Graduate Council Advisory Committee
Shelby Biomedical Research Building, room 105
Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Members present: Puri Bangalore, Alan Eberhardt, Douglas Ayers, Jim Collawn, Cecelia Graham, Erica Pryor, Mary MacDougall

Graduate School Staff:  Bryan Noe, Jeff Engler, Thomas Harris

Guest: John Sloan

Agenda Action Item:

Review of a NISP from the College of Arts and Sciences in which the establishment of a Ph.D. program in Forensic Science and Technology is being proposed. Dr. John Sloan, Chair of Justice Science, responded to questions and comments. The proposal came about in part because of the belief that the department is ready to move the masters in forensic science to the doctoral level. The masters program in forensic science has existed for almost thirty years. Over the past several years, Dr. Sloan has worked with members in Computer Science to help to develop a major initiative that has come to be known as Digital Forensics.  Several years ago the National Academy of Sciences published a report on the state of forensic sciences in the United States. In the report, a section discussed digital forensics as a new discipline within forensic science which was expected to grow rapidly.  Digital forensics has come to the forefront as computers consistently are being used for committing cybercrimes and identity theft. Increasingly, there is a need for people who are trained in digital forensics both on the federal side to assist in law enforcement, as well as the need for training of people to engage in basic research to help advance the field.

The NISP proposes to create a new program in Forensic Science and Technology that has two tracks. There will be a traditional track in wet lab forensic science that will focus on chemistry, biology, pharmacology, etc., and a digital forensics track that will deal with computer forensics and cyber crimes.  There will be a core set of courses that all the students will take that will cover research ethics and research methods and theory, after which the students will select one of the two tracks in which to specialize. The program will be unique in the state of Alabama and within the southeast by combining regular web lab forensics with digital forensics.  The unique nature of the program will be a recruitment advantage.  The plan is to start the program in Fall semester 2014. Program faculty will partner with Alabama State University and University of Alabama Huntsville to develop student and faculty exchanges. 

Committee members questioned whether the pool of students for the two tracks will be different.  Response: Students interested in the digital side will have backgrounds in computer science, information systems, information security and perhaps computer engineering. Students interested in traditional wet lab forensics will be more likely to have training in natural science disciplines.  The program is not intended to be exclusively a PhD in digital forensics. The doctoral degree will be in Forensic Science.  The scientific content for the digital forensics track will be based in computer science research.  Committee members asked if there was sufficient scholarly content to require a separate digital track.  Response: There is a precedent; two former Computer Science PhD students have completed their dissertations on the science of digital forensics.  Committee members recommended changing the proposed dissertation credit total to meet graduate school requirements. The committee also recommended that the proposal to award a Masters degree in Forensic Science concurrently along with the PhD be eliminated from the proposal. 

A question was raised regarding availability of lab space for the wet lab track.  Response: The Forensic Science department has one teaching lab with 24 work stations, and five research laboratories for department faculty. The digital forensics program has three laboratories with a total of 36 workstations. Renovations are also being completed that will provide two additional digital labs. Will additional faculty be added?  Response: The Dean of CAS has made a commitment to add three more faculty members for the digital track.  These new faculty will be recruited from forensic science disciplines.  Is the program considered a research based program or a practice based program?  Response: The program has the potential to be both, but initially it will be more applied.  Until the digital track evolves more, it will be a more of a traditional program.  Since practice based programs are traditionally tuition generating, whereas research based predoctoral programs usually provide support for their students, will there be a combination, of if student will be supported, what will be the source of their funding?  Response: The forensics program sends four students to the Alabama Department of Forensic Science each year, and the ADFS pays the students around $20,000 a year for working in the labs on real forensic cases. There is real possibility of expanding that program to support PhD students.  On the digital side, there is potential support from Microsoft, PayPal, EBay, and several banks. ADCOM members recommended adding more detail regarding how learning outcomes targets would be met.

A motion to approve the proposal was made and seconded.  ADCOM members present and by email vote voted unanimously to approve the proposed program NISP to be moved forward for Provost approval and placement on the agenda for the next UA System Board meeting.

The meeting adjourned at 5:00 p.m.