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Speaking from Experience

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“Biostatistics is a highly collaborative discipline, so it’s particularly beneficial to train at a research powerhouse like UCLA.” —Dr. Kate Crespi

KATE CRESPI (MS ’91, PHD ’04) believes the most important quality for any academic in mentoring students is empathy. And as someone who trained in the Fielding School’s Department of Biostatistics before joining the department’s faculty, where she is now professor in residence, Crespi can easily identify with her students’ experiences.

Crespi completed her MS in FSPH’s Department of Environmental Health Sciences, then spent five years working at the South Coast Air Quality Management District. While there, she developed quantitative health-risk assessments associated with air pollution exposures, using both computer simulations and statistical methods. Fascinated by the work, Crespi decided to return to the Fielding School for a PhD in biostatistics.

“Ever since I was a kid, math was my favorite subject, but not for its own sake; I was interested in using statistics to advance public health,” Crespi explains. As she progressed through her training — including a postdoctoral fellowship supported by the biostatistics department’s HIV/AIDS training grant — Crespi concluded that she didn’t want to leave academia. “I have experience working for the government and in the private sector, but what I love most is doing research and mentoring students,” she says.

Dr. Sudipto Banerjee, chair of the Fielding School’s Department of Biostatistics, considers Crespi one of his department’s most valued trainers. “As an active researcher on many high-profile projects in FSPH and the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA, she is instrumental in bringing graduate students onto scientific projects,” Banerjee explains. “Working with Dr. Crespi has considerably enhanced the research experience of many of our students.”

During her own training, Crespi says, she grew to appreciate both the quality of the program’s faculty and the wide-ranging research opportunities within and outside of the Fielding School. “Biostatistics is a highly collaborative discipline, so it’s particularly beneficial to train at a research powerhouse like UCLA,” she says. Many of the connections Crespi forged during her training have endured through her faculty tenure. Most notably, as a postdoctoral scholar Crespi began collaborating with researchers in the FSPH-based Center for Cancer Prevention and Control Research, where she is now the lead biostatistician.

Crespi has amassed more than 100 peer-reviewed publications and has served as principal investigator or co-investigator on more than 40 funded studies covering major public health issues such as cancer, obesity and infectious diseases. But nothing takes a back seat to her work with FSPH students. “I know how stressful graduate school can be,” she says. “I try to be supportive, maintain a positive outlook, and allow students to feel a sense of ownership of their work, while making sure they understand that science has to be conducted with a high level of integrity and attention to detail. It’s also easy for doctoral students to get caught up in the minutiae of their dissertation. I want to make sure my students don’t lose sight of the big-picture impact of their work.”