Candice Bridge, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Central Florida, was awarded a $324,000 grant from the National Institute of Justice to develop new forensic science techniques to aid in sexual assault investigations.
“This grant will enable us to conduct research into a unique new means of identifying perpetrators of sexual assault when traditional DNA evidence doesn’t exist,” Dr. Bridge shares. “It’s an important line of research that has become even more important as rapists attempt to elude capture by covering their DNA tracks after an assault.”
Bridge was one of the first people with a forensic Ph.D. in the country, and the first Black female to teach chemistry at Howard University and the University of Central Florida. She was voted Professor of the Year in the Howard Chemistry Department in her first year and was selected as one of Ebony magazine’s 30 Under 30 Leaders. She developed and managed the only Human Research Protection Program in the entire Department of Defense that can review and manage prisoner research.
Dr. Bridge will be working with instrumentation currently only available to the FBI and a limited number of federal and state forensic laboratories, to investigate ways to identify rapists by means other than DNA evidence. Bridge works alongside her research group of 11 students that investigate lubricants used in sexual assaults in addition to research in the areas of drugs, toxicology and gunshot residue.
“An award from the NIJ in forensic science is particularly significant as it’s the primary agency for advancing forensic science through research,” says Bridge, who earned her Ph.D. at age 25.
To pursue the innovative research, Bridge conducted preliminary research to demonstrate to NIJ that there is ample information to distinguish between lubricant samples and that a database of those distinguishing markers would be beneficial to the community. Funding from the NIJ grant will be utilized to support a postdoctoral researcher and one fellowship for a Ph.D. graduate student. The money will also cover tuition, fees, and materials in addition to providing the stipends to the students.
Bridge has also received a service contract with the Orlando Public Defender’s Office to develop a website that will educate prosecution and defense attorneys on the realities of forensic science analysis. The effort will help the Central Florida court system understand the benefits and limitations of forensic science.
Dr. Bridge has also applied for and received an In-House Award from UCF. This award provided seed money for another research idea to understand how the human body can degrade lubricants prior to forensic analysis.
Her dream of being involved in chemistry began when she was just 13-years-old and she stayed the course. She received an American Chemical Society Certified BS degree in chemistry at Howard University before obtaining a Ph.D. in analytical chemistry with a focus on forensic science at UCF. She conducted post-doctoral research at the Center for Research and Educational Optics and Lasers (CREOL) at UCF and began teaching chemistry at Howard University shortly thereafter.
She worked at the U.S. Army’s Defense Forensic Science Center, formerly known as the U.S. Army Criminal Investigative Laboratory, before taking her current position at UCF as an Assistant Professor in the Department of Chemistry.
Other major achievements for Bridge include: holding a faculty researcher position at the National Center for Forensic Science, teaching Introduction to forensic science to nearly 200 undergraduate students and instructing three graduate level courses on the Forensic Analysis of Ignitable Liquids, Forensic Analysis of Explosives and Quality Assurance in Forensic Scientists.
Read what else she has to say.
How did you determine this would be your career path?
I guess I kind of fell into it. I loved science, math, murder mystery stories and helping people. A career in forensic science allowed me to compile of these likes into one “dream job.” As I continued in this field, I realized that God was showing me that I would be a great teacher and that I actually loved teaching as well. At UCF, I am able to merge by dream job with teaching others about this field. So working in this field, everything came together.
Names three books that changed how you saw life/career that you would recommend to others?
The first book that helped me envision my career was Patricia Cornwell’s book, The Body Farm. For a 12-year-old, this helped me see how forensic science is really used in criminal investigations.
Another book was Black Faces in White Places by Jeffrey Robinson and Randall Pinkett. This book helped me maintain my sense of self in a career field in which I was truly underrepresented. As a Black female of Jamaican descent in a with a Ph.D. at 25, there weren’t many people like me in Forensic Science. I would recommend this book to anyone in any profession whether they are underrepresented or not.
The third book was The Black Academic’s Guide to Winning Tenure – Without losing Your Soul by Kerry Ann Rockquemore and Tracy Laszloffy. This book was a great preparation tool for me and put into perspective all that I would need to do to win tenure as an assistant professor. Although the book states that it is the “Black Academic’s Guide” it is really for anyone who is considering or just accepted a position in academia. It was accurate in what I would encounter and my responsibilities and provided great strategies to pursuing this career without overwhelming myself.
And if I can add one more, The Pledge: Your Master Plan for an Abundant Life by Michael Masterson. This really helped me put into perspective of what it takes to be an entrepreneur, which is a necessity as an assistant professor moving towards tenure and promotion.
Who helped you along your career path? Who are your mentors?
While working at the Defense Forensic Crime Lab, I was fortunate enough to win an award at the Black Engineer of the Year Award Conference. It really shaped my mentor relationships. I learned that every Fortune 500 company has a board of directors that have an interest in the future of the company and based on their different experiences can provide some insightful suggestions. I took this to heart and told myself, “Well if they have one, why shouldn’t I, especially as my career progresses?” From then, I developed my personal board of directors, which includes my mother who is a senior director of IT, my father who is the president of a construction company, my mentor who is the chief security officer in a Fortune 500 company, the director of my former crime lab, the director at the center I work for now and my three best friends. I always look for people in places that I am aiming to be so that I can design my career plan more accurately.