Degree Division
Epidemiology Division
Program Contact
Laura Rosella

Degree Overview

This program aims to develop excellent epidemiologists, able to work, teach and conduct research on contributors to health; disease, disability and death; and effective measures of prevention.


The overall goal of the program is to enable graduates to acquire the necessary scientific knowledge and methodological skills to become independent researchers in epidemiology.  Graduates with a PhD in epidemiology are expected to have developed the skills which enable them to:

  1. evaluate the scientific literature with respect to epidemiologic concepts, theoretical hypotheses, designs, methods, analyses and interpretation;
  2. develop theoretical formulations and testable hypotheses from concepts in the literature or epidemiological observations, and propose research questions and design and write research proposals;
  3. understand the practical and scientific implications of epidemiological research designs and the associated methodological and analytical techniques;
  4. identify and evaluate available data for addressing specific research questions;
  5. evaluate strengths and weaknesses of data collection methods, develop methods appropriate for answering specific research questions, and assess the measurement properties of data collection tools;
  6. address ethical issues related to epidemiologic studies;
  7. appreciate the policy implications of epidemiologic research; and,
  8. write and defend a doctoral dissertation which makes a contribution to the scientific literature.

Click here to view PhD Competencies

Admission Requirements

  1. Click here for information regarding the application process.
  2. Applicants generally are expected to hold a master’s degree in epidemiology or a master’s degree in a related field with strong course work in epidemiology and biostatistics.
  3. Applicants are expected to have prior research experience which may be demonstrated through the completion of a master’s thesis, supervised research practicum, or other research experience, and which includes independent contributions to scientific publications.
  4. Applicants should have practical experience and reasonable expertise using standard statistical software packages.

Successful applicants will have research interests congruent with those of one or more members of faculty, and may have identified a possible primary or co-supervisor, prior to admission.  Admission may otherwise be conditional upon identifying a supervisor.  Thus, applicants are strongly encouraged to seek out potential supervisors, and discuss with them the possibilities, prior to applying to the degree program.  Applicants should note that identifying a potential supervisor does not guarantee admission.

Program Requirements

Course Requirements (4.0 FCE)

Required Courses (3.5)

CHL5005H: Introduction to Public Health Research 0.5
CHL5404H: Research Methods I 0.5
CHL5406H: Quantitative Methods for Biomedical Research 0.5
CHL5408H: Research Methods II 0.5
CHL5423H: Doctoral Seminar Series in Epidemiology 0.5
Note: Non-credit after the second year but upper
year students and faculty supervisors are expected
to attend and participate. Click here for the 2015-16 schedule
CHL5424H: Advanced Quantitative Methods in Epidemiology 0.5
CHL5428H: Epidemiological Methods for Causal Mediation Analysis 0.5

Elective Courses (0.5)

Students are best served if their elective courses form part of a coherent package of experience. In this light, students are encouraged to choose elective courses that relate to the theme of their dissertation. For example, advanced methodological courses might be appropriate for a dissertation which involves highly complex statistical analysis; pathology courses for a dissertation which focuses more on disease process; bioethics courses for a dissertation on genetic epidemiology. Electives also may fill gaps in overall training and experience: A student with a largely social sciences background might benefit from health professional level pathology courses; a student with substantial bench-sciences training, who is interested in disease screening, might consider courses in behavioural sciences, health economics, or health policy. Students are encouraged to discuss the selection of appropriate electives with their Supervisory Committees.

Comprehensive Examination

The comprehensive examination is made up of 3 components. All components of the comprehensive examination should be completed by December of year 2.

Details of each component are below:

  1. Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2) online tutorial: CORE (Course on Research Ethics) is an introduction to the 2nd edition of the Tri-Council Policy Statement: Ethical Conduct for Research Involving Humans (TCPS 2). It consists of eight modules focusing on the guidance in TCPS 2 that is applicable to all research regardless of discipline or methodology. The completion of this module is usually done within the Introduction to Public Health Research (CHL5005H) course. A certificate of completion must be emailed to Matilda Kong at (
  2. Doctoral Comprehensive Examination: Written doctoral comprehensive examination*, which includes an in-class written exam and a take-home question. This exam is held June of the first academic year. This part of the examination is designed to test competence in the concepts, principles, data sources, and content of epidemiology, and the ability to apply these concepts and principles critically. The examination may include multiple choice, fill-in-the blanks, calculations, and short answer questions. The take-home question will be an essay-style.An Examination Committee will mark the examination, blind to the identity of the student. A passing grade is 70%. Students who achieve higher percentages will be informed that they have received grades of Honours (90%+) or High Pass (80-89%).
  3. Oral exam of dissertation proposal: Examination of dissertation proposal, which is expected to be complete by the December of the second year. This requirement also counts as the approval of your dissertation proposal, which is required for candidacy. Please see Oral Examination of Dissertation Proposal procedures

*The written comprehensive can be fulfilled after the indicated required courses are complete:

CHL5005H: Introduction to Public Health Research (0.5)
CHL5404H: Research Methods I (0.5)
CHL5406H: Quantitative Methods for Biomedical Research (0.5)
CHL5408H: Research Methods II (0.5)
CHL5424H: Advanced Quantitative Methods in Epidemiology (0.5)


Click here to view the SGS Graduate Supervision: Guidelines for Students, Faculty, and Administrators

Beginning prior to admission, and with the assistance of the Program Director, the applicant will explore supervisory possibilities: a faculty member with an appointment in the Division of Epidemiology who has a Full appointment in the School of Graduate Studies (SGS), and who conducts epidemiological research. In some instances, the Student and the Program Director will identify both a primary and a co-supervisor. The co-supervisor generally will be a faculty member with an Associate appointment in the SGS. The faculty supervisor may be confirmed prior to beginning the program, and generally will be in place by the end of the first year.  Students are encouraged to explore broadly and have wide-ranging discussions with potential supervisors.  The Program Director must approve the selection of the primary supervisor and the co-supervisor.

Role and Responsibilities

The Supervisor is responsible for providing mentorship to the Student through all phases of the PhD program. Thus; to the extent possible, the Supervisor will guide the selection of courses, dissertation topic, supervisory committee membership, and supervisory committee meetings; will assist with applications for funding; will make every effort to provide funding to the Student directly; and will provide references for the Student on a timely basis. The Supervisor also will comment on the Student’s plan for preparation for the comprehensive examination. The Supervisor will guide the development of the Student’s research proposal, and the implementation and conduct of all aspects of the research; advise on writing the dissertation; correct drafts and approve the final dissertation; and attend the defense.

Supervisory Committee

With the assistance of the Supervisor, and with the approval of the Program Director, the Student will assemble a Supervisory Committee no later than the end of the first term of the second year.

Role and Responsibilities

The Supervisory Committee, chaired by the Supervisor, will contribute advice regarding course selection; preparation for the comprehensive examination; selection of the dissertation topic; preparation and defense of the proposal; and implementation of the research plan. The Supervisory Committee also will provide timely and constructive criticism and guidance regarding data analysis, writing the dissertation, and preparing for its defense.


The Supervisory Committee generally will comprise the Supervisor and at least two members who hold either Full or Associate appointments in the SGS and may or may not hold a primary appointment in Epidemiology. Between these individuals and the Supervisor, there should be expertise in all content and methodological areas relevant to the Student’s research focus and dissertation proposal. At times, when the Student’s Supervisory Committee extends beyond the requisite Supervisor plus two SGS-qualified members, additional members may not necessarily hold SGS appointments (e.g., community members).  Non-SGS members, however, may participate only as non-voting qualified observers at the SGS Final Oral Examination (i.e., observer who has been approved by the Student, the Supervisor, and the SGS Vice-Dean, Programs).


Supervisory Committee meetings will be held at least every six (6) months throughout the Student’s PhD program. Under certain circumstances (e.g., during times of very rapid progress), the Student and the Supervisory Committee may decide there is a need for more frequent meetings.


At the end of every meeting of the Supervisory Committee, the Student and the Committee will complete the Supervisory Committee Meeting Report. All present must sign the report, which will be delivered to the Program Director and filed in the Student’s progress file in the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences.

The Report of the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences Oral Defense Committee Meeting will be completed at the end of the Departmental Defense during which the Oral Defense Committee makes the recommendation for the Student to proceed to the SGS Final Oral Examination (FOE).  The Report will also be signed and delivered to the Program Director and filed in the Student’s progress file in the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences.

Progress through the PhD

The phases of the PhD program are identified by a set of accomplishments which the student generally will attain in order, and within a satisfactory time. These phases, which will be monitored by the Program Director of the PhD program, are the identification of the Supervisor and the Supervisory Committee, completion of required and elective course work, completion of the comprehensive examination, defense of the research proposal, and defense of the dissertation (both Departmental and SGS ). Full-time students are expected to complete the PhD within four (4) years. Flex-time students may take longer, but not more than eight (8) years; they must submit a revised list of milestones, for approval by the Supervisor and the Program Director.  Click here to view the PhD Epidemiology Timeline.

Research Ethics Board Approval

All research projects in which University of Toronto students are involved at any stage must have approval from the University of Toronto Research Ethics Board (REB). This includes ongoing research projects of the Supervisor which has previously received REB approval and where REB approval is already held from a University affiliated hospital or research institute. Preliminary work necessary to prepare the proposal may also require an original REB application or amendment to the original study. 
See details of the REB application and review process at Office of Research Ethics (

The dissertation proposal, as approved by the Program Director, must have University of Toronto Research Ethics Board approval as a supervised research study. An application for initial REB approval (or amendment to approval for an ongoing study), will therefore follow the approval of the dissertation proposal.


A dissertation in epidemiology must have relevance to the health of human populations. Within that broad framework, the dissertation may deal with any topic in the areas of medicine, public health and, health care services; and the research designs and statistical methods used in these fields. A doctoral dissertation in epidemiology may involve new data, collected for the purpose of the study, or the use of data previously collected. In the latter case, the analysis must be suitably complex, and must be driven by theoretical considerations and a specific research or methodological question. The dissertation result should be new knowledge and should include findings suitable for publication in peer-reviewed epidemiology journals. It may include both methodological and substantive advances in knowledge.

The dissertation topic must include clearly posed research questions amenable to study by appropriate epidemiologic methods. The Student must have contributed substantially to the identification of the research question and must have played an integral part in the planning of the investigation. Wherever appropriate, the Student will also be expected to participate directly in the collection of the data. Students will be expected to analyze their own data using appropriate analytic approaches.

Format Options for Dissertation

Students may choose one of two options for preparation of the dissertation: a monograph or a series of journal articles. The monograph is the default option. It is a single report, divided into chapters: introduction, literature review, methods, results, and discussion. A reference list would be followed by various appended material, which might include data collection instruments, additional related findings, and the like.

The journal article option varies from the monograph in that the main body of the dissertation comprises approximately three (3) complete, stand-alone manuscripts; these may already have been published, or may be ready to submit for peer-review. The manuscripts should be preceded and followed by material that unites them. So, for instance, an introduction and literature review, and possibly methods, more global in scope than those included in the manuscripts themselves, would precede the manuscripts; likewise, a discussion would follow, and would tie the manuscripts together, describing how they – as a group – make a contribution to the literature. Appended material might include the methodological details that would not be present in the methods sections of the manuscripts.

Regardless of format, the student should identify and follow appropriate style guides for the preparation of the dissertation.

Dissertation Defense

The Student should aim to defend the dissertation within four years of entry into the PhD program. The defense of the dissertation will take place in two stages: first, a Departmental defense, second, a formal defense (the Final Oral Examination) before a University committee according to procedures established by the School of Graduate Studies (SGS). The two defenses generally are separated by about eight weeks.

Departmental Defense

The Departmental defense will be held after the completed dissertation has been approved by all members of the Student’s Supervisory Committee, and the completion of the final Supervisory Committee meeting report. The purpose of this defense is to rehearse the oral presentation for the SGS defense and to determine whether the Student is ready for the SGS defense.

The Student should expect constructive criticism about the clarity and length of the presentation and the quality of visual materials, as well as about the dissertation itself. In particular, the Departmental defense will confirm that:

  1. The Student has adequately met the requirements for a dissertation; and,
  2. The Student has the required level of understanding of the scientific issues involved in the dissertation work.

The Departmental defense is attended by the Student, the Supervisor and other members of the Supervisory Committee, and two reviewers with full SGS appointments. At least one reviewer should have supervisory experience in epidemiology at the doctoral level. The second reviewer may be a substantive expert from another discipline. Eligible reviewers will have had no prior involvement with the design or conduct of the research, with the exception of providing references or other background material, and generally will not be the faculty who served as reviewers at the proposal defense. The presentation will be advertised within the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences, and other students and faculty are encouraged to attend.


  1. The Supervisory Committee approves the dissertation, at least four (4) weeks before the anticipated date of the defense.
  2. The Supervisory Committee identifies at least two potential reviewers.
  3. The Student contacts the Program Director (copy to the Administrative Assistant) to give notice that the dissertation is ready for defense, together with the names and email addresses of potential reviewers. If necessary, the Program Director suggests alternative reviewers. The Program Director approves the reviewers, and will nominate one of them to be the Program Director’s representative.
  4. The Supervisor contacts reviewers and arranges the date/time of the defense, and informs the Administrative Assistant of the arrangements.
  5. The Administrative Assistant reserves a room and any required audiovisual equipment, as specified by the Student, and posts notices on bulletin boards and e-mail, including a confirmatory e-mail to the Supervisory Committee and reviewers.
  6. The Student distributes a copy of the dissertation to reviewers and to Supervisory Committee members four (4) weeks before the date of the defense, with an extra copy to the Supervisor (or designate) which may be made available to other faculty or students who may wish to read it.
  7. The Oral Defense Committee comprises the external reviewers, the Supervisor and the other Supervisory Committee members.
  8. Before the Oral Defense Committee convenes, the Student and non-committee attendees may be asked to leave the room to permit discussion of the defense process among the Oral Defense Committee members.
  9. The defense will begin with a 20-minute presentation by the Student of the research findings, followed by a period of questions and discussion among those present, with the two reviewers taking the lead in the questions. The Supervisor will chair the proceedings and act as timekeeper. The question period will typically be expected to last 60 to 80 minutes. The Supervisor will take notes of all issues raised.
  10. At the end of formal questioning, the Student and other attendees will generally be asked to leave the room, and the Oral Defense Committee will discuss any issues of concern, to provide focused, constructive, and detailed feedback to the Student, Supervisor, and other members of the Supervisory Committee on the dissertation and its oral defense. The Program Director’s Representative will take note of the feedback with respect to whether the dissertation work is generally adequate for the Final Oral Examination (FOE); changes that should be made to the dissertation prior to arranging for the FOE, and improvements that could be made to the oral presentation and defense; and will prepare a summary of the recommendations. If revisions to the text of the dissertation are recommended, there will also be discussion of the timing of the FOE. The Student may be invited to be present at these discussions at the discretion of the Oral Defense Committee.
  11. At the end of the Departmental Defense, the Oral Defense Committee  will complete the Report of the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences Oral Defense Committee Meeting. The options for proceedings are:

a) Dissertation is acceptable:
____    as is
____    with corrections/modifications as described in report to be prepared by the Program Director’s Representative

b) Another Supervisory Committee meeting required to see final dissertation: ____ Yes ____ No

c) If no, Committee member to see that changes are made: __________________________

d) Dissertation recommended for examination in: ______ months.

The Report will be delivered to the Program Director and filed in the Student’s file in the Graduate office of Public Health Sciences.

School of Graduate Studies Final Oral Examination (FOE)

Student Profiles & contact

Name Supervisor Dissertation/Research Interests

Rebecca Barry

Paul Kurdyak

rural health, mental health

“Help-Seeking Behaviours, Access to Care and Suicide among Rural and Urban Populations in Ontario, Canada.”

Isha Berry

David Fisman Infectious diseases, influenza, transmission dynamics, mathematical modelling, global health
Laura Bogaert Cameron Mustard

Military Population Health; Occupational Health; Occupational Diseases; Public Health Policy

“Quantifying the Burden of Hearing Loss in Canada’s Military Population.”

Sarah Buchan Jeff Kwong Using laboratory-confirmed outcomes to study pediatric influenza and influenza vaccine epidemiology in Ontario
Andi Camden Astrid Guttmann & Teresa To

Maternal and infant health, Maternal illicit drug use, child health, health equity, public health policy

“Understanding the Short- And Long-Term Health and Developmental Outcomes Associated with Neonatal Abstinence Syndrome.”

Kathleen Dobson Peter Smith The Population and Individual Level Impacts of Mental Health among the Canadian Workforce

Jonathan Fan

Peter Smith Occupational health, injury control and prevention, linked administrative data
Tiffany Fitzpatrick David Fisman & Astrid Guttmann

Pediatric Health, Mathematical Models of Infectious Disease, Health Equity, Public Health Policy

“Identifying inequities in severe respiratory syncytial virus (RSV)-related illness among Ontario’s children: analyzing epidemiological trends over the past 25 years & evaluating the potential impact of targetted interventions.”

Jennifer Gillis Ann Burchell & Janet Raboud

Research Interests: Infectious Diseases, Prevention – Screening and Vaccination, Methodology – Cohort Studies and Missing Data, Mental Health and Education

“Prevention of human papillomavirus (HPV) associated cancers among people living with and at risk for HIV.”

Sarah M. Goodday Susan Bondy

Early development, psychosocial predictors of mental health outcomes, mood disorders, suicide-related behavior, measurement in psychiatric research

“Exposure to parental psychopathology and risk of adolescent and young adult suicidal behavior.”

Kaley Hayes Suzanne Cadarette Pharmacoepidemiology, Self-controlled study designs, osteoporosis drug safety and efficacy
Lidija Latifovic Geoffrey Liu

to assess efficacy and toxicity outcomes in chemotherapy-refractory, metastatic colorectal cancer patients from the Clinical Cancer Trials Group CO.20 and CO.17 trials.

“A genetic analysis of the pharmacokinetic and pharmacodynamic pathways of cetuximab.”

Shilo McBurney Natasha Crowcroft infectious diseases, simulation modelling, public health policy

Ryan Ng

Laura Rosella

Prediction modelling, Population Health, Chronic disease, Multimorbidity, Health Services Research

“The Chronic Disease Population Risk Tool (CDPoRT): A chronic disease prognostic tool for policymakers.”

Ioana Nicolau Ann Burchell The effect of antiretroviral therapy on the risk of cancer in people living with HIV
Andrea Portt Peter Smith Thesis topic TBA

Chantel Ramraj

Arjumand Siddiqi

Social determinants of health, health disparities

“Socioeconomic inequalities in birth outcome distributions: A cross-national comparative study of Canada and its peer nations.”

Dinara Salaeva

Hilary Brown

Maternal and Child Health, Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology, Health Services Research

“Adverse Health Outcomes in Infants of Mothers with Intellectual Disability.”

Jenn Shuldiner

Julia Knight & Gary Rodin

applying mixed-method techniques to understanding the complex sociocultural and environmental factors that support health and health service delivery

“Psychosocial implication of panel-based genetic testing among women at risk for ovarian cancer: A mixed methods project.”

Christopher Tait Laura Rosella

Chronic disease epidemiology, type 2 diabetes, nutritional epidemiology, causal mediation, global health

“The role of obesity in explaining the relationship between dietary patterns and incident type 2 diabetes.”

Matt Warkentin Rayjean Hung genetic epidemiology, risk-prediction, lung cancer, cancer epidemiology, cancer screening and early detection methods, Bayesian methods, radiomics
Kathryn Wiens Stephen Hwang “Investigating the interaction between homelessness and mental illness on health care utilization, comorbidity and premature mortality.”
Jessica Wong Laura Rosella The association between mental health conditions and disability in patients with low back pain
Abdool Yasseen Natasha Crowcroft & Jeff Kwong

Infectious Diseases, Surveillance and screening, Population Health, and Public health policy

“Viral Hepatitis Among immigrants: A population-based comparison using linked laboratory and health administrative data.”