March 16, 2023

Dr. Julie Kafka

Dr. Julie Kafka

Julie Kafka, PhD, MPH, a recent doctoral graduate in health behavior from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health, has been named one of four 2023 recipients of the annual Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Awards. This award is given by The Graduate School at UNC-Chapel Hill to recognize four doctoral candidates or recent doctoral graduates for creating exceptional dissertations in each of the following fields: biological and life sciences; humanities and fine arts; mathematics, physical sciences and engineering; and social sciences.

“This year’s award recipients are emblematic of graduate students whose creation of new knowledge will transform their fields and contribute to solving the most vexing challenges of our day,” Beth Mayer-Davis, PhD, dean of The Graduate School and Cary C. Boshamer Distinguished Professor of nutrition and medicine, said. “I’m thrilled to recognize these hard-working and dedicated students. Their exciting and diverse areas of their dissertation research are a triumph, and we are grateful for these students’ curiosity and how they’ve excelled in graduate school.”

In addition to Kafka, the 2023 recipients of the Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award include Jocelyn Burney ‘14, Qiang Zhang (‘21 PhD) and Cathy Spangler ‘16 (‘22 PhD).

“Being in an abusive romantic relationship can increase a person’s risk for depression and suicidal thoughts; however, it is unclear how often intimate partner violence (IPV) is a contributing factor for suicide,” Kafka explained. “I developed a supervised machine learning tool using natural language processing to record information about IPV exposure prior to suicide based on text from death investigation reports from a national suicide mortality data system. Findings highlight the value of applying data science methods to public health research while showcasing the need to address the overlapping risks for self-directed violence and interpersonal harm.”

Kafka and her fellow recipients will be honored at The Graduate School’s annual recognition ceremony, to be held in mid-April 2023.

Learn more about The Graduate School’s 2023 Dean’s Distinguished Dissertation Award recipients.

Contact the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at

Visit our communications and marketing team page.
Contact with any media inquiries or general questions.

Communications and Marketing Office
125 Rosenau Hall
CB #7400
135 Dauer Drive
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-7400