Exploring Research in Public Policy

– written by Dalia Kaakour, Public Policy student

Research. Research. Research. Coming to UNC, I had been inundated with pamphlets urging me to explore my curiosities, and had spent hours trying to understand things like my older brother’s complicated research — it was something related to biophysics…I think. But despite my limited understanding of what “research” really meant, I was convinced that I would end up doing it, because frankly, it seemed like an important thing to do at a huge research institution like UNC.

Not long after arriving at, I found myself applying to labs, but without any real reason for why I wanted these positions. I realized that I wasn’t allowing my interests and passions to drive my research goals; I wasn’t searching with any direction or specific purpose.

After three years of reflection, exploration and, of course, a little luck, I’m happy to announce that I’ve finally found my niche in research. I reconciled my interests in the fields of public policy and medicine, independently designing and taking on a project examining “Physicians’ End-of-Life Healthcare Decision-Making,” as my Senior Honors Thesis. If you think the title sounds like a mouthful, just imagine explaining it to your friends and family!

Dalia at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research

Dalia at the 2015 Celebration of Undergraduate Research

The topic stems from my interest in healthcare spending. Not only do we as Americans spend way more than we have, but we undergo treatments and procedures that we don’t really even want. This is particularly pertinent to end-of-life care. The reality is that we spend an incredibly large amount of money on health care expenditures and often undergo unwanted treatments in the last days or weeks of our lives.

Not only does this put a strain on our finances as individuals, but it also puts pressure on our domestic healthcare system as a whole. Looking at this issue through the lens of doctors and what they would choose for their own end-of-life healthcare measures, I am examining the discordance between physicians and their patients. My hope is to draw conclusions as to what can be done to improve communication while still respecting patient desires and the authority of physicians, all the while retaining efficiency in end-of-life care.

Overall, my research project within the Department of Public Policy has been one of the highlights of my academic career. I went from an inexperienced undergraduate to a Principal Investigator — skipping over the Research Assistant step and everything else in between, which may not be the traditional way of doing things. However, everyone has a different path to reach their ends, and the best advice I can give is that it is never too late to find your passions, whether it is through research or elsewhere in life. I now finally understand what it means to “research” — not in its textbook definition, but more importantly in what it means to me as a student, and the continued role that I plan for it to have in my future career and life.