Overcoming Challenges: Christina Kendziorski

Christina Kendziorski, biostatician, her mom, grandmother and daughterBiostatistician Christina Kendziorski is an associate professor in the department of biostatistics and medical informatics. She reflects on how her mother and grandmother influenced her life.


As many mothers, my mother spent the night before my birth preparing for my arrival. The two bedroom apartment she shared with my grandmother in Chicago's public housing projects needed work. The windows and doors were cracked, the gas stove didn't always light, and the heater kept the place cool at best. She worked through the night filling cracks with newspaper, figuring out the finer points of oven repair, and setting up a borrowed space heater in case of emergency. I was born the next evening uneventfully, and she returned to her two full time jobs just six days later. She was 18, and determined that I would not live the life she had lived. And I haven't.


I spent most of my days with my grandmother, a loving and lovable, sensitive and simple woman who understood relatively little about the mechanics of the world in which she lived. She didn't know about insurance and salaries, never drove a car or watched the news, and looked forward to elections when she would be "chauffeured" to a voting booth in exchange for certificates to dinners at a fancy restaurant. She was a child in a grown-up body, and if she was with me today most people in my world would consider her certifiable. But in our neighborhood back then, few people had the requisite time and energy to bother with such judgments.

 Christina Kendziorski and her son

My grandmother taught me the basics, lessons often passed down through generations - be kind, be honest, love your family more than anything. She also taught me some others - kids are important, they are smartest about what matters most in life, you don't have to believe what adults tell you, and there are many hidden worlds inside our world if you look and listen. It is this independence of thought, and the creativity it enables, that had and continues to have the most profound impact on my life and work.


People who don't know me very well are often surprised to learn that I am a biostatistician, citing the unique challenges facing young girls and women studying the quantitative sciences. In reality, the greatest challenges had nothing to do with gender, and everything to do with the daily challenges that pervade the lives of those living in poverty. And for me those challenges were largely overcome by my mothers.


Today I am privileged and proud to be a professor at a world-class university dedicated to eradicating socio-economic inequities in health care and education. I am thankful for the many opportunities the University of Wisconsin provides to its faculty, students, and staff. Closer to home I am thankful to my mother for her drive and determination, my grandmother for her nimble mind, and my beautiful husband and two children, for there is no me without you three.