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Brenda Betancourt: Alumna

Brenda Betancourt

Who/what inspired to choose statistics?

Finding statistics was a lucky strike for me. I knew I liked math in high school but I didn’t know studying statistics was a “thing.” When I was looking for an undergraduate program in Colombia I found a program in statistics and I decided that it was the perfect combination of mathematics and applications for me. Since then, I just followed the path to the PhD

Tell us a bit about your research during your time at UC Santa Cruz.

My research at UC Santa Cruz was focused on models for network data using Bayesian statistics. I learned a lot of modeling and data analysis tools during my research training at UCSC that have allowed me to continue working on research in this area as well as other interesting practical problems that require the development of novel statistical methodology and efficient computational algorithms.

Where are you now and what are you up to?

In August of this year I started an Assistant Professor position at the University of Florida in Gainesville. Previous to that I was a postdoctoral researcher at Duke University for 3 years. After my PhD, I continued working on Bayesian methods applied to networks, entity resolution and other applications that include official statistics,  health and human rights.

How did your experience in the Baskin School of Engineering prepare you for your future?

From learning English (I was not fluent when I started my PhD)  to receiving an outstanding formation in Bayesian Statistics, my time at Baskin Engineering was a life-changing experience for me. I never thought it was possible for someone with my background to follow an academic path in the U.S. but thanks to the excellent mentoring and education I received at UCSC I have had many opportunities that put me in the position I am today with all the necessary tools to succeed.

What was your favorite course as a student in the Baskin School of Engineering and why?

The Bayesian Statistical Modeling class was my favorite  because it provides the core tools of Bayesian methodology that are later needed in more specialized classes such as Time Series Analysis and  Spatial Statistics.

Who were the most influential professors for you and why?

My PhD advisor, Abel Rodríguez, was and still is the most influential professor for me. In addition to being excellent in statistics and great to work with, he also played a key role in my decision to pursue an academic career by providing mentoring and support during the whole process.

What was the best thing about being a student in the Baskin School of Engineering?

The best thing was that the school is composed of a diverse group of students and faculty that made the adaptation and the PhD process easier for me. The school has a great environment that encourages learning  without toxic competitiveness and people are friendly and open minded. During my time at UCSC I made very good friends that I consider friends for life. I am very grateful for that as well as the professional opportunities it has brought me.

What did you do for fun while at UC Santa Cruz?

I love hiking! Campus and the surrounding areas are absolutely beautiful and great for hiking.

What do you miss most about Santa Cruz?

I miss the amazing view of the Monterey Bay and the redwood forest! Santa Cruz is also a very peaceful and safe place to live.

What advice do you have for current statistics grad students?

Keep working hard but also enjoy your time there and take advantage of the beauty of the place. Looking back I wish I had enjoyed my time there more!

Applied Mathematics and Statistics (2015)
Degree Program: 
Ph.D., Applied Mathematics and Statistics
Place of Birth: 
Bogotá, Colombia
Undergraduate Institution: 
Universidad Nacional de Colombia
Graduate Institution: 
UC Santa Cruz
Abel Rodríguez