More info:

BC Cancer Agency



Dr. John Spinelli

M.Sc., SFU Statistics 1981

Ph.D., SFU Statistics 1994


Department Head of Cancer Control Research, BC Cancer Agency


My professional career began with my graduation from Simon Fraser University in 1981 with my MSc. in Statistics. Even before graduating, I started working at the BC Cancer Agency as a statistician. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to work with fantastic researchers, and eventually, was given the opportunity to lead research studies. It was then that cancer epidemiology became my passion.

SFU kept calling though, and I soon returned to do my PhD while working full-time. Following graduation, I spent the next four years at UBC (located at St. Paul’s Hospital), and in 1999 returned to the BCCA as a Senior Scientist while also maintaining a Faculty position at UBC. I became Head of the Department of Cancer Control Research at BCCA in 2010. I’ve never really left SFU though, as I still serve on thesis committees and collaborate with several of the outstanding researchers at the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Sciences.

My research interests:

Over the years, I been fortunate enough to be able to have my research make an impact on public health as I’ve been involved in advocating for compensation for workers exposed to carcinogens, and an advocate to have carcinogenic pesticides eliminated from the environment. In the last few years, much of my effort has been in the development and maintenance of the BC Generations Project which is the largest health study ever conducted in British Columbia, and will be a legacy that will enable research in the causes and early detection of chronic diseases for many years to come.

I am very proud to have received an SFU Outstanding Alumni Award for Academic Achievement in 2013.



Why did you choose to go to SFU?

I went to high school in the US, and had been accepted to several top US universities. However, I wanted to come to Vancouver to do my university studies. I initially applied to UBC, but wasn’t accepted because, at that time, UBC didn’t consider a US education to be equivalent to that of Canada and other Commonwealth countries. SFU, living up to its reputation as a progressive institution of higher learning did not have such crazy rules, and I have never regretted the choice to attend SFU.

Where did you spend the most amount of time on campus?

The library was my home away from home for much of my undergraduate years.

What is your favourite memory from your time at SFU?

My favorite memory is having class inside the Quadrangle in the sunshine.

Who was your favourite SFU professor and why?

I was lucky enough to take a statistics course from Dr. Michael Stephens when I was an undergraduate. At that time, I was a psychology major, but after that course, I knew statistics was my future. I changed my major to mathematics, and went on to do graduate degrees at SFU with Michael as my supervisor.

How has your SFU degree impacted your career?

It has impacted my career in every way; from providing me with the knowledge and skills for a successful career, to instilling a lifelong love of learning.

What is your favourite SFU snow story?

Walking down the hill late at night, because the university had closed (and buses stopped running) due to the snow.

If you could give advice to students today, what would you tell them?

Find a subject you are both good at, and passionate for, and follow your passion.

What is the one thing about SFU that must not change?

Its  flexibility and willingness to adapt to new opportunities. (I guess that’s two things.)