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York degree of success leads to Mounties job

Posted on 10 July 2013

A forensic speech scientist with the Royal Canadian Mounted Police will be presented with a postgraduate degree at the University of York this week.

Colleen Kavanagh is graduating from York with a PhD in Forensic Phonetics

Colleen Kavanagh, 28, is graduating from York with a PhD in Forensic Phonetics – a qualification which helped her secure a job as a forensic audio and video analyst with the ‘Mounties’ back in her home town of Ottawa, Canada.

She first came to York in 2005 as an undergraduate student on an exchange year with the Department of Language and Linguistic Science, returning in 2007 to study for an MSc in Forensic Speech Science, followed by a PhD.

She is now one of a just a handful of people in North America carrying out forensic speech and audio casework in criminal investigations and acting as an expert witness to the courts.

I chose to study at York because the MSc in Forensic Speech Science was the only programme of its kind in the world

Colleen Kavanagh

Colleen says, “I chose to study at York because the MSc in Forensic Speech Science was the only programme of its kind in the world. I discovered the field during my undergraduate year thanks to Professor Paul Foulkes and found it really fascinating. I wanted to go into practice and help develop the field of forensic speech science in Canada.

“I started working for the Royal Canadian Mounted Police in October 2012. It’s going very well and I’m really enjoying it. The training is intensive, but very interesting with lots of travelling. I’ve started doing casework myself and I’m able to continue conducting research as part of the job, so I’m extending some of my PhD research to Canadian English and French and participating in ongoing research projects in the Audio and Video Analysis Unit in Ottawa.”

Colleen will attend the graduation ceremony on Thursday alongside fellow PhD student Richard Rhodes, who has found work much nearer to the University campus – at JP French Associates, the UK’s largest and longest-established forensic speech and audio lab, whose offices are on The Mount, York. 

Richard’s research focused the effects of aging on the voice and the impact on forensic cases where there has been a long delay between evidential recordings. The most high-profile case in Britain where long-term non-contemporaneous voice evidence was used was in the prosecution of the Yorkshire Ripper hoaxer, John Samuel Humble.

Richard, 26, who is originally from Royston, says, “DNA evidence, for example, is presented as a probability of a match and my research investigated the reliability of applying a similar statistical model for speech evidence which spans several years or decades.”

Richard says he chose to study at York because of its excellent international reputation and because of the University’s close links with JP French Associates. “To be able to look at real case data and be taught by experts in the field who use forensic speech analysis in practice was a big draw,” he says.

Colleen Kavanagh and Richard Rhodes will graduate on Thursday, 11 July at noon.

Notes to editors:

  • For more information on the Department of Languages and Linguistic Science at the University of York visit www.york.ac.uk/language

Contact details

Caron Lett
Press Officer

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