TAC - Epidemiology

MSc EPI Thesis proposal guidelines

Introduction

The purpose of the MSc thesis is for the student to demonstrate the ability to apply – appropriately - the concepts and methods learned in the courses to address a defined research question. At the master’s level, the requirement is to demonstrate critical thinking and an ability to conduct the research according to the norms and expectations of the discipline. This means that the focus should be on careful design and conduct, and thoughtful reflection on problems and limitations. It is not necessary for a study to be completely ‘successful’; rather, it is important that the student understand its limitations, draw defensible conclusions, and be able to discuss ways of mitigating in a future study any challenges that were encountered.

Scope

The topic of the thesis research must fall within the scope of epidemiology, i.e., what is taught in the program or is part of the collective research endeavour of faculty members associated with the program. This includes qualitative research addressing applied health research questions, and critical thinking applied to policies and theories, as well as studies which follow traditional quantitative epidemiological designs. If a student has any doubt about scope, she should discuss this with her supervisors and TAC members. If necessary, the Director of Graduate Studies and even the GSC can advise.

How much?

In order to promote comparability of effort and difficulty across thesis research projects with very diverse designs, Table 1 summarises the notional categories of thesis, which should be read in conjunction with Table 2.  Sometimes, a project is proposed which comprises two or three discrete sub-projects and which may cross over the categories. This is acceptable, and the TAC will use its judgement on the combination of level of difficulty and overall workload for the student; the goal is to ensure that the research overall offers the student the opportunity to demonstrate the required level of skills and critical thinking while keeping his overall workload reasonably comparable with a ‘single project’ thesis.

Table 1

Category

Description

‘Difficulty’ requirements
(see Table 2)
MUST SCORE

Primary research

Goes through all steps of a research project, including primary data collection

  • at least moderate on (any)one component

Secondary analysis

Analyses of a dataset provided to the student

  • high on data analysis

Design

Designs and conducts small pilot study for a proposed empirical study

  • high on study design

AND

  • at least moderate on literature review

Theoretical/

methodological

Develops new/modified theory or methodology in epidemiological/applied health research

  • high on (any)one component

AND

  • at least moderate on any other component

Policy

Discusses, evaluates, analyses and/or informs a public health or clinical practice policy

  • high on literature review

AND

  • high on discussion
Table 2

  Low moderate High
Literature review Brief but critical review Detailed review, with numerous references Detailed review with formal meta-analysis
Study design Simple survey or descriptive study Analytical study or intervention trial Complex study involving advanced design features
Data collection Small study using existing instruments Larger scale study or some instrument development Development of detailed instruments or complex data collection
Data analysis Descriptive statistics and univariate comparisons Simple multivariable models, e.g., regression Sophisticated analyses requiring advanced techniques
Discussion & conclusions General discussion of results Critical integration of work into context of other literature New and original theoretical insights from own data and literature

Process

Key points
  1. The preparation of the thesis proposal is the responsibility of the student.
  2. The role of the supervisor is to guide the student in developing and reviewing his thesis proposal and suggesting revisions as necessary.
  3. The thesis proposal should normally be around 16 pages, formatted in 12 point font and double spaced.
  4. The thesis proposal must be approved by the research supervisor and co-supervisor (if appropriate), and the TAC.
  5. Once the thesis proposal has been approved by the TAC, the student should submit an abstract of the proposal to the Graduate and postdoctoral studies office, before the end of her third term of first year (spring/summer term).
The thesis proposal should include the following:
  • Clear and concise title
  • Very brief review of key literature
  • Statement of research questions/hypotheses and specific objectives
  • Study design, and indication of the category of thesis (see attached)
  • Proposed methods, including sample size justification
  • Brief description of analysis strategy
  • Discussion of key issues in feasibility and how these will be addressed. If the project requires access to an existing dataset, an explicit statement should be included on the status of any request for permission to access and use the data.
  • Plan for ethics review, or, where appropriate, justification of why ethics review is not required
  • Summary of the role of supervisors and other individuals involved in the research
  • Indication of timelines
Submission

Once the thesis proposal is approved by the TAC, the student must submit the following documents to the Academic Administration Officer by Service request, under the Study plan category for final approval:

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