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Training and career development in epidemiology – planning for the future

August 1, 2012

As “on-thLearning (words) Imagee-job” training is replaced by structured approaches [Luepker RV], it becomes increasingly challenging to identify and train heart, lung, blood, and sleep epidemiologists in core competencies [Brownson RC, Samet JM, Thacker SB], while also providing learning opportunities that will foster multidisciplinary research in emerging scientific areas. Planning for the future entails preparing a new generation of highly skilled epidemiologists.  We welcome your comments on how to make this happen.

 Core questions for the Epidemiology Training Community include: 

  • How can NIH-supported research training and career development programs [Sumandea CA, Balke CW.] meet future heart, lung, blood, and sleep epidemiology needs?
  • How can we increase demographic diversity across the epidemiology workforce?
  • What is the optimal mix of instructional training vs. hands-on training for epidemiology, and do the criteria for NIH training and career development awards allow a mix of both?
  • How can we inspire careers in epidemiology given the current, and hopefully temporary, reduction in research awards?

 We are looking forward to an engaged conversation on these issues.

 Posted by the Epidemiology Branch, NHLBI

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Stephen Rich permalink
    August 5, 2012 12:24 pm

    There needs to be a mix of instructional training of the basic tenets of epidemiology and biostatistics in order to optimize the time involved in “on the job” training. In essence, the number and depth of public-available data sets makes structured approaches targeting specific questions and tools more productive for ‘on the job’ applications. Given the limited resources currently (and likely always) available, there will likely be fewer ‘new’ initiatives in terms of populations being studied; rather, there may be greater depth and breadth of variables collected on existing populations. Thus, the use of the currently available data on these populations will provide a ‘jump start’ for those transitioning from training to an academic position.

    I hope there are enough controversial statements to get the dialogue started!

  2. JohnDoe permalink
    August 9, 2012 1:51 am

    I agree with Dr Rich. The needs of modern “Big Data” require much higher levels of biostatistical understanding and capacity than we currently see in most epidemiological trainees; not enough have the computing skills to manage today’s massive data resources, and not enough have the analytic ability to clearly understand what analyses do and don’t mean.

    I certainly don’t mean to dismiss all of the classic epi curriculum – a good understanding of confounding, for example, is still a huge help to making sense of data, however big – but without developing computing skills and statistical understanding, the insights of trainees in epidemiology will be left in the dust as young scientists from other areas (genetics, bioinformatics, machine-learning) instead drive the science forward. Our trainees need to catch up, fast; training programs should reflect this.

  3. Christina Wassel permalink
    August 13, 2012 12:28 pm

    Future training programs should require or strongly encourage epidemiology students to choose two areas of concentration (i.e. cancer and genetics, CVD and biostatistics) so that they have a strong skill set, and not just skills in one area (i.e. general epidemiology). I agree with Dr. Rich and John Doe, that much greater emphasis on study design and biostatistics is absolutely needed. Formal training in biostatistics provides the student not just with the actual data analysis skills and mechanics of how to successfully perform analysis, but also encourages a logical, step-wise thought process that can be applied to every single research project.

    In terms of inspiring careers in epidemiology, it’s important to provide information on opportunities outside of academic settings, i.e. industry, government. This may not be a popular opinion, but it does give students an idea of many possible job options, which is necessary to obtain employment in this economy after graduation. Not everyone will be an academic.

    Would a summer internship program of sorts at the NHLBI for students who think they may be interested in this type of work be a possibility? This type of opportunity would hands on training plus exposure to another possible job opportunity after graduation. Could we get any companies interested in this sort of internship program? The tough problem is that of course when the economy is this bad, government, industry and academics all suffer, so these types of programs or internships may not be possible financially. As it stands right now, there is probably not quite enough hands-on training for those thinking of careers other than academics.

  4. October 16, 2012 11:02 am

    I find it interesting that no one has responded to the question, “How can we increase demographic diversity across the epidemiology workforce?” Perhaps no one considers this to be a worthy goal or, everyone thinks we have attained sufficient diversity.
    Have we assessed diversity within our profession, and have we set goals for diversity within epidemiology? These would be important topics for first discussions. My opinion would be that we need to assess ourselves as a profession, understand where we are with regards to diversity, and agree on where we would like to be. I would like to draw attention to two relatively recent articles.
    Ginther et al., “Race, Ethnicity, and NIH Research Awards” Science 19 August 2011:
    Vol. 333 no. 6045 pp. 1015-1019 found that “black applicants remain 10 percentage points less likely than whites to be awarded NIH research funding.”

    Moss-Racusin et al., “Science faculty’s subtle gender biases favor male students” PNAS, October 9, 2012, 109 (41):16474–16479
    Their results “revealed that both male and female faculty judged a female student to be less competent and less worthy of being hired than an identical male student, and also offered her a smaller starting salary and less career mentoring. Although the differences in ratings may be perceived as modest, the effect sizes were all moderate to large (d = 0.60–0.75).”
    Both studies do some of the hard work required to document obstacles to diversity in science, but much more research is needed, and of course, we need to study our specific science, epidemiology. This seems to be an issue that merits further discussion and study.

  5. October 25, 2012 4:24 am

    A more advanced training should be given for a more advanced career development. This means that up to date researches should be used in studies so that trainees will be able to catch up easily on the innovation of the technology used on the training. Furthermore the government of every country must give a hundred support on this kind of training.

  6. October 30, 2012 10:13 am

    Training and career development in epidemiology is essential because only the regular degree cannot fulfill the demands of the professional in this field.

  7. March 7, 2013 9:26 am

    Returning to the issue of diversity, the March issue of Nature addresses women in science. It begins by positing that “Science is institutionally sexist”. As scientists and epidemiologists we need to become knowledgable about the current state of thinking, and assess our own field to determine where we stand, and what our goals might be with regard to women, and other underrepresented groups. The Nature issue seems to be a good starting point for discussion,

  8. April 23, 2013 4:26 pm

    Last week’s TEDMED conference brought together a number of terrific speakers introducing a range of innovations, all of which will affect health, and many of which will influence the way we conduct epidemiology and health research. Christopher Murray, Professor of Global Health at the University of Washington and Institute Director of the Institute for Health Metrics, demonstrated GBD Compare (, a publicly available interface that accesses a wealth of data about cause of death and risk factors throughout the world. It allows the user to produce statistics and visualizations of deaths, years of life lost, years lost due to disability, and disability-adjusted life years, by geographic are or country, year, age group, and sex. The statistics include rate of change, proportion and risk factor attribution.

    Overall, I love it, but the epidemiologist in me has so many questions. How will people with limited training in data use and maybe, misunderstand the data? Graduate students in epidemiology used to produce dissertations that are equivalent to output that can be produced in minutes now – how do we apply our wealth of understanding about data to contribute to the general conference about these publicly available data resources? The interface has limitations and most epidemiologists would want to have greater control over the data, for example, in setting up age groups, but I think this will be forthcoming. Do tools like this change the way we teach epidemiology?

  9. May 9, 2013 6:57 pm

    Another gleaning from TEDMED – Frances Collins introduced LabTV, a collaboration between NIH, TEDMED, Google and YouTube, to produce videos about labs – no need for me to explain, here is a link to the video – My takeaway is that the next generation of scientists will need to be able to communicate in many media to diverse audiences. Perhaps we can help young scientists succeed by offering training in communication with an emphasis on communicating the excitement and complexity of epidemiologic problems and research. I have been seeing an increasing emphasis on science communication, and it pertains to issues that directly affect epidemiologists such as patient recruitment, community participation, a truly informed consent process, and a transparent research process.

  10. May 9, 2013 7:18 pm

    This link might work better than the one just posted:

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