PUB HLTH 7106HO - Epidemiological Research Methods

Teaching Hospitals - Semester 2 - 2014

This course focuses on conceptual and practical issues in the design, interpretation and appraisal of epidemiological research. There is a particular emphasis on improving causal inference through design and analysis. Content builds on the introductory courses in epidemiology and biostatistics. Where appropriate practical and tutorial sessions will provide hands-on experience with the concepts and techniques discussed in lectures.

  • General Course Information
    Course Details
    Course Code PUB HLTH 7106HO
    Course Epidemiological Research Methods
    Coordinating Unit Public Health
    Term Semester 2
    Level Postgraduate Coursework
    Location/s Teaching Hospitals
    Units 3
    Contact 1 x 2 hour lectures, 1 x 1 hour tutorial
    Prerequisites PUB HLTH 7075HO or PUB HLTH 7074 at credit level or higher
    Assumed Knowledge Basic epidemiology and biostatistics
    Restrictions Available to Grad Cert, Grad Dip, MPH students only
    Course Description This course focuses on conceptual and practical issues in the design, interpretation and appraisal of epidemiological research. There is a particular emphasis on improving causal inference through design and analysis. Content builds on the introductory courses in epidemiology and biostatistics. Where appropriate practical and tutorial sessions will provide hands-on experience with the concepts and techniques discussed in lectures.
    Course Staff

    Course Coordinator: Professor John Lynch

    Course Coordinator: John Lynch
    Phone: +61 8313 6541
    Location: Level 7, 178 North Terrace

    Learning and Teaching Team
    Phone: +61 8313 2128
    Location: Level 7, 178 North Terrace
    Course Timetable

    The full timetable of all activities for this course can be accessed from Course Planner.

  • Learning Outcomes
    Course Learning Outcomes
    1 Understand, describe and apply the potential outcomes model of causation.
    2 Illustrate a casual model using Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAG).
    3 Use a DAGs to describe confounding, selection and measurement error as sources of bias, and draw a DAG describing their own research question.
    4 Describe and apply appropriate methods to control confounding.
    5 Interpret results of a multivariable epidemiological analysys.
    6 Apply the Graphical Assessment Tool for Epidemiology to evaluate a published study.
    7 Critically appraise various study designs for casual inference.
    8 Apply the technologies and approaches to evidence appraisal, synthesis and contributions to evidence hierarchies.
    University Graduate Attributes

    This course will provide students with an opportunity to develop the Graduate Attribute(s) specified below:

    University Graduate Attribute Course Learning Outcome(s)
    Knowledge and understanding of the content and techniques of a chosen discipline at advanced levels that are internationally recognised. 1-8
    The ability to locate, analyse, evaluate and synthesise information from a wide variety of sources in a planned and timely manner. 7, 8
    An ability to apply effective, creative and innovative solutions, both independently and cooperatively, to current and future problems. 2-4
    Skills of a high order in interpersonal understanding, teamwork and communication. 2-4
    A proficiency in the appropriate use of contemporary technologies. 1-8
    A commitment to continuous learning and the capacity to maintain intellectual curiosity throughout life. 1-8
    An awareness of ethical, social and cultural issues within a global context and their importance in the exercise of professional skills and responsibilities. 1,8
  • Learning Resources
    Required Resources
    Each week there will be assigned journal articles to provide background to and complement the lectures and practical/tutorial sessions. You will be expected to have read this material before class. Required readings are available via a reading list on MyUni.
    Recommended Resources
    These texts are NOT required, but we think they would be valuable additions to your professional library.

    Szklo M, Nieto FJ. Epidemiology: Beyond the Basics. Jones and Bartlett, Burlington, 2014 (3rd edition). Cost is about $80 – an excellent reference source by two highly respected epidemiologists and teachers – a book you’ll keep referring back to. Used at the intermediate level at Johns Hopkins University in the US (a top 10 US school of public health) and in quite a few other US and Canadian universities.

    Koepsell TD, Weiss NS. Epidemiologic Methods. Oxford Uni Press, New York, 2003. Cost is about $70 – a very approachable, readable text which covers the basic and intermediate concepts quite clearly by two highly respected epidemiologists and teachers – excellent quality material but also good to help get your concepts straight. This is basically what is taught in the basic/intermediate epidemiology course at U Washington in the US – one of the top 10 US schools of public health.

    Saracci R. Epidemiology. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford Uni Press, Oxford, 2010. Cost only $15-20 – a tiny book only 137 pages. If you can comfortably understand everything written in here, then you know some epidemiology
    Online Learning
    All presentations will be available on-line through MyUni after the lecture.

    MyUni is the primary entry point to online learning at the University of Adelaide. Through MyUni you will have access to course materials, discussion forums, announcements, and the submission of assignments. You can connect to MyUni on or off campus via the internet. Access my uni at:
    For enquiries about online education services, what’s available and access to MyUni, contact the Online Education Helpdesk at 8313 3335 or by email at
  • Learning & Teaching Activities
    Learning & Teaching Modes
    Lectures - Practicals - Tutorials - Small Group Workshops

    The information below is provided as a guide to assist students in engaging appropriately with the course requirements.

    To successfully complete the course students will be required to spend time out of contact hours on reading, class preparation, assignments and study. That time commitment will vary from student to student but in general a full-time student with 24 units per year would normally spend 48 hours per week on their studies during teaching periods.
    Learning Activities Summary
    Week Topic Lecture
    Week 1 Causation? What is a "cause" epidemiology?
    Week 2 Counterfactuals "Potential outcomes" model of causation
    Week 3 DAGs Directed Acyclic Graphs (DAGs)
    Week 4 Systematic Error Confounding
    Measurement Error
    Week 5 Confounding Confounding
    Propensity Scores
    Week 6 Effect measure modification Interaction
    Week 7 Random error P values
    Week 8 Study design rubric GATE framework
    Week 9 Study design rubric Study designs
    Week 10 Critical Appraisal Individual study designs
    Week 11 Systematic reviews Meta analysis
    Week 12 Triangulating evidence Integrative epidemiology
    Week 13 Review Review
    Small Group Discovery Experience
    All tutorials and practicals offer small group experiences to enhance individual and group learning.
  • Assessment

    The University's policy on Assessment for Coursework Programs is based on the following four principles:

    1. Assessment must encourage and reinforce learning.
    2. Assessment must enable robust and fair judgements about student performance.
    3. Assessment practices must be fair and equitable to students and give them the opportunity to demonstrate what they have learned.
    4. Assessment must maintain academic standards.

    Assessment Summary
    Assessment Task Assessment Type Weighting Learning Outcome(s) being addressed
    DAG Formative 25% 1-3
    Study report Formative 25% 3-5
    Participation Summative 10% 1-8
    Take-home exam Summative 40% 1-8
    Assessment Detail
    Assessment 1 (25%): Due August 30th by 10 am at the start of class.
    Draw a DAG and provide and explain your causal model (no more than 800 words).
    Assesses learning objectives 1, 2, 3.

    You are required to draw a DAG that describes an epidemiological research question of your choice and provide an explanation of your DAG. The research question must be of relevance to public health. Your DAG should reflect the causal model that would need to be tested to explore your research question. A strict limit of 800 words will be applied to the explanation. The word limit excludes any words used within the DAG illustration.

    Within the written part of this assessment, you will need to;
    clearly define your research question
    include a description of the exposure and the outcome
    demonstrate that you have considered which (if any) confounders or mediators are relevant to your research question
    justify why particular confounders or mediators have been included in your causal model, and why others potentially-relevant variables have not

    During the course we will introduce freeware (free software) that assist with drawing and interpreting causal models. You will be able to use the software to prepare your DAG.
    Assessment 2 (25%): Due September 20th by 10 am at the start of class
    Interpret provided output and write results section and main conclusion.
    Assesses learning objectives 3, 4, 5.

    Some background information about an epidemiological study and table/s of results will be provided to you. Your task is to use this information to write the results section and concluding sentence of a scientific paper. You will need to draw upon what you have learned about confounding, random error, significance testing and p-values. You are expected to use words to interpret the effect estimate. The results and conclusions should be written in a formal, scientific style.

    Be mindful that many academic journals apply word limits to their articles and therefore it is important to write concisely. Although a limit of 800 words has been set, far fewer words may be appropriate. You will not be penalised for providing a concise results paragraph and conclusion.
    Assessment 3 (10%): Class participation and engagement in all aspects of the course.
    Assesses learning objectives 1-8.

    Participation means showing up for each class having completed the assigned readings. In class it means asking questions about anything in the readings, lectures or discussion that seems unclear, offering arguments and responses, and listening to the arguments and responses of others, as well as demonstrating a positive attitude towards learning.

    Making contributions to discussion means:
    Asking questions about things in the text or things said in class that are unclear or confusing
    Offering answers to questions asked by others in class
    Making claims or observations about the issues being discussed
    Offering support, criticism, modification or clarification for claims being discussed
    The sheer number of your contributions does nothing to improve your grade. Contributions should be relevant and helpful. A genuine question always counts as relevant and helpful.

    Relevant contributions show you are engaging with the issue being discussed at the time and that you are well-prepared for class.

    Helpful contributions advance or improve the discussion by;
    Bringing in new ideas
    Helping us understand the issues being discussed
    Redirecting our attention to the text, keeping us “on track” or changing the subject when needed.
    Assessment 4 Take-home exam (40%): Due Nov 15th by 12 noon. Structured review of a published study with a choice of articles.
    Assesses learning objective 1-8.

    Your task is to review one of four published articles using the critical analysis skills that you have obtained during the course. The articles will be given in the last lecture. As a guide, you should;
    locate and use the most appropriate reporting guideline to structure your review,
    use the GATE framework to identify and explain the study design,
    use the evidence hierarchy to describe the level of evidence that the paper provides,
    discuss potential sources of bias that have and have not been addressed in the article,
    conclude with a statement (your opinion) on the overall quality of evidence that this article provides.

    There is no word limit on your exam, however it is important that you are concise. As a guide, 3-to-4 pages of single spaced text in 12 pt font would be appropriate. References should be included on a separate page. Your exam should be referenced appropriately and consistently using the Vancouver numbering system, which includes consecutively numbered references in the body of the text and a numbered reference list at the end of the assignment. For information on the Vancouver referencing style see;
    Assessments 1, 2 and 4 will be submitted via MyUni. Further details on the submission process will be given in class.
    Course Grading

    Grades for your performance in this course will be awarded in accordance with the following scheme:

    M10 (Coursework Mark Scheme)
    Grade Mark Description
    FNS   Fail No Submission
    F 1-49 Fail
    P 50-64 Pass
    C 65-74 Credit
    D 75-84 Distinction
    HD 85-100 High Distinction
    CN   Continuing
    NFE   No Formal Examination
    RP   Result Pending

    Further details of the grades/results can be obtained from Examinations.

    Grade Descriptors are available which provide a general guide to the standard of work that is expected at each grade level. More information at Assessment for Coursework Programs.

    Final results for this course will be made available through Access Adelaide.

  • Student Feedback

    The University places a high priority on approaches to learning and teaching that enhance the student experience. Feedback is sought from students in a variety of ways including on-going engagement with staff, the use of online discussion boards and the use of Student Experience of Learning and Teaching (SELT) surveys as well as GOS surveys and Program reviews.

    SELTs are an important source of information to inform individual teaching practice, decisions about teaching duties, and course and program curriculum design. They enable the University to assess how effectively its learning environments and teaching practices facilitate student engagement and learning outcomes. Under the current SELT Policy ( course SELTs are mandated and must be conducted at the conclusion of each term/semester/trimester for every course offering. Feedback on issues raised through course SELT surveys is made available to enrolled students through various resources (e.g. MyUni). In addition aggregated course SELT data is available.

  • Student Support
  • Policies & Guidelines
  • Fraud Awareness

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