For many people, perhaps most, observing an autopsy would be something to avoid, an activity to sidestep by any means.
However, for Dr. Paul Speaker it's all in a day's work. Back in 2008 he received a $338,571 grant from the Department of Justice that launched him into the rather unexplored field of forensic lab management and efficiency – helping the nation's forensic labs apply best business practices.
Called Project FORESIGHT, the program is designed to help forensic lab managers better understand… well, how to manage. Generally these individuals come up through the ranks of scientists, and they commonly don't have a business background. This could, in part, explain why labs have such shocking case backlogs, especially involving DNA testing.
Thus, Speaker visits many labs when he is working with managers, and under a related grant from Pennsylvania's Allegheny County Office of the Medical Examiner he was given a tour and ended up in an autopsy room.
"This is the sort of people that I'm working with," he said. "Every time I visit a lab I get a tour, and these can be very interesting."
No doubt these visits help him more accurately visualize scenes from the crime novels he enjoys reading in his spare time, which is one of his hobbies. He reads three to four a week. The visits also help him understand whether a lab is experiencing problems because of inefficiencies or political issues.
"In the FORESIGHT program we look at a lot of numbers, but visiting the labs puts much more information before us and makes it real," Speaker said.
He has even interacted with INTERPOL, headquartered in Lyon, France, and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police. In October he and Dr. Max Houck presented papers to INTERPOL, which was established in 1923 as the International Criminal Police Commission. Speaker's paper was "The Forensic Science Industry: The Search for the Best Model."
Houck, formerly director of the WVU Forensic Science Initiative and former director of Forensic Business Development for the College of Business and Economics, is now director of the District of Columbia Consolidated Forensic Laboratories.
For the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Speaker was part of a team working under a $471,500 grant from Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Canada during 2010-12. This study ended with the recommendation that the service close half of its forensic labs, which it did.
"It's very satisfying," Speaker said, "seeing the direct impact of our recommendations. They wanted to know why their operation was so costly, and by taking a tour and looking closely at numbers, we were able to give them sound advice."
A similar study in which Speaker was involved resulted in Georgia forensic lab workers receiving 20 percent raises from the state's legislature. "For me, there's a lot of value in these projects. I get to see the impact of my research very quickly in some cases."
Speaker, who came to WVU in 1981, has received many awards for teaching, most recently the Department of Finance Outstanding Teacher Award in 2012, an honor he had received consecutively from 2004-07. He has also received Beta Gamma Sigma and Golden Apple teaching awards on several occasions, and in 1983 and 1990 he was honored with the WVU Foundation Outstanding Teacher Award.
"I love the students here," he said. "You can set the bar high for the students we have at WVU, and they will reach for it. If you keep asking them to reach higher, they are willing to do the work. They are appreciative if you are demanding, and they know I'm willing to work just as hard as they do."
He enjoys keeping in touch with alumni and hearing of their accomplishments after they leave the College and WVU. "LinkedIn helps," he commented. "It's just great to stay in touch and see where they are going in their careers."
Born in Summit, N.J., Speaker earned a doctorate in economics at Purdue University in 1981 after a master's degree there in 1978 and a bachelor's degree from LaSalle College in 1977.
His pastimes include daily gym workouts (at which he is able to indulge in his crime novel reading while riding a recumbent bike) and watching sports. Another leisure pursuit is wine: he has approximately 1,000 bottles in his own collection. "One of my great pleasures is sharing wine with friends." Should he retire, his ideal retirement would be working in a bookstore and pouring wine for visitors at a Napa Valley winery.
He is married to Kathleen Speaker, a nurse at WVU Hospitals. They have three children: Chris, who works with PricewaterhouseCoopers; Kevin, who is with United Bank in Morgantown; and Colleen, a tennis pro who lives in Columbia, S.C.