Each year the Office of Research chooses a few of our many exemplary Presidential Doctoral Research Fellows to be Spotlight Students. We interview these students to learn more about their experiences as researchers and as graduate students at USU.
Kaitlyn Spangler has a diverse educational background with experience in anthropology, global health, and geography. She is now in the Environment and Society department working with Dr. Emily Burchfield and Dr. Claudia Radel.
Q: What is your name and where are you from?
A: I’m Kaitlyn Spangler from Fleetwood, Pennsylvania.
Q: What are your interests outside of school and your research?
A: I love distance running. Most of my free time is spent running. I also really like hiking, camping, live music, and cross-country skiing. Utah is really great at any season for outdoor activities, so I try to go outdoors whenever possible.
Q: What is one fun fact about you?
A: I have hiked Mt. Kilimanjaro! I spent some time in Tanzania and Kenya for research, so my fiancé visited me and we hiked it together. It was really cool.
Your Studies and Research
Q: What are you studying? What is your research focused on?
A: I honestly didn’t have a very direct path in my studies. I was at Penn State for my undergraduate degree in anthropology, with another major in Community, Environment, and Development. I also had a global health minor, so I definitely had some broad interests. I discovered that I had a lot of interest in food security. I went on to get my masters in geography from Virginia Tech where I worked on integrated pest management. I was able to go to Nepal. I gathered a lot of qualitative data through interviews of farmers there. Now I am in the Environment and Society department focusing on sustainability in large scale agriculture.
Q: What is your favorite part of your research?
A: During my undergrad, I thought that I was interested in Nutrition, but I became really frustrated with it and realized that it wasn’t for me. I wanted to take those principles a few steps further, which led me to agriculture. Working directly with farmers is a really humbling and grounding experience and I love it. I think that sometimes the effect of agriculture is easy to forget about, so talking with them really opens my eyes to real problems that these people are facing. I love how challenging fieldwork is. I love meeting new people and asking interesting questions.
Q: What led you to Utah State?
A: The grad school opportunities. I moved here last year when I found a great faculty advisor and I’ve really liked it here. I connected with Emily Burchfield through a listserv service through the American Association of Geographers. She had an opening, so I sent in my CV and we talked from there. I really related to her approach to research. We are both interested in mixing qualitative and quantitative data in effective ways.
Q: What are your career goals?
A: I would love to work in Extension in a land-grant institution doing USDA funded research. This work interests me because it is very translational between research and practical application. But overall, I just want to be doing research. I love it.
A Typical Day
Q: Describe a typical day in the lab/field.
A: Fieldwork is a very small aspect of my work. It is challenging and tiring, but I love it. But ultimately I do not spend much time in the field. Most of my time is spent trying to figure out the statistical program R. I also spend a lot of time synthesizing big concepts, coding and transcribing interviews, and then sorting through that information to write papers.
Q: What skills or expertise do you have/are you growing through your research?
A: Data analysis through coding and other software programs, technical writing.
Q: What is your favorite thing about Logan/Utah State?
A: Access to the canyon. It’s not a big city. There is a community feeling about Logan and the University.
Q: What has been a valuable USU resource for you and your research?
A: I have really enjoyed working with the Climate Adaptation Science Program, and the PDRF Program. I also think that my department has been a great resource. Honestly, I have been lucky enough to have the option of working in a lot of different ways, so I get to experience a lot of different things, which I like.
Q: Who is your mentor?
A: I work with both Emily Burchfield and Claudia Radel.
Q: What do you like about the collaboration process?
A: I have worked with Emily for the past year and I have loved it! Sometimes it is frustrating to get started with research. You create research outlines and everyone tears them to shreds. But Emily is a fantastic mentor because she helps you learn from that. She treats me like a collaborator, so she trusts me to do my work, and expects a lot. It is nice to feel like you have a mentor you can relate to. We are both women in STEM fields, she had kids and a successful career, and I want to do that as well. You have to make sure that you and your mentor are a good fit.
Do you have any advice for new research students here at Utah State?
Research is a really great thing. It is an upfront recognition that we don’t know everything. It is a great intersection between passion and humility. So, find what you are interested in and then intentionally study it. I would say find your passions and interests, but also make sure that as you follow those interests you are being thoughtful about the way you approach them in research.