The inviolable rule, therefore, is no talking—to anyone. “If you’ve done it once, you’re off the team,” Berryman says. “I’m serious about that.” His FASR team is serious about it, too. They are so tight-lipped, he says, they won’t discuss details of a crime scene even with other team members.
The bar thus raised, Berryman raises it further: “Once they get on the team, I will do whatever I can to make them succeed. Whatever I can.” Which means he pushes them to do research as undergraduates. He pushes them to teach, to attend meetings of the American Academy of Forensic Science (AAFS), and to present papers, not just at MTSU but nationally. With interest in forensics exploding and grad programs rejecting smart but inexperienced students, competitive graduates don’t just need a bachelor’s degree, Berryman says. They need a curriculum vitae.
Take student Alicja Kutyla, who came to Berryman with no anthropological training and no forensics experience, just the dream of doctorate in forensic anthropology, inspired by Dr. Bill Bass and the Body Farm. By the time she graduated from MTSU, she didn’t have a resume; she had a CV.
She had been published; she had worked crime scenes and autopsies; she had earned a national forensics award based on her joint research with Berryman, which they presented at a meeting in Washington, D.C. She’d also won a prestigious fellowship from the Smithsonian Institution.
She did all that in two years. She’s now completing that doctorate at UT–Knoxville.
Kutyla’s success is a testament to her own intellect and determination and to Berryman’s calculated guidance. A joint citizen of Australia and Poland, she enrolled as a master’s student in biology at MTSU, where she asked Berryman to help her reach her goal.
Doctoral programs in forensic anthropology typically don’t accept biology majors, Berryman says; he quietly doubted Kutyla could make the cut. “And I got that impression,” Kutyla recalls. “But all I wanted was for him to tell me what I needed to do to get there.”
Berryman obliged, turning over a research project he’d shelved for lack of time. He says he watched as Kutyla ran with it. “And I thought, ‘OK, let’s make a plan to get you a Ph.D. in anthropology,’” he says.
Kutyla remembers a checklist; Berryman remembers a strategy. She should expand the project he’d handed her by studying a collection of bones at Vanderbilt. Then she should develop the project further by studying skulls at the Smithsonian. And while she’s there, she should get to know a few people and make sure they knew her. People such as Dr. Douglas Owsley, the head of the Smithsonian’s Division of Physical Anthropology, whose good reference would carry weight.