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Joint Medical Program Library Resource Session: Start

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Before You Start: Your Topic, the Scope of Your Search, Where to Look

What causes disease? 

How you conceptualize your topic affects how you search for relevant information.

Perhaps you would first consider interactions between environmental factors (eg, pollution, outbreaks) and social factors (eg, smoking, drug use). You may also wish to consider other aspects of your topic. 

Example:

  • Is exacerbation of pediatric asthma in West Oakland "caused" by air pollution and/or smoking in the home? 
  • Or, is it "caused" by inadequate regulation of transportation, energy production, and/or tobacco? 
  • Or by historical racism in housing and neighborhood characteristics? 
  • What about genetic factors? poverty? maternal stress? 
  • What about access to appropriate prescription drugs? 

Think about the wider context of your topic. Do some preliminary exploration, both in the literature and in discussions with your teachers, advisors, and peers. What are the relevant scientific and policy circumstances?

Always keep in mind the question you are trying to answer

What is the scope of your search? 

Literature searching always involves balancing finding all relevant citations (which means you may also find many non-relevant citations) with finding only relevant citations (which means you may miss some relevant citations).

The search scope, as well as the purpose and audience of your literature search, influences how you focus your search when using online databases, as well as when you decide you have "enough."

Remember that research is not a linear process; you may find yourself modifying your search terms as you explore your topic.

Which disciplines are concerned with your topic? Which aspect(s) - legal, political, environmental, behavioral etc. - of your topic is/are of interest? 

Answering these questions will help you decide which databases to search for literature. Although PubMed may be the best place to start for most public health topics, you may miss key literature if you do not use other resources. 

The importance of indexing 

  • Do you want articles on labor (as in work) or articles on labor (as in giving birth)? Or is it labour
  • Indexing facilitates more precise search statements, especially for topics that are vague or ambiguous. 
  • Using index terms also helps you avoid the need to think of every possible synonym or alternate spelling of your search terms. 
  • Indexing means the citations in the database are assigned terms from a controlled vocabulary (which is a finite list of terms); not all databases use a controlled vocabulary, however. 
  • Index terms are sometimes called descriptors or thesaurus terms; in PubMed they are called Medical Subject Headings, or MeSH

Off Campus Access to Library Resources

Off-campus access is limited to current UCB faculty, staff and students. Choose one of the following methods:

EZproxy 
When you click on a link to an article, database, etc., (in a browser or on a mobile device) you will be prompted to authenticate via CalNet.
When you click on a resource link found via a search engine or a non-UCB Library webpage, you will need to use a bookmarklet to access the licensed resource.

Virtual Private Network (VPN)
Download and install the VPN client to allow access the UC Berkeley licensed resources.
Make sure you select Library VPN when you log on
VPN FAQ

If You're Short on Time, Start Here to Find Articles & Books

Borrow Items Not Owned by Berkeley

Request an Interlibrary Loan for a known article or book/book chapter.
Or (better) click the UC-eLinks icon UC-eLinks button next to a citation in an article database, then click "Request this from the library"

  • Print books are delivered to any UCB library for pick up
  • Journal articles are shared as PDFs.
  • Allow up to 2 weeks for delivery, sometimes longer. Articles at nearby UCs may be delivered in a few days
  • A free service for Berkeley faculty, staff, and students only. No limit on number of books, articles, etc you may request
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