Under the Microscope with Student Ambassador Martin MacStudy

Martin MacStudy’s aspirational path for a career in forensic science is fairly non-traditional, as it began with a summer camp while he was in middle school. What started as an enrichment camp learning the basics of matching footwear impressions has now become a pursuit for a master’s degree in forensic science ten years later. Ever since that summer class, Martin has had an innate feeling that forensic science is my calling. Having participated in multiple research projects at this point in his academic career, he is well aware of the demands a career in science entails. Personally, the goal has never been to achieve recognition; it has been to get the job done correctly and thoroughly. Martin thinks this mentality has been recognized by his supervisors and the Principal Investigators he’s worked for, as he’s earned a reputation of being a “workhorse” when a task for a project needs to be completed. Martin thinks this determination and drive pairs nicely with a career in forensic science, as it is rare that experiments work out for you on a first attempt. Therefore, having a strong work ethic, coupled with a positive attitude, makes him feel a career in forensic science is for him.


Martin’s scientific focal area is forensic biology. Currently, he is working on a project that aims to use mitochondrial DNA from 19th century juvenile bones to provide the biogeographic ancestry for these individuals. These remains are presumed to be from enslaved individuals whose graves were robbed for anatomical demonstrations at a medical college. The discovery and removal of these remains were improperly handled, resulting in a massive commingling of bones. This research would offer dignity to these individuals, who had been denied such in life and death. This current project has taught him a plethora of invaluable laboratory skills that he wants to carry with him to his future career post-graduation. Martin aspires to work in a forensic laboratory, either public or private, and someday be a full forensic DNA analyst. The scientific area of focus he has chosen, both in the classroom and in the laboratory, have given him the knowledge and skills to achieve my aspirations.


We caught up with Marty and asked him to tell us a little more about himself, including how he became interested in forensic science, what he plans to do after graduation, and what he’s most looking forward to at ISHI this year.

What are your specific areas of interest within forensic DNA analysis?

The specific area of forensic DNA analysis that has caught my interest is missing person identification. I was born in 2001 in New Jersey, an hour train ride away from New York City. Growing up, I heard countless retellings of where family members were during the terrorist attacks on September 11th. As I got older, I learned about all the methods used to reassociate the victims’ remains, including the use of DNA analysis. While this was not what propelled me to a career in forensic science, it has helped me hone in on an area of interest. This interest has been reaffirmed through the work I am currently doing. While I am not working directly on the identification of missing individuals, my research is one piece in a larger effort to reassociate an assemblage of commingled human remains.

What are some of the latest developments or technologies in forensic science that excite you the most?

One recent technology in forensic science that I am interested in is next-generation sequencing. The fact that so much can happen on such a small chip seems impossible, yet it still being a reality is something that will never cease to amaze me. Additionally, I had learned about this technology in a synthetic biology class I took, having no idea this can be used in forensic science. When I learned about it again in my forensic science coursework, I was impressed all over again.

Who in the field of forensic science do you most admire and why?

I most admire Dr. Alec J. Jeffreys, as he was the first one to use DNA fingerprinting to aid a criminal investigation. I remember learning about him and this case in my introductory forensic classes, and being struck by all the shocking revelations that were made possible with this use of DNA analysis. It is because of him that there is a whole field of forensic science that I get to learn about and pursue a career in.

What's the most interesting thing you've learned so far in your forensic science studies?

One of the most interesting things I have learned about throughout my education in forensic science is the process of mixture deconvolution. Mixture profiles are one of the areas of trouble, confusion, and frustration for DNA analysts. However, working through the process of mixture interpretation, it often feels like a giant puzzle. It takes a lot of patience and focus to deconvolute a mixed profile, so that is something that has stuck with me the most.

How do you handle stress or pressure, especially when dealing with challenging studies or research?

I am extremely familiar with stress and pressure as a graduate student. When the assignments and deadlines start to pile onto one another, I always tell myself: “It will get done; it always gets done”. While this has enabled procrastination at times, it also is a way of telling myself that I have gotten through stressful times before, and I will get through them again. It reminds me that, while it feels insurmountable, a step back makes the whole ordeal more manageable.

What's one thing you're hoping to learn from your experience as a Student Ambassador?

As a Student Ambassador, I am hoping to gain the skill of obtaining new information and the ability to relay that to larger audiences. Most of my experience in my forensic science studies thus far has been learning information and applying it to assignments or exams. However, there are many people, including people I know personally, who’s extent of knowledge about forensic science starts and ends with true crime podcasts, documentaries, and media. As a Student Ambassador, I look forward to using my social media platforms to highlight what a daily experience may truly be for a forensic scientist.

What are your aspirations for the future after completing your education?

I am still somewhat uncertain about what I want to do once I have completed my Master’s program. I contemplate pursuing a Ph.D. degree one moment, then have the urge to get into casework the next. Having had experience with the laboratory techniques required for casework, I am leaning towards applying to jobs at the state or federal level completing casework. My experience as a tutor and a teaching assistant has inspired me to teach, as well. So, once I have more hands-on experience, I would want to try teaching a course at a university as an affiliate faculty.