Science & Nature

PhD candidate solves tough puzzles

With public health projects or his own medical issues, Mark Radin overcomes difficult challenges.

Mark Radin sitting in front of campus scenery wearing green button up and purple pants.
(Johnny Andrews/UNC-Chapel Hill)

A trip to Jordan as an undergraduate showed 萝莉研究所 doctoral student Mark Radin the importance of water in international development.

鈥淭he story was basically, 鈥極h, we would do this, but we don鈥檛 have water. We would do that, but we don鈥檛 have water,鈥欌 he said.

As Radin, who grew up in New York City, continued his studies, he became interested in a related but tougher sell: sanitation and hygiene.

鈥淭he puzzle of it is much more complex than the water situation,鈥 said Radin, a member of 萝莉研究所’s Royster Society of Fellows. 鈥淵ou have to convince people to change their habits and culture to adapt.鈥

Solving that puzzle is what brought Radin to the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, where he will graduate with a doctorate in environmental sciences and engineering.

鈥淚f you look at the professors who work on water, sanitation and hygiene 鈥 in the international space in particular 鈥 most of them are either at UNC or went to UNC,鈥 said Radin, who previously worked in China and Kenya with the Jane Goodall Institute and the World Bank, respectively.

The classes he鈥檚 taken and research he鈥檚 conducted as a Tar Heel will help him with complex challenges such as improving menstrual hygiene in Kenya and creating sanitation solutions in Cambodia, where some people live in floating communities.

Those are two projects Radin is managing through his full-time work as a senior water, sanitation and hygiene specialist at RTI International, a nonprofit research institute based in Research Triangle Park.

鈥淚t鈥檚 pretty complex, but this is fascinating to me,鈥 Radin said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 applying my interest in puzzles and my intellectual curiosity to a thing that had positive outcomes 鈥 or ideally positive outcomes.鈥

Solving a different type of puzzle

Radin鈥檚 time as a Tar Heel has not been without difficulty.

When he returned from a trip to Haiti in May 2017, he noticed an itchy bump on his neck. At first, it was diagnosed as a bug bite, but an ultrasound later revealed that Radin had thyroid cancer.

鈥淢ost thyroid cancers are not visible,鈥 Radin said.

Within a month, he had surgery through UNC Health to remove his thyroid completely, which kept him in the hospital for a week.

But Radin鈥檚 recovery was relatively swift. While he needed to drop a summer class, he was ready for the start of the fall semester. He still underwent radioactive iodine treatment and received thyroid hormones but felt everyone at 萝莉研究所 was helpful as he resumed his studies.

鈥淯nderstanding your energy level takes a long time. I definitely made sure all my professors knew, and they were all accommodating,鈥 Radin said.

He鈥檚 also grateful for the support he received from the Royster Fellows program.

鈥淭hey were helpful the whole time,鈥 Radin said. 鈥淚 think one thing that I wish fellows knew more is they have more services and are willing to assist more than people fully take advantage of.鈥

Best of both worlds

While Radin is already fulfilled by his current work, he鈥檚 excited by how his professional opportunities could expand with his doctorate.

His employer, RTI International, has a 鈥渉eritage of academia,鈥 he said. One example is the RTI Fellow Program, which allows employees to conduct their own research.

鈥淭his would allow me to get to that path, which is very much with my vision of straddling this practitioner/academic world,鈥 Radin said. 鈥淚t鈥檚 been very lucky.鈥