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The critical importance of asking good questions: The role of epidemiology doctoral training programs.

Abstract

Epidemiologic methods have seen tremendous advances in the last several decades. As important as they are, even the most sophistical approaches are unable to provide meaningful answers when the user lacks a clear study question. And yet instructors have more and more resources on how to conduct studies and analyze data, but few resources on how to ask clearly defined study questions that will guide those methods. Training programs have limited time for coursework, and if novel statistical estimation methods become the focus of instruction, programs that go this route may end up underemphasizing the process of asking good study questions, designing robust studies, considering potential biases in the collected data and appropriately interpreting the results of the analysis. Given the demands for space in curricula, now is an appropriate time to reevaluate what we teach epidemiology doctoral students. We advocate that programs place a renewed focus on asking good study questions and following a comprehensive approach to study design and data analysis in which questions guide the choice of appropriate methods, helping us to avoid methods for methods sake and highlighting when application of a new method can provide the opportunity to answer questions that were intractable with traditional approaches.

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