Kim Eun-mi, an Ewha alumna from the College of Pharmacy, has celebrated her 33rd work anniversary at the National Forensic Service (NFS) this year.
NFS is one of the most prestigious state institutions that conduct criminal investigations for public agencies including the police, the prosecutor, and the military. Kim joined the NFS in 1989 after completing her bachelor’s and master’s degrees at Ewha’s College of Pharmacy in 1988. She continued her study in pharmacy and drugs after joining the NFS and received her post-doctoral degree at Ewha in 2000.
Unlike most pharmacy students who open their own pharmacy upon graduation, Kim realized her aptitude did not match those of the pharmacist during her hospital pharmacy placement. W h e n pharmacist’s main duty lies in abiding by prescriptions in a very limited working space, Kim wanted to engage in research and analysis at a state institution and NFS happened to meet both of her preferable working conditions.
Kim has analyzed approximately 50,000 criminal cases so far and has been promoted to the director-general of the forensic science department in August 2021. The forensic science department has three affiliated divisions: forensic DNA division, forensic toxicology division, and forensic chemistry division. The forensic DNA division conducts DNA analysis to identify an individual, and the forensic toxicology division examines the cause of death based on drug and poison analysis. Lastly, the forensic chemistry division determines the causes of sex crimes, alcohol-related crimes, and arson.
Kim starts her day by monitoring new crimes and incidents that happened overnight. She also analyzes South Korea’s latest tendency in drug abuse. When it comes to investigation, Kim explained that 90 percent of the investigation request comes from the police. When the police submit a case to the NFS, the case is delivered to the most relevant department for investigation. Once the investigation is done, NFS researchers would send a finalized written analysis to the police that determines whether the police need a further investigation or could end the case.
When Kim was asked if she had any dramatic episode at the NFS, she recalled the Burning Sun scandal that shook South Korea in 2019. It was a scandal that involved popular celebrities including K-pop idols where some of their allegations included illegal drug distribution, sexual assault, sexual prostitution, and police corruption. One of the idols who was charged with use of illegal drugs strongly denied his allegation and even hosted a press conference to claim his innocence. But Kim’s narcotics analysis indicated otherwise. She detected methamphetamine, a highly addictive, illegal stimulant, from his body hair and this very evidence prompted the idol to finally admit his crime.
In terms of how well the media depicts the jobs of NFS researchers in K-dramas and movies, Kim expressed that they quite accurately reflect the real investigation equipment and processes used at the NFS. She explained that this is possible because the cast frequently visits the NFS building, and some actors stayed all day long beside Kim in her laboratory to create a realistic scene.
But there were differences as well. Kim explained that there are two main players in crime investigation: investigators and researchers. Investigators are the ones who visit the crime scenes to collect evidence and figure out what happened on field. Researchers like Kim, on the other hand, analyze the gathered evidence in the laboratory and this is why NFS researchers are also known as scientists. In many dramas, however, the characters usually go on field for evidence and conduct research in the laboratory as well, so Kim believed this was the biggest difference between media and reality.
After working for 33 years at NFS, Kim is nearing her age of retirement yet is still eager to perform scientific crime analysis. When asked what motivates Kim to devote her passion for such a long time, she answered her love for work led her to become an expert with 33-year-long working experience.
“This is why I want to say, ‘Do what you love!’ to students at Ewha,” Kim said. “It is very difficult to feel competent or worthwhile if you do not feel any joy in what you do. In the coming future, I hope you become an Ewhain who develops one’s career in happiness.”