An Interview with Don Oehlecker
“My advice for students who are interested in studying forensic science online is to speak with students who are currently enrolled and research all of your options.”
Donald Oehlecker is studying to earn his online Master of Forensic Nursing at University of Florida in Gainesville, Florida. He holds a Master of Business Administration from City University in Bellevue, Washington. Donald also earned a Bachelor of Health Science from Wichita State University and an Associate of Applied Science in Physical Therapy from Southwestern Illinois University.Donald chose to pursue a masters degree because he wanted a program that would give him a general overview of the field. He chose to study online because online courses put him in touch with different kinds of people who have a variety of unique perspectives.
In your own words, what is this highly specialized field all about?
It is the application of a broad range of sciences in order to process data and provide analysis for the judicial or legal system. Forensic science has many specializations, and people who work in the field may do anything from identify fingerprints to analyze soil samples.
Why did you choose to get a masters degree online?
I chose to get a masters because I have enjoyed the nearly 20 years of experience I have working in clinical settings such as emergency rooms and trauma and orthopedic centers. A masters degree gives me a good foundation for pursuing a PhD.
I decided to pursue my degree online because University of Florida’s online program actually offered a masters-level degree that focused on teaching students about the different areas of forensics. Some of the programs I found focused on teaching students how to testify in court, which is not what I am interested in studying. I also like the international character of the faculty and the students. I am able to learn from being exposed to many different perspectives.
What do you find most and least enjoyable about the program?
The most enjoyable part of studying this field is the overview I get of all the different specializations within it. I didn’t study forensic science as an undergraduate, so it is nice to have an introduction to topics like forensic etymology and forensic anthropology.
I don’t have much experience working in science labs, so completing the labs that accompany this degree, especially in toxicology, has been challenging. Although I have around 20 years of clinical experience in emergency rooms, trauma and orthopedic centers, doing the labs and toxicology work was like learning another language.
When you first considered studying it online, what were your expectations?
When I first considered enrolling in a masters program online, I expected to be challenged and to learn quite a bit. My MBA experience was disappointing because I was not challenged and, at the end of the program, I had not learned anything new. So far, the learning experience at University of Florida has met my expectations and has been a great learning experience.
What kinds of classes have you taken in your program?
In my program, I have taken classes in forensic etymology, forensic anthropology, toxicology, forensic medicine, statistics and blood spatter. Most of these classes require a lot of independent research, reading and writing. However, for classes like statistics, most of the work involves calculations and problem sets.
The lab work for these classes provides some practical skills to students who want to work in the field. But for someone like me who hasn’t worked in a lab, it can be difficult to acquire the skills needed for lab work.
Which of these classes do you think will be most valuable for your future goals?
The most valuable classes for my future goals are probably forensic etymology and forensic anthropology because these are the 2 fields I am thinking about pursuing at the PhD level.
What classes do you feel will be least useful?
The least useful class I have taken is statistics. It is frustrating to take classes that I know I won’t use in the field or in my pursuit of a PhD in forensic etymology or forensic anthropology.
What resources do you use to help you succeed in your studies?
My program offers some resources to help students succeed in their studies, but I don’t think they are very good. There is no tutoring center or writing center available to online students. There is an online library, but it is difficult to navigate. And when I contact the librarians online to ask for help, they seem to be more confused than I am.
Have you done an internship in your field?
I have not done an internship in my field because my program does not require it. I have asked for assistance in finding an internship, but the faculty and program managers cannot seem to do that. Their lack of help in finding students internship placements is one major shortcoming of the online program.
How do you interact with your professors?
I would say that 99% of the time I interact with my instructors through e-mail. Overall, I have had a good experience communicating with them through e-mail. Some instructors set up live chat rooms where they can interact with the students and the students can interact with each other.
Are you able to interact with your peers while studying online?
You can interact with your fellow students through e-mail and through the discussion boards where you can respond to your classmates’ postings. One of the sacrifices you make when you enroll in an online degree program is that you aren’t enrolled with students who live in your area. For this reason, it is difficult to develop friendships or organize study groups with your fellow students.
What personality traits do you think would help a student to succeed in this program and what traits would hinder success?
The personality traits that will help a student succeed are self discipline and being organized. For example, students might have 3 classes with the same deadline for papers and projects, and they have to organize their schedule so that they have time to do the work for all 3 classes. Students then need to be disciplined enough to actually do the work.
I think that the personality trait that would really hinder someone’s success in this program is immaturity. If a student is not mature enough to make and keep a schedule, they will have trouble staying on top of their coursework. And once they fall behind, it is next to impossible to catch up.
What is your weekly schedule?
I am currently unemployed and enrolled in school full-time, so my weekly schedule is fairly open. I probably spend 2 to 3 hours doing schoolwork every day. This includes studying, conducting research and writing papers. It is not overwhelming, and I am always able to finish my assignments before the deadline.
How do you manage your course load? What study tips would you give to a prospective student?
I manage my course load by staying organized. I like to organize the materials and resources for each class in a consistent way. For example, a lot of the resources that my program uses come from the Internet, so I create PDF files of each resource. This saves me time when I need to find them, and it lets me read the resources as if they were chapters out of a book rather than websites.
What are your plans for after graduation?
After graduation, I think I might try to earn a PhD in some area of forensic science or find a teaching position. A lot of people who earn a masters degrees lean more toward working in law enforcement, but that doesn’t interest me much.
Students who enter the workforce after earning their masters degrees can expect a wide range in salary, from $30,000 per year to $100,000 per year. This range depends on where they live and their job responsibilities.
Do you think the fact that you studied online will affect your graduate school prospects?
I don’t think the fact I studied online will affect my graduate school prospects. First of all, my degree won’t have the word “online” on it. Secondly, I believe that students are responsible for their learning experiences and must utilize the opportunities they have. It doesn’t matter if they go to an online school or a traditional school. Students can gain knowledge and applicable skills in both settings.
Now that you have completed 2 years of your program, if you could go back to high school, what would you do differently?
If I could go back to high school, I would do a lot of things differently. I don’t regret any of my educational choices up to earning my MBA. But instead of getting an MBA, I would have gotten a masters degree in public health.
If you were to redo the past 2 years of college, what would you do differently?
If I could redo the past 2 years of school, I might have tried harder to find an internship. The school wasn’t willing or able to help me find 1, but I think it is an important aspect of the forensic science degree.
What advice do you have for students who are interested in studying online?
My advice for students who are interested in studying online is to speak with students who are currently enrolled and research all of your options. Students should ask other students questions about what they might have done differently and what they like and dislike about their programs. Students should also look at the opportunities available to them and compare schools and programs. There are a lot of options out there.