Independent Study Series: Maya Levin Investigates Forensic Pathology

Hyphen: Can you tell me a little bit about what you’re focusing on in your independent study, do you have a central question or thesis?

Maya Levin: I kind of went into this knowing I wanted to do something working with forensics, but I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do, so I approached this woman named Dr. Judy Melinek — who wrote a book, and who is a forensic pathologist — and she agreed to do a project with me. She kind of came up with our central project, which was to write an article using gun trajectories to figure out the position that a victim was in at the time of an impact. I’m writing the case report right now, using a case that she did an autopsy on a few years ago, and then we’re going to do an analysis using relevant literature. We’re going to try to get it published — that’s kind of the main goal. I’m also doing a presentation for one of Ms. Maslow’s A+P classes on some of the same stuff. So, Judy Melinek is my mentor, and Ms. Bergstedt is my in-school mentor.

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 9.31.08 AMHyphen: How did you choose Ms. Bergstedt, and how did you find and choose Judy Melinek? How is that working out between both of them?

ML: So, Ms. Bergstedt was my Honors Chemistry teacher junior year, so I already had a good relationship with her and knew her. I asked her and she was totally great and open to the idea. She didn’t have a ton of experience in the field, but thought it was really fascinating. Dr. Melinek is a very busy woman, she’s the head forensic examiner for Alameda County, so it can be hard to get a hold of her. We’ve met twice now, and I went to see an autopsy with her. Ms. Bergstedt came with me, which is great, so they have kind of a rapport. They’ve both been great, and really supportive.

Hyphen: What does a typical meeting look like? What kind of homework have you been assigning yourself?

ML: So, I meet with Ms. Bergstedt the first C block of every week. My average period would probably be, right now, working on the case reports, looking at the autopsy reports and typing stuff up. I’ve also read a lot of other articles because we’ll be using those in discussion. I read about four hundred pages of articles from various academic journals in the beginning of the year, and now I’m writing.

Hyphen: Do you have a central thesis or question you’re trying to answer?

ML: Most of the project is the goal. The project itself is kind of a question, “can you use the trajectory of a bullet to figure out a gun position” —

Hyphen: And you think you can?

ML: We think you can. So, the article kind of proves that you can. It’s actually an idea that plenty of people use in testimony, particularly, but there isn’t a lot of writing on it.

Hyphen: Is there anything else you’d like to say about doing an independent study, or any other projects you’ve done?

ML: Yeah, so, I sat in on an autopsy in Alameda County which was really interesting, and I went to see her testify as an expert witness in a murder trial, which was also pretty cool. I was really interested in this topic, I always have been, since I started watching — uh — Bones. I’m interested in medicine, criminology is always something I’ve found fascinating, so it was kind of a cool overlap. I’d already read Dr. Melinek’s book when she came to speak to our A+P class, just coincidentally, so I was kind of fangirling over her. That’s how that happened. It’s been a really great experience to have to manage my own time, and really figure out what my goal is and when I’m going to get it done. It’s interesting because I feel like most of our classes — even if we feel we’re very independent — have intense structure, like “this is due then,” and stuff like that. This doesn’t have any grading, there’s no reason to do any of it on time, it’s just like, can I keep myself motivated to do it? It’s been an interesting experience in motivation and self-organization.

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About Zoe Harris

Zoe Harris, a senior, is celebrating her third year as co-managing editor of the Hyphen and as a reporter for the Paper Tiger. She is a leader of the literary magazine club, Lit Mag, and has written far too many weird poems. Zoe loves writing by Junot Díaz, David Sedaris, Mary Oliver, and Richard Siken, and the Harry Potter character she most closely identifies with is Luna Lovegood. She loves the Hyphen dearly and hopes readers do, too.

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