Television shows like CSI or NCIS have are increasingly popular because of their ability to captivate us with the combined use of science, crime, and the law. Although often loosely based on real scenarios and proceedings, they sometimes leave us with the feeling that these things only happen on TV—but not for Elizabeth Tashjian.
Tashjian, who is the forensic team leader at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Laboratory in New Jersey gets to experience those types of situations on a smaller scale almost every day.
Born in Queens, N.Y., Tashjian and her family moved to New Jersey by the time she started school. As a teenager, she attended Rutgers University, earning a degree in biochemistry, and began working as a color chemist soon afterward. Yet, Tashjian admits she was interested in finding a more satisfying and challenging career, which is why she began working for the U.S. government at the Customs and Border Protection at Newark Airport.
When asked what her job description covers, she produces an interesting list of tasks: “I analyze unknown substances, controlled substances, and pharmaceuticals for identification. I develop and lift fingerprints on evidence, and sometimes we process crime scenes. I also work with digital forensics, which is the analysis of digital media evidence such as cell phones, hard drives, thumb drives, and memory cards.”
I immediately imagine some scenes in a dimly lit lab on a popular crime investigation show. However, Tashjian doesn’t seem like one of those dramatic cops bent on catching the criminal. “Fortunately our laboratory does not have to respond to gruesome or tragic types of scenes,” she explains.
Her dedication to her career and excitement over science are what really stand out. “I really enjoy digital forensics,” she says. “I was fortunate enough to be one of the few people selected to receive the training when it first began. So far, my greatest achievement at work has been my promotion to team leader last year.”
One of her biggest motivations has been her family and the way her parents have regarded her success. “Growing up, my parents were very traditional and very strict,” she explains (something we can all relate to). “I studied very hard in school and I was driven by the fact that Armenian parents are hard to please! It has definitely affected my life.” She even cites “honor” as one of her motivations, interpreting her success as a chemist as her personal way of honoring her ancestors.
Sifting through the novelty of this unique line of work, it’s obvious that Tashjian is just a hard-working woman, a wife and mother of three, who takes pride in what she does. She admits that balancing motherhood and her career are very difficult, but she gets by with the help of her family. “[My mother] is an expert, being that she had five [children] of her own!” she adds.
It’s important that her kids attend Armenian school at their church and speak Armenian at home. Like most mothers, she often finds that “sticking to the routine” becomes a habit, but she plans to one day travel to Beirut with her family to visit relatives.
From running around as a busy New Jersey mom, to analyzing fingerprints and computer hardware in a lab, it’s clear that Elizabeth Tashjian is finding a winning balance between her Armenian roots and her exciting, successful career.