Former FBI agent Mark Pollitt first visited UCF while working with the National Center for Forensic Science to develop standards for digital forensics. After his retirement from the FBI, he consulted as a cyber-security expert and did some adjunct teaching before accepting a full time position as a visiting professor at UCF. Shortly afterwards, he was accepted into the Texts and Technology Ph.D. program.
Leveraging his extensive experience in digital forensics and the rich tradition of digital humanities provided in the Texts and Technology doctoral program, he crafted his dissertation: The Hermeneutics of the Hard Drive: Using Narratology, Natural Language Processing, and Knowledge Management to Improve the Effectiveness of the Digital Forensic Process. Dr. Pollitt graduated from the program in 2013.
Before graduating with his Ph.D., he accepted a position as an Associate Professor of Engineering Technology at Daytona State College. While there he, along with his colleague, Dr. Philip Craiger, were awarded a $1.8 million dollar grant from the National Science Foundation to train college faculty to teach digital forensics, establish new programs for cybersecurity, and create programs to interest students in grades K–12 in pursuing careers in digital forensics. Dr. Pollitt was recently appointed a member of the National Institute of Standards and Technology’s Organization for Scientific Area Committees (OSAC) that will coordinate the development of standards and guidelines to improve the quality and consistency of work in the forensic science community.
What is your current job title and institutional/organizational affiliation?
MP: I recently retired from being a professor at the School of Engineering Technology at Daytona State. I am a part-time consultant in digital forensics and information security for Digital Evidence Professional Services, Inc., a company I started in 2003.
What is the most interesting part of your job?
MP: What I’m primarily doing now is trying to help schools develop their own digital forensics programs, and I’m also doing a lot of work with the NICE initiative (National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education) and the OSAC (Organization for Scientific Area Committees) in Forensic Science.
How do you incorporate technology into your current work?
MP: I primarily deal with the computer and the Internet, specifically digital evidence, which is probative information stored and transmitted in binary form. What we try to do in digital evidence is try to find information in digital channels. I take a criminal justice and computer science approach. I used the Texts and Technology program to develop and engage theories in how to identify the narrative in digital and multimedia evidence that we were looking at. The nexus of my dissertation is that everything we do in investigations, and everything we do as forensic scientists, is ultimately a narrative – an interlocking, interweaving narrative.
One or multiple versions of those narratives are contained in the digital evidence. I interview victims of crime and they tell me their story. I tell the story of the victims and of the perpetrator. I tell the story of the evidence and the story of how I got to that point. We are all storytellers and storytelling is inherent in what I do. The problem with digital evidence is that I can give you the answers, but I don’t know what the questions are. I have to ask: what’s the story here? What’s the moral of that story so I know what to do next?
How relevant was your course work to your current career? How has understanding the theory helped you?
MP: I came to the program because I wanted to hear somebody else’s sets of theories and their interpretations of texts. I understood I was dealing with texts and human communications. The theory and history course work was useful, but not easy. I didn’t come from a liberal arts background. I understood why I was doing it and why it was of value. Folks in my cohort knew why they were there and how they would apply it to their dissertations. Every course that I took I thought, okay, how can I take this and apply it to my dissertation? I needed to think about how each course could contribute and be useful for my dissertation.
Can you describe a recent project or publication you have worked on that was especially exciting to you or that you are especially proud of?
MP: I don’t do much publishing – mostly internal consumption documents. I give keynote speeches a few times a year for info security, digital forensics, and some academic conferences.
A recent project started five years ago; the National Academy of Science said the Forensic Science community needs work. It’s not fulfilling its potential. The government got people together and created two organizations: Organization of Scientific Advisory Committees (OSAC), which is under NIST (the National Institute of Standards and Technology), and the National Commission on Forensic Science (NCFS), which is under the Department of Justice. Initially, they included all kinds of forensic science, but left out digital evidence. Their reasoning was that it was too complex, too dynamic, and too new. I spent a good part of the last year working to get digital evidence recognized. This fall, the U.S. Attorney General agreed to include digital evidence. I was then appointed to the OSAC committee for digital evidence.
Is there any particular moment from your T&T experience that stands out as an especially valuable moment for you?
MP: The T&T program served as a springboard for me. It’s one of those things that once you go down a path, then it becomes a part of your core skill set and changes your perception of the world. One of the reasons I am doing what I do now, is because of the research I did in the T&T program. I am using the things I did in the program. I’m at a point where I can try to integrate narrative and knowledge management into the forensic process.
What was something important you learned outside of the classroom while enrolled in the program?
MP: The most memorable part for me was the candidacy exams – and I dreaded them. I spent half of my life at school. I love school. I like writing. I don’t even mind taking tests. But the notion of the candidacy exams, certainly the first exam, scared me. I didn’t feel like I had the knowledge base of some of my colleagues. At my age, trying to retain great quantities of data is difficult. I was, in one sense relieved, and in another sense enthralled when I actually sat down to do them.
I was very fortunate that I had a great committee – I interviewed some of my committee members before I joined the program and spent time working with the committee members. In the end, the candidacy exams, were for me, a shortcut to my dissertation. It really took the 50,000 foot view and brought it down to a 5-10,000 foot view. When I got done with the candidacy exams, I knew what my committee, and myself, wanted from my dissertation. They really helped me focus it, and it made writing the dissertation almost a pleasure.
What would you hope for as we aim to continually improve the T&T program?
MP: I think the biggest thing is to reach out and engage folks in different disciplines and engage them in the liberal arts. Conversely, the folks that you take from the liberal arts community need to spend more time doing technology, not for technology’s sake, but to have a level of fluency and understanding for how these technologies interface with the human element. It’s fine to talk about communications, but you really don’t understand how communications work, unless you understand how the technologies work. Just as an example, I require all of my info security and information systems students to learn how to program a little. Not because they are going to become programmers, but you don’t know how programs work and how programmers communicate, if you haven’t done it yourself.
What other advice would you give to current Texts and Technology students to help prepare them for their future careers?
MP:Make darn sure that you love what you’re doing. If you don’t love what you’re doing, find something else. Whatever career you’re going for, it may change, but if you’re doing what you love to do, you can evolve with it. None of the jobs that I’ve had in the last 20 years existed five years before I got the job, and most didn’t exist the day before I got the job. If I didn’t love what I was doing, I wouldn’t have been able to get (or do) those jobs.
Realize you are the sum of all your skill sets. The more you have and the better you integrate them, the more valuable you are. Employers want people who can get things done. They look for people who have succeeded.