Many DrPH Competencies (PDF) are include skills that the library can help you with:
"The ability to ... explore, describe, and analyze public health problems at an advanced level; synthesize and apply evidence-based research ... and critically review relevant literature."
"The ability to ... use critical evaluation, applied research methodology, and statistical methods effectively."
"The ability to articulate the breadth and depth of social, economic, and health inequities..."
All of the above require you to be able to:
» effectively and efficiently search the scientific literature;
» determine how a particular study fits in the body of knowledge on a topic and discover trends;
» evaluate the quality of any particular study; and
» know how to find statistical and other information that supports or refutes the conclusions of a study.
What causes disease?
How you conceptualize your topic affects how you search for relevant information.
Consider first perhaps the interaction of environmental factors (eg, pollution, outbreaks) and social factors (eg, smoking, drug use). You may also wish to consider other aspects of your topic.
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
Considering the question a research article addresses may help you determine if it's relevant to your needs.
Below are some examples of questions or lines of inquiry:
Compare these two questions, to help evaluate any intervention studies you read:
Finding a systematic review that addresses the question you are interested in can be very helpful
What is evidence?
All research is (potentially) "evidence" and there are no "perfect" studies.
Critically evaluating what you read will help any unearth biases or methodological shortcomings that may be present.
Is there an agenda (bias)?
It's doubtful that any study of humans is without some kind of bias, either in the study design, or in the author's pre-existing beliefs. How bias in methodology was controlled and the significance of bias in any particular study is what's relevant.
Things to consider:
Who pays for science? Does it matter? (There is evidence that it does matter)
Research may be funded by:
This article (PDF) discusses the "manufactured uncertainty" created by industry groups that sponsor research and publishing on chemicals.
Is qualitative research "evidence"?
» If your goal is to understand beliefs and meanings in the group with whom you are working, then qualitative studies can be important.
» Take a look at a few citations (.doc) on these topics
Reliability and validity
Reliable data collection: relatively free from "measurement error:"
» Is the survey written at a reading level too high for the people completing it?
» If I measure something today, then measure it again tomorrow using the same scale, will it vary? Why?
Validity refers to how well a measure assesses what it claims to measure:
» If the survey is supposed to measure "quality of life," how is that concept defined? Is it measurable?
(Adopted from Chapter 3, Conducting research literature reviews : from the Internet to paper, by Arlene Fink; Sage, 2010.)
Extensive discussions of reliability and validity are available in several texts, such as Textbook in Psychiatric Epidemiology (3rd Ed.; M. Tsuang et al. Wiley. 2011; See chapters 5 and 7).
What to consider when looking at survey or estimated data:
It may be useful to have a structure to help guide you when searching.
When you formulate a research question, consider these elements:
Note: It is possible that not all of the above elements will be appropriate for your search topic.
This exercise (PDF) will take you through the process of formulating a search
PICO is another popular way to structure a search.
PICO stands for Patient or Population; Intervention; Comparison or Control; Outcome.
Embase has a PICO Search option.
What else does a DrPH student need in the world of information resources?
What about information on program development & evaluation?
»The Community Toolbox
»2010 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation (National Science Foundation)
What about help with academic writing?
»Graduate Writing Center (UCB Grad Division): help on grant proposals, dissertation writing, and more