Up Close: Nadja S. Compo

At the College of Arts, Sciences & Education, we’re training the next generation of changemakers. Our faculty and students are constantly making new discoveries which lead to new publications and solutions. We took a closer look at not only the research, but the people who make it all happen. This is one in a series we’ve titled, Up Close.

Imagine the quintessential TV investigative interview: a bright light shining in the face of a nervous witness. Ever wonder how these interviews actually happen off-screen? Or who studies interview techniques to improve them?

Dr. Nadja S. Compo

Legal psychologists like Nadja S. Compo and her Investigative Interviewing Lab conduct research on eye-witness memory, suspect interrogation, deception detection, investigative interviewing, line-up identifications and jury decision-making.

Drawn to the quality of research and faculty, Compo came to Miami from Germany in 2000 for a two-year postdoctoral fellowship with Janat Parker and Ronald Fisher.

“FIU has one of the best legal psychology PhD programs in the world,” she explained. “It was known even at that time for the quality of research and for their faculty.”

Before kicking off her professional career at FIU, Compo’s passion for legal psychology began a few states further west in the lone star state. In 1995, she visited the University of Texas in El Paso for an internship with Roy Malpass. Unbeknownst to her, this research experience would be one of her first steps toward where she is today.

“I was able to join [Malpass’] lab for a year and learn about research, line-ups and eye-witness memory and identification. It was also my first stint in the U.S., and I fell in love with all of it. He had one of the strongest impacts on me. [He and] my two post-doctoral advisors Fisher and Parker…it was obvious to me that this was exactly what I wanted to do.”

Fast-forward to 2005, and Compo was hired as an assistant professor with FIU’s Legal Psychology Program, achieving what she had set out to do years before. She then went on to become the co-director of the program, and a tenured professor in 2012.

Throughout her journey, Compo has learned invaluable lessons that shaped her as a scientist, mentor and leader. Among the most important, is learning to create and maintain a balanced work environment.

“I don’t like that distinction [of a work life] because it makes it sound like work shouldn’t be part of life, but it’s important to create a life or a work environment that you don’t have to escape from constantly or relax from.”

Nadja Compo
Photo courtesy Nadja Schreiber Compo

Beyond applying it to her own life, Compo has passed this lesson on to her students, whom she spends most of her time mentoring. From undergraduate to graduate students, each facing their unique sets of challenges, she takes pride in guiding all of her students toward fulfilling lives and careers.

“I enjoy being surrounded by and talking to smart, committed, dedicated students all day,” Compo explains. “I get to help them disentangle what they really like beyond what they’re being told they should like.”

Naturally, some of Compo’s favorite memories from her career involve her students too.

“One of my favorite memories is being afforded the opportunity to collaborate with the Miami-Dade Forensics Bureau, which is the real CSI Miami, to do research. Being able to take our research knowledge out of the lab and into the field with my entire Wrongful Conviction class and actually having one of our seminars at the crime lab… [we had] this perfect moment of research-practitioner collaboration.”

Looking forward, Compo hopes to create a legacy through the students that have become such a significant and meaningful part of her day to day life and her career.

“I’d like to be remembered for training the next generation of happy critically thinking and well-trained legal psychologists. Wherever that may take them (academia or applied), just providing a great experience for them here in this program and at FIU.”