Envisioning Research Winner and OUR Ambassador Kaitlyn Tiffany Discusses Her Research in Paleontology

Author: Marco Valencia

The Office of Undergraduate Research was given the opportunity to Zoom with one of our very own OUR ambassadors, Kaitlyn Tiffany, to discuss her experiences with undergraduate research. A fourth-year senior, Katlyn Tiffany studies fisheries, wildlife, and conservation biology with a concentration in conservation biology coursework. Tiffany most recently placed first for photography in Envisioning Research, NC State’s annual research image contest. Her research, propelled by the Office of Undergraduate Research, helped provide the winning photograph, something she was excited  to discuss.

Kaitlyns award winning photo from Envisioning Research 2020

What is your research on? How did you find your interests?

My work with Dr. Schweitzer is less [direct] research and more photography for the purposes of education. I have been working on taking pictures for a dinosaur textbook, and we have had to think about the best way to get the information across and people engaged in education. We discovered that the more pictures the better, as many individuals are visual learners and can’t imagine it until the picture is right in front of them. Overall, I am more of a photographer doing research, making sure the photos are scaled correctly and that the editing is visually appealing.

Until recently, I was also working with Dr. Paciulli on the vocalizations of aye-aye lemurs, diving deeper into the details of the research, working closely with the Duke Lemur Center.

Can you walk us through the process of the Envisioning Research contest. Why did you apply, what sparked your interest, and how did you choose a picture?

One of my friends, Kenzie Cromer, who won the Videography category this year and placed second in the photography section, entered the contest last year with some pictures and won almost every category. This inspired me to submit some of my pictures. I ended up submitting 24 images to the contest, hoping to display the multifaceted world of research that goes even into one trip.

The picture I posted is one I took two years ago when I was in Montana with Dr. Schweitzer on a paleontological prospect trip. The goal of the trip was to prospect for dinosaur bones in the Badlands, utilizing the process of tracing. When you are walking alongside the bases of the hills, you are trying to find pieces of bone that have eroded away from the hillside and have fallen down to the bottom, with the goal of tracing those unweathered, newly formed rocks back up the hill to the original specimen still in the dirt. The picture is of a smooth rounded glacial rock, which comes from the constant tumbling of the stones from the advancing and receding of the glacial sheet from the past Ice Age.

Switching gears, what sparked your interest in applying to become an OUR ambassador?

Ms. Heather King has worked with me a lot on funding my research with Dr. Paciulli on the vocalizations of aye-aye lemurs and has helped guide me as I was supposed to present at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. This helped me build a relationship with her, and over the summer she emailed me about the OUR Ambassador position saying that it would be a great opportunity and that I should apply. I am an environmental education minor, so this will help my communication skills, guiding people through the questions of research and beyond. So far, I am loving it. It’s absolutely amazing!

What advice would you give to prospective researchers, and those who are interested?

My first piece of advice to students is always talk to your professors because they are your greatest asset. NC State is a research-based institution and around 80% of professors are doing some sort of research, whether or not it is through the university, so my go to answer to anyone asking about research is talk to your professors. We are working to build a database of professors and their active research, but it might take a while to compose. There is a lot going on throughout NC State, so really the first step is to just ask someone! Professors, fellow students, TAs, and graduate students are all your resources. Use them!

If a student was interested in reaching out to an OUR ambassador, how would they go about that?

The first thing they should do is go to the NC State Office of Undergraduate Research website, and there is a tab within the website that mentions “OUR Ambassadors.” From there the information on how to set up a meeting with us is all laid out. The OUR ambassadors use the GPS platform to set up our meetings, which is convenient because it syncs up with your Google Calendar and will let you choose a time that works. If for some reason the hours that the ambassadors can meet up does not work for you, you can email Ms. King, or our associate director, Annie Carlson Welch, and we can find another time to meet. 

If you are a student who has questions regarding research around campus, or is looking for opportunities, do not hesitate to reach out and set up a meeting with one of OUR Ambassadors. They are eager to meet and help you!

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