A Summer of Statistics and Sailing

Hello! It’s great to be back at Mizzou and in the swing of things in my second year. This past summer, I spent 11 weeks conducting research at the Center for Statistics and Applications in Forensic Evidence (CSAFE) at Iowa State University. CSAFE is a research partnership between five universities (Iowa State University, University of Virginia, University of California-Irvine, Carnegie Mellon University, and Duke Law School) that aims to improve the accuracy of forensic science via statistically sound applications. A cool thing about CSAFE is that all of their source code and software packages are free and accessible to the general public in an effort to raise awareness of their research endeavors.

To start off my research internship, I attended the CSAFE All Hands Meeting. This is an annual meeting between all five universities during which researchers update each other on developments in their current research projects and decide in which direction to head. At this meeting, I ran into a Purdue Stamps Scholar alum who is currently pursuing her PhD at Carnegie Mellon—what a small world!

Molly McDermott and Mikaela Meyer (Purdue Stamps Alum) at the CSAFE All Hands Meeting.

Mikaela Meyer (Purdue Stamps Alum) and me at the CSAFE All Hands Meeting.

The project I worked on throughout the summer was affectionately referred to as the “bullet project.” The aim of this project is to develop an algorithm that determines the likelihood of a match between two bullet scans. Currently, in order to determine a match, forensic examiners visually analyze bullets under a microscope and subjectively reach their conclusions due to obvious visual indicators. CSAFE’s goal is to replace this subjective process with an objective algorithm that determines the likelihood of a match based on certain features extracted from the bullet scans. While the algorithm has not reached the level of perfection needed for publication yet, my experience at CSAFE was a great introduction to the unpredictable world of research. Not only did I gain valuable programming, data cleaning, data analysis, and visualization experience, I also had the opportunity to use my passion for data to help increase the accuracy of the forensic science field. All in all, I am incredibly grateful for the experiences I had and skills I gained at CSAFE this summer.

Molly McDermott presenting culminating research poster at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium at Iowa State University.

Presenting my culminating research poster at the Summer Undergraduate Research Symposium at Iowa State University.

To cap off my summer, I embarked on the Stamps Scholar Outward Bound sailing trip. I was one of eight Stamps Scholars from universities around the nation who sailed off the coast of Maine for a week–cooking, sleeping, and living together on a 30-foot boat. Not only did I learn fancy knot-tying skills, sailing terminology, and navigation techniques during this short week, I also joined a community of leaders with the drive and passion to change the world. The other scholars and I grew incredibly close during this expedition, persevering through the (literal) storms and 6:00 am ocean dips to bask in the stunning sunsets at night as we shared our high “tide” and low “tide” of the day. This experience proved to be far more difficult than I imagined but so incredibly worth it in the end. I stepped back onto mainland with a renewed sense of resilience, initiative, and gratitude. After such an eventful summer, I can’t wait to see what my sophomore year holds for me as a Stamps Scholar at Mizzou!

Molly McDermott holding the navigation charts on sailboat

Holding the navigation charts during morning debrief.

Molly McDermott and other students holding flag on sailboat

The whole crew with our hand drawn community flag.

Molly McDermott holding onto mast of sailboat

Come sail away with me!


– Molly McDermott, Stamps Scholar Class of 2022