Mount Nebo, West Virginia
College:College of Sciences
Degree Program:Chemistry PhD
Research Focus:Forensic science
As a forensic scientist, Kaitlin Huffman seeks to bridge the gap between science and law. She appreciates the interdisciplinary nature of her field and enjoys that the direct impact of forensic science research can readily be seen. “The ‘why’ each project is being done is very apparent with the benefit that improved technologies or new methodologies can bring to criminal investigations, hopefully bringing some peace of mind to victims or victim families,” she says.
Huffman’s research is focused on complex DNA mixture deconvolution, or in other words, resolving and identifying the individuals whose DNA contributes to forensic biological mixtures. Standard DNA approaches attempt to resolve mixtures after DNA typing using statistical software called probabilistic genotyping; however, probative results are not always achieved. Her research focuses on these complex cases by isolating single cells from mixtures before DNA typing, thus allowing for single-source DNA profiles to be obtained for each contributor.
After receiving her Bachelor of Science in chemistry from Concord University and Master of Science in forensic science from Marshall University, Huffman chose to attend UCF for her Master of Science in chemistry. She is now working on her PhD in chemistry in the forensic science track and appreciates how the multifaceted program allows her to continue her forensic biology-based research.
Huffman’s favorite part of her program is working in the lab and participating in Dr. Jack Ballantyne’s research. “UCF and Dr. Ballantyne’s lab specifically have taught me how to conduct forensic science research since I hope to continue doing research in the future; it was the perfect environment,” she says. Learning how to optimize and design experiments as well as gaining familiarity with the publication process, has been a valuable experience for her. She is also grateful to Dr. Erin Hanson for her meaningful support throughout her academic journey at UCF.
Last year, Huffman competed in the 3MT competition and was a top 10 finalist for cutting-edge research. She also earned the UCF Graduate Deans Fellowship and was awarded the American Association of University Women (AAUW) Orlando/Winter Park Branch with the Scholarship for Women in STEM.
Her advice to other students is to ensure they choose a field they are interested in because if they don’t, it will be a struggle to complete all the work needed for a graduate degree. She also says to pick an advisor that you can work well with as that will significantly impact the quality of your time at UCF.
After graduation Huffman aims to get a job to continue conducting forensic genomics-based research, potentially with one of the federal agencies. She is also interested in working in a DNA unit for a state crime lab, though research remains her primary interest. She would like to get another dog as well, along with her two German shepherds.
- 3MT top ten finalist
- UCF Graduate Dean's Fellowship recipient
- American Association of University Women scholarship for Women in STEM recipient
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