We don't intentionally neglect our self-care, but multitasking becomes a routine that can lead to burnout among forensic scientists. Stress has become normalized for the forensic science community, and it's compromising the mental and physical health of women who have a difficult time saying no. I remember being in my twenties and reading a book about establishing boundaries; it changed my approach on how I dealt with people—I didn't want to be an acquiescent woman.
Being selfish and taking care of myself means that I will slow down and listen to my inner self without feeling guilty or obligated to say yes to everything in order to please others and to risk burnout. We are multifaceted women forensic science professionals with hobbies and lives outside of casework, teaching and watching crime shows. Our desire for being successful at work and available to our families can be very difficult.
While scrolling through Instagram one evening, a saw a post from Sharana Darcel pop up under the “womeninforensics” hashtag. I immediately noticed her stories are engaging and informative with a sense of humor. It was one of those videos that got me interested in how she does her own manicures, so I signed up. (I eventually fell off from doing my own nails and went back to the nail salon. Don't be hard on yourself for trying something new then getting tired of it after a while; it happens to me all the time.)
Ever since then, I became interested in what Darcel will feature next—encouragement to aspiring forensic scientists? Posing in her favorite tee? Talking about the COVID-19 vaccination? Darcel exemplifies what the forensics and STEM community needs—transparency, especially the younger generation who are searching for mentors they can relate to. Every generation communicates differently, and for a Gen Xer like myself, I didn't grow up with social media. It's fascinating to be a witness to how technology has evolved as I click on hashtags and scroll through the new generation of forensic science influencers.
Darcel, who has two bachelor's degrees and a master's degree, is working her dream job as an analyst at a forensic toxicology lab, and is also a skincare enthusiast and a blogger. Her nail polish collection must be insane because her manicures are lovely.
Darcel teaches multi-passionate millennial women how to prioritize self-care and minimize burnout. She represents those women scientists who don't see the need to only talk about science, research and education—her life outside of being a forensic technician is much more interesting. Her impact on women who acknowledge the importance of self-care is expressed through appreciation messages and even a gifted pair of earrings from a local jewelry store. Women in STEM can relate to her genuine testimonials about her life experiences and appreciate her beauty regimens.
"It's very easy to fall into burnout with such demanding jobs, so I want to help others avoid that burnout and build a better work-life balance,” Darcel told me.
She said she wants to continue her passion for teaching women how to balance their lives and career by starting her own podcast one day. Typically, women who work in their forensic science careers may be experiencing symptoms of burnout that can lead to mental and physical health problems. These jobs can be demanding and unfulfilling, so prioritizing self-care is important. Working at a crime lab or organization where you're doing forensic work all day can be stressful. If management fails to recognize that their staff may leave because of burnout, the retention of dedicated employees will dwindle.
When asked about programs and initiatives that will support forensic science professionals to have a healthy work-life balance, Darcel recommends non-judgmental conversations within the STEM community about mental health. I agree with providing support to those who are showing signs of mental health symptoms and training management on how to approach conversations with their staff to get them help.
Of course, there are many webinars and courses being offered for forensic science research but none that I've come across on how forensic professionals can handle anxiety and depression in the workplace. Whether it's teaching forensics or analyzing forensic evidence, the environment can be toxic for many forensic professionals.
"This year has taught me that some of the issues I've dealt with were not happening because I needed to work harder and do more, but because I was overworked, struggling with unacknowledged anxiety, and needed rest,” said Darcel.
COVID-19 has changed our lives, leaving us no choice but to spend more time with ourselves and family. During that time at home, Darcel no longer treated her blog and social media accounts like a hobby; she valued that she now had extra time to create new content that will help her STEM community.
Do something for yourself today.
Darcel’s blog can be found at www.sharanadarcel.com, and her Instagram is @sharanadarcel.
Then “Women in Forensics" column is authored by Antoinette T. Campbell, founder of the Association of Women in Forensic Science, Inc. (AWIFS) and Club Philly Forensics—a youth forensic science and violence/education outreach program. Determined to fulfill all her passions, she established AWIFS as a conduit for connecting like-minded individuals and organizations and provide STEM-based programming for youth and young adults. Antoinette has been profiled in the Philadelphia Inquirer, WHYY, 105.3 WDAS, 900 AM WURD, and myriad blogs. In 2017, she earned a nomination for the RAD Awards Scientist of the Year and continues to serve as a venerated member of several panels including the Philadelphia Science Festival-Partner Advisory Council and Parents United for Better Schools, Inc. Antoinette can be reached at: www.awifs.org, @womeninforensics, #womeninforensics