Forensic Biology Internship: My Summer of Corpses at a Coroner’s Office

Guest Blog by Rebecca Long and Danica Murphy, Juniors in Forensic Biology

IMG_6764 small“This morning we are going to examine a homicide victim,” Dr. Kurtzman said.  The victim had been dead four days; there was skin slippage, dried blood, a mutilated face, and forty-six stab wounds. This was the beginning of the second day of our internship. Yikes, how were we going to handle this? As forensic biology majors, we were encouraged to explore the different fields of forensics and we decided we both wanted to be forensic pathologists. This isn’t the type of profession that can be experienced through movies or textbooks. We needed to experience the sights, smells, and sounds of the dead. Much to our surprise, we both fell in love with the profession and this summer internship changed our lives in only six amazing weeks.

IMG_6581 As an undergraduate student having the opportunity to work in a coroner’s office is unheard of. As we started to explore our options for an internship we experienced several email responses that were polite, but very disappointing. Most of the responses simply said, “Sorry, we cannot accommodate undergraduate students because we have contracts with medical schools. Best of luck!” We went to Security and Intelligence Studies professor Dr. Bozeman discouraged by the responses. Dr. Bozeman said he would try and contact some of his old colleagues and see what he could find. He is a retired homicide detective and mentor for the ERAU AISOCC (American Investigative Society of Cold Cases) student chapter. Within a few weeks Dr. Bozeman had secured an opportunity of a life-time for the two of us!


Over the summer, we worked under the direction of Dr. Kurtzman at the Grand Junction, CO coroner’s office. In the six weeks we were there, We observed twenty-one autopsies that included natural deaths, accidental deaths, suicides and homicides. Our patients ranged in age from babies to elderly. The sights, sounds, and smells were like nothing we could ever describe or forget. The smell of gases inside a decaying body is worse than any form of rotten meat or milk we have ever experienced. The sounds a body makes post mortem are eerie and disturbing, and the actual process of the autopsy is much more bloody and unsettling than anything they show you on the television shows.


Becca: I had worked as a volunteer in a hospital the summer before and during that experience I had the opportunity to observe a circumcision on a newborn baby.  I had no idea what to expect and from the combination of the blood, the scalpel and the baby screaming it really bothered me and I passed out. Super embarrassing!  However, with my autopsy experience I didn’t have any problems I’m happy to report.  I was concerned about it, but the dead never cry, complain, or respond to pain which is what I found difficult with the baby during the procedure.


Danica: I had never seen a dead body before and was nervous for how I would react.  The first body was the toughest because all I could think about was how a person was lying there which ate me up inside. I had to learn to treat each body as a case and look for the reason why they passed away. Finding the cause of death would help doctors find what the major contributing factors to death are in different communities as well as provide answers to grieving families.


IMG_6638 smallAfter the six weeks of working at the morgue and falling in love with the field of forensic pathology, we were thankful for the classes we had taken to prepare us for the internship. These courses included anatomy & physiology, microbiology, and forensic investigation and techniques. Without these courses we would have been lost and confused during our work. The doctor spoke in a language unique to the field of medicine and the concepts we discussed were specific to information I had learned in these classes.

This internship provided us with so much more knowledge for the field of pathology and allowed us to find out if we were on the right career path. Dr. Kurtzman said on our first day with him that if he did his job correctly, we would both end up wanting to become forensic pathologists. After completing our internship, we can both agree he was right! We made so many memories in our short time in Grand Junction and we want everyone to be able to experience their dream career like we were able to do!


Update on my Internship!

Hello from Seattle! I am about ready to begin week 9 of my awesome internship and so far, it has been surreal. Wait. Week 9?? Already?? How am I almost done? Times really does ‘fly’ when you are having fun! As much as I want to share every minute detail of my internship, sadly I cannot; due to the company’s privacy policy. However, I will give a general picture of what I have been up to!

My desk

The first few weeks were mainly updating aircraft manuals (pages upon pages of them) and swapping them out on board the aircraft. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the most thrilling project, but when we got to got to the aircraft to swap them out, that was awesome! The next few weeks were full of little projects around the different departments like the technical pilots, flight operations administration, and technical publications in Flight Operations. I currently have 3 projects that I am working on which all involve different things. Without getting into too much detail, I am working with the ACARS system (the magical computer box that you can program routes, performance, flight plans, etc into), an Operations Specification (Ops Spec), and a taxi time project where the other intern and I have to travel to Anchorage and LAX and, of course, Seattle to complete it!

Working on the taxi project

Other things I have done are helping out in the 737 simulators, tours of ATC and airport facilities and helping out over at the corporate building. One thing that is interesting is there is always food somewhere in the building. One day every month, without fail, there is “the food cube” in one spot of the office. It becomes “active” when food has been brought in. Various employees bring in food, under no obligation, to share and eat! Here is what it looked like one week.

The food cube

As far as how I feel about the internship, it has honestly been the most amazing and incredible experience of my life! The people at Alaska Airlines are one of a kind. They are kind and welcoming and really care about you as a person. I talk with the Manager of Flight Operations and the Chief Pilot everyday and both of them always stop to ask how I am doing, regardless of their busy schedule. I am incredibly fortunate to be interning with them and I know it will be really hard to leave when the internship is over. I will keep you updated on more cool stuff next week!

Prescott Valley Police Department

As promised before, I want to share my experiences with my new internship at the Prescott Valley Police Department. Unfortunately, I have not found too much free time to head over there too often, but the time I do set aside has been well worth it! I had the chance to go on a patrol ride with another Volunteer. He is actually attending graduate school at Riddle. (small world!) He is a really nice guy and he helped me to learn a lot more about law enforcement. Unfortunately, there was not too much excitement the day we went out for a ride. One guy ran out of gas at an intersection, so we got to direct traffic. There was also a car accident with a school bus (no one was harmed). Looked like the lady driving the car was not paying attention and rear-ended the bus driver. We stayed on the scene until officials came and took over. We wrote a few parking tickets, and did some house-watch requests. It was pretty fun!

I also spent some time trying to perfect my recovery of fingerprints on objects such as glasses and windows. It is a LOT harder than it looks. But it was a great learning experience and the head of the forensics department told me that my lifted prints looked better than some of the officers’. (shhh…we do not want to hurt their feelings. ha ha)

Just recently, I had the opportunity to go to Flagstaff to the big forensics/evidence lab. We took evidence from 5 different police stations around here (Prescott, Prescott Valley, Sheriff’s Department, Chino, and the Indian Reservation) and put them in the evidence van and took it all to the lab in Flagstaff. It was a nice drive. I learned a lot more about the chain of custody and how important it is to log everything that is done with the evidence because it will be used later in court. It is really interesting!

If you are interested and intrigued with security, forensics, and/or working for the government or law enforcement, I would really suggest volunteering for your local police department. They are all very helpful individuals and they are very willing to teach you as much as they know and once you have worked with them, I bet you any one of them would be willing to write you a nice letter of recommendation which will come handy once you are looking into a future career in the government. It is a lot of fun and educational!