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Joint Medical Program Library Resources: Home

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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. All inquiries are partial and are shaped by ingrained assumptions and values. (Source).

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. 

Is your topic researchable? 

You may need to broaden or narrow the focus of your topic. 
This may become more apparent as you search for and find information. It may prove difficult to find research on very narrow topics, or to cope with the vast literature on an un-focused, broad topic.

  1. "The harmful effects of domestic beer consumption among female students at Cal's Big Game"
  2. "Social factors contributing to binge drinking among college students in the United States"
  3. "Alcohol consumption by young adults" 

Let's talk about indexing!

Words matter!

  • Do you want articles on labor or articles on labor? Or is it labour?
  • Do you want articles on HIV (a virus) or articles on HIV diseases (such as AIDS)?
  • What's the difference between diet, food, food supply, food habits, eating, energy intake, ...?
  • Is lead a noun or a verb?

Indexing facilitates more precise search statements, especially for topics that are vague or ambiguous.

  • Using index terms 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." Most topical article databases use a controlled vocabulary.
  • But be aware of the fact that indexing schemes are shaped by the cultural milieu from which they originate.
  • 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 UC Berkeley faculty, staff and students. Choose one of the following methods:

Library Proxy (aka EZproxy):
When you click on a link to an article, database, etc., from a library web page. you will be prompted to authenticate via CalNet.
If you click on an article (etc.) link found via a search engine or a non-UCB Library webpage, you should use this 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 Access - Full Tunnel VPN when you log on.
VPN FAQ

Students: Problems setting up Library Proxy or VPN? Contact your librarian, or Student Technology Services: (510) 642-HELP, or sts-help@berkeley.edu.

Get Books, Articles, etc. Not Owned by UC Berkeley

Request an Interlibrary Loan for a known article or book/book chapter:

Simply copy/paste the title into UC Library Search, then click "Request through Interlibrary Loan."

Or, when viewing a citation in a database such as PubMed, click the Get it at UC icon Get it at UC button next to the citation, then click "Request through Interlibrary Loan" if the article is not online.

  • Journal articles and book chapters will be sent to you as PDF files.
  • Print books are delivered to the UCB library of your choice for pick up.
  • This is a free service for Berkeley faculty, staff, and students, and there is no limit on number of books, articles, etc you may request.