Heller Profiles

The Heller School for Social Policy and Management at Brandeis University

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Ramandeep Kaur

India • Public Health Research Analyst, Research Triangle Institute’s Waltham office

PhD '15

The Road from Chandigarh to Heller

Ramandeep Kaur moves from interior design to designing health policy

Ramandeep Kaur came to the U.S. in 2006 from India with a Bachelor’s degree in architecture to study interior design. Having been raised in Chandigarh in northern India, Kaur had architecture in her blood. The city of Chandigarh was designed by well-known architect and urban designer Le Corbusier. Le Corbusier incorporated Prime Minister Nehru’s optimistic vision of post-colonial India which was intended to reflect a progressive and modern esthetic. Kaur's transition from being an architect to a Heller doctoral student interested in economics and health policy is a story that unfolds in layers.

A second place prize in a prestigious contest for an accessible bathroom design while in her master’s program at California State University at Fresno marked a turning point in Kaur’s career path. Her focus switched from designing homes, to an interest in social interiors—interiors that helped people live better. She gravitated towards assisted living and nursing homes for seniors and set out to research what interiors worked best in those facilities.

After spending two days observing in each of four assisted living facilities in the Bay Area, her vision expanded beyond the environment to the people inside. Instead of solely arriving on a plan to improve the interior, she began focusing on the care itself that patients were receiving.

She concluded that it didn’t make sense to exclusively focus on places that looked and functioned better in a physical sense, because that didn’t always track with the quality of care received. At most of the facilities she observed she was filled with an overwhelming sadness. People were sitting unattended, staring into space. The place where people were most interactive and happiest was not in the most modern and functional facility. Her attention switched from the importance of design to the importance of staff.   

She questioned her advisor about why the staff seemed uninterested in doing a better job with patients. “Why weren’t they more attuned with the elderly residents and working to make life more bearable?” she wondered.  And that’s when another turning point occurred. Her advisor pointed her towards a broader system analysis. What he said opened her eyes to the fact that these employees who cared for the patients were themselves not well-treated and had salaries that couldn’t even be considered a living wage.

This focused Kaur more on the policies and economics driving human resource decisions and farther away from interior design. Her advisor, John Capitman, a former Heller School professor, helped her adopt an understanding of the role of health care economics in social policy. He introduced Ramandeep to the Heller School and encouraged her to explore the doctoral program. So she headed east to pursue her education.

Reflecting on her choice to enter the Ph.D. program, Kaur, now nearing the end of her second year in the health policy concentration, says, “At Heller, there are so many people in so many fields, there are always faculty to help examine payments, financing, economics of health care and there is enough support to digest the material." Though it is quite distant from her original vision of working in architecture she takes her previous skill and knowledge into this next iteration of her career interest. She describes herself as “greedy to learn.”

“At previous schools, areas of study were limited in a way they are not at Heller. The choices excite me. In addition to health policy, there is opportunity to learn about behavioral health and global health policies. And I can take courses in other schools at Brandeis and within a Boston consortium, so nothing is left out.”  

Kaur says that since she had no economics background before, “every moment learning about economic theory is an ‘aha’ moment.” But then again, she is the type of person who walks into a convenience store, forgets what she came for, and immediately starts worrying about the health insurance coverage for those who work there and imagines how difficult it must be for these employees to cover their health care costs. She has found a home at Heller.

And Kaur is getting real-world experience outside the classroom as well. Through the connections of Heller professors she worked at a Waltham-based research firm to hone her research skills. This work experience will help her to achieve her goal of combining her knowledge of functional design, health economics and health policy which she hopes to use post-graduation, perhaps working in a health care research firm or health care organization.

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