Post-Defense Interview: Tiffany Raber

A research project or thesis exploring a question related to the field of biomedical visualization is one aspect of completing a Masters in Biomedical Visualization here at UIC. This original investigation enables greater insight into scholarship, understanding of the research process, and emphasizes original and critical thinking. Graduate students complete a written proposal, final research or thesis paper, give a final oral presentation and defense which all enable a student to develop advanced communication skills. This year, we are sitting down with our graduate students after their final defense for a quick chat about them and their research. This week, Tiffany Raber defended her project research, “An Interactive Program Incorporating 3D Models and 2D Illustrations for Enhanced Prostate MRI Training.”


Tiffany Raber

Taking a page from, how would you describe your research in one sentence?

Tiffany: I basically created a place for medical students and residents to play with prostates!

What inspired or led to your research project?

Choosing a research project was a daunting process for me, as it determined what a large part of my next year and a half would be dedicated to. I investigated many possibilities, but I can honestly say that Dr. Oto, my content expert, inspired me to take on this research project. He is doing some fascinating work to improve diagnoses of prostate cancer through MRI, and his enthusiasm for the positive impact our project could make in higher education excited me to be on his team.

You graduated from Ball State with majors in Biology and Drawing, specifically illustration, correct? What drew you towards a research project focusing on interactivity rather than illustration?

I chose to attempt and interactive research project before even knowing if I would be successful at developing or scripting in game engines, which sounds crazy. Coming into this program, traditional illustration was all that I knew. Once BVIS introduced me to all of the different possibilities to visually communicating science, I was determined to expand my skillset. In fact, my favorite thing about this master’s program is that our faculty train us to never be fearful of tackling a new concept, skill, or program.

How did you meet Dr. Oto? Was there a connection from faculty at UIC or did you have a previous interest in prostate cancer?

Our program director, John Daugherty, provides us an awesome opportunity of taking a class that introduces us to possible research projects and/ or connections our first semester.  Dr. Oto at The University of Chicago was actually our first visit.  

That seems like a daunting skill set to have to undertake in such a short time, especially while balancing other coursework. Would you consider yourself a risk-taker or confident in your ability to pick skills up as needed? How did you manage your time between research, classes and your other activities?

I’ll say this over and over again.  This program equips every single student the skills to learn quickly and explore anything and everything. I think I am sometimes a risk taker, but it is all a part of a bigger picture that I am striving for. I love what I do, so picking up a new skill was yet another fun adventure to begin.

As for balancing all of the responsibilities of research, grad school and life; that is the challenge.  My research advisor, Leah Lebowicz , really helped me improve my time management skills. I am a person of detail and structure, so once my schedule was mapped out each week, I felt confident that I achieve the goals in front of me.  

If you could hang out with one person, living or dead, who would that be? What would you do?

Anybody that knows me can answer this. It would obviously be Kanye West. We would probably meet in the Southside of Chicago and talk about his art, music, experiences, struggles, and well… himself.  I wouldn’t mind though because, “I love (Kanye) like Kanye loves Kanye.”

What do you think is the biggest challenge in radiology education?

Currently, I think the biggest challenge in teaching radiology is finding an efficient and cost effective way at implementing the curriculum within medical education that is clinically applicable.

Can you talk more about the lack of focus in radiology education that you discussed in your defense?

Medical institutions are struggling to incorporate MRI training into their curriculum. This is detrimental to all diagnostics, not just prostate cancer. Based on my research, I found that the main reason for the lack in radiology education is due to the extra time and labor from already stretched physicians. In addition, MRI education comes at a very high monetary price, leaving few universities with access to the facilities they would see in their everyday clinical experience.

What was the biggest challenge you faced in creating this project?

This is a tough question. I recall two different obstacles, in different points within my research, that I found especially difficult to overcome. During the preproduction phase of research, learning prostate anatomy and pathology within magnetic resonance imaging at an appropriate level was challenging. On the production side, becoming comfortable with Unity and C# scripting was an intimidating learning curve. It took months to really understand the logic behind the development process, but once I did, it all came full circle and clicked.  

If you had to start over from scratch, is there anything you would have done differently?

Just like with any research, it can always be improved and expanded upon. I think if I could have done anything differently, it would have been to dive into the production phase earlier to give myself time to play and explore with different programs.

Is there anything I haven’t asked that you wish I would of? What would the answer be?

You have asked some fantastic questions. I think if I could add anything to this interview, it would just be to recognize my research team. Without them, this research would not exist. My research advisor, Leah Lebowicz, couldn’t have been a better mentor and friend. She led me in all of the right directions and pushed me as a researcher and person. My content expert, Dr. Aytekin Oto, has showed so much enthusiasm and dedication toward this project. His time and commitment were invaluable to the credibility in my research. Lastly, both Kevin Brennan (tech genius) and Donna Hughes (design expert) played a huge role in the success of this research. My team made this experience unforgettable and I will forever be appreciative that they believed in me.



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