DREAM JOB: ANDREW PARIS, FORENSIC ENGINEER

Our cover this month features a "Mystery Man." However, he isn't the mystery. His job is to investigate mysteries. In our special issue on dream jobs, Senior Editor Harry Goldstein demystifies our first selectee in "Andrew Paris: Electric Detective" by explaining what makes the occupation of forensic engineer so fascinating.

IEEE Member Andrew Paris investigates electrical and electronic devices suspected of catastrophic malfunction for Anderson Engineering of New Prague Inc., outside of Minneapolis. When asked by strangers what he does for a living, Paris has a brief answer that cuts right to the chase: "Have you seen the show 'CSI'?" And that gets their immediate attention.

Goldstein writes that forensic engineering isn't quite as glamorous as the television show makes crime scene investigation out to be, but for someone who loves solving technically challenging puzzles, it's just as compelling. Picking apart burnt lighting ballasts from a house fire, photographing an accident scene, questioning witnesses, writing reports, and preparing cases for trial, a forensic engineer wears many hats. "There's something new coming at you every day," Paris told Goldstein.

After graduating from North Dakota State University, in Fargo, with a B.S. in electrical engineering in 2002, Paris was further schooled by a former professor of his. "You're basically a neophyte for two years until you can start doing things on your own," he said to us. "It takes that long to go to enough scenes to understand the process and the legal issues." The apprenticeship paid off. Today, at 26, Paris is a top investigator at Anderson.

His work can range from investigating possible arson fires to occupational injuries caused by faulty equipment. They have one thing in common, though. They start out as mysteries and must be solved through rigorous field study accompanied by thorough research back at the office, not unlike what is depicted in the hit TV show. It's a real-world comparison he obviously gets a big kick from, along with the opportunity to uncover the truth.

"It's satisfying to know that you've helped people who have been wronged and that you're part of ensuring that products are safe," Paris told Goldstein with pride. "If nobody did anything about it, what incentive would there be to make a safer product?"

That's enough of an explanation for us.

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