murdoch towards the end of his career with WAPOL. He has been at Murdoch in an academic role since 2016.

Murdoch is unique

Brendan is the first to admit he has a sentimental preference for Murdoch, growing up just down the road and spending a lot of his childhood riding his bike through the Murdoch campus, collecting tadpoles from the neighbouring bushland.

“As a forensic scientist, Murdoch is really the obvious choice in WA. We are the only university in WA to offer this. I’d also argue that we are unique within Australia.”

“Generally speaking, there’s something different about Murdoch. It’s alright to be quirky here, a bit different, to question everything, to put yourself out there for what you believe in as an individual.”

Brendan believes Murdoch has always been a place where everyone belongs, where everyone can learn and grow.

Since starting at Murdoch, Brendan has established the cold case review group with fellow Murdoch academic, Senior Lecturer in Criminology, David Keatley. The cold case review initiative sees students analyse large volumes of Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) in relation to specific cases and provide recommendations to law enforcement or families on new avenues of enquiry.

He credits the facilities at Murdoch for allowing him to take his forensic research to the next level.

Teaching the next generation of free thinkers

“I love the large number of students I have in my third-year unit, Bodies of Evidence. With my postgraduate students, however, I’m able to get much closer and build a more personal relationship with them.

Being able to see my students have their lightbulb moment, where they start to fully understand a concept is very rewarding.”

Brendan has brought his field experience with crime scenes to the forensic courses at Murdoch, integrating more hands-on learning, like the crime scene exercises at Murdoch’s own Whitby Falls Farm.

“I’m on a mission to establish Murdoch as the destination for research students chasing the next unanswerable forensics puzzle.”

“I like to think they keep me young, every year I learn some new and colourful terminology,” Brendan said.

“I’m still not sure if being addressed as B-Dawg is a good or bad thing though!”

Discover where your passion for Forensics could take you. Learn more about studying Science at Murdoch University
Posted on:

27 Oct 2021

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