Kate Smith, CLS Survey Manager, sadly passed away unexpectedly on 2 September 2023. Kate was the Centre’s longest serving member of staff and devoted her highly successful career to the development of longitudinal cohort studies, and in particular to the Millennium Cohort Study.
Kate first became involved in the cohort studies in 1989, joining the Social Science Research Unit at City University to work on the National Child Development Study (NCDS) and the 1970 British Cohort Study (BCS70). She played an instrumental role in the design and development of the NCDS Age 33 survey, which took place in 1991 and the BCS70 Age 26 survey in 1996. During this time, Kate also made extensive use of the data collected in the studies to conduct influential research, particularly in the areas of parenting and families, co-authoring a flagship publication on experiences of step-parenting in the 1990s, among other important scientific contributions.
Kate moved with the cohort studies to the Centre for Longitudinal Studies at the Institute of Education in the late 1990s and soon after became the survey manager for the Millennium Cohort Study (MCS) when it was initiated in 2000. She played a central role in the design and implementation of the first survey when participants were just 9 months old and remained at the heart of the study for the next 23 years, following study members through to early adulthood. Her unsurpassed long-standing commitment to MCS has had a strong and enduring influence on the study.
Kate placed enormous value on the contributions of each and every participant, and was ever mindful of their kindness in sharing their time and personal stories with the study. Her appreciation of their input greatly shaped her approach, where she strove to enhance participants’ experiences with the study and nurture their long-term involvement.
She was dedicated to giving young people a voice. MCS children completed assessments from age 3 and their own questionnaires from age 7. It broke new ground to directly involve participants in a large-scale longitudinal study from such a young age, and Kate was instrumental in driving forward this innovation. Alongside, she contributed to the development of ethical best practice in involving children and young people in research. Kate engaged very closely with colleagues internationally who were developing new turn of the century cohorts, and through these collaborations, many of the protocols Kate developed for surveying MCS participants were adopted in other longitudinal studies around the world too.
Kate’s expertise in questionnaire design has left a strong and lasting mark on the MCS. In particular the study’s strong focus on parenting and family relationships was influenced significantly by the findings from Kate’s earlier research. Kate was at the centre of questionnaire development in MCS from the 9 month survey onwards. She was known for her forthright opinions on which questions should be included and how they should be asked, reflecting her principled approach to balancing strong scientific rigour against ensuring a positive and valuable individual experience of taking part in MCS.
She was committed to engaging with and ‘giving back’ to participants, valuing the importance of informing them of findings from the study, contributing to countless written feedback leaflets and letters over the years.
Kate’s extraordinary historical and contemporaneous knowledge of MCS was unrivalled. Colleagues and hundreds of researchers from far and wide drew on her unique wisdom, which she so willingly and generously shared.
The MCS Age 23 Survey will soon be launched. It represents a major milestone for the study, and the first time participants will be approached independently as adults. Kate was embracing this new phase of the study with excitement and energy, providing exceptional input into its development right through to the time of her passing.
Of course we remember Kate not just for her professional contributions to the cohort studies but as a treasured colleague and dear friend to many. Kate was warm, compassionate and would always lend an ear. Her support and great sense of humour helped us ride through challenging times on so many occasions. She took a genuine interest in the lives of others, and a great many of us have shared the big milestones in our lives, both good and bad, with Kate who in turn shared many stories with us. It was clear to everyone who knew her that Kate’s husband, daughter and wider family meant the world to her. She especially cherished being a mother to her adored Lily, of whom she was immensely proud.
The contribution Kate has made to the success of MCS and the other CLS cohorts cannot be over-stated. We are confident that the cohorts have a bright future, and although it saddens us greatly that Kate won’t be with us to share these successes with us, we will always remember that they will be in no small part based on the work of our wonderful colleague and friend over so many years.