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:
- evaluate the scientific literature with respect to epidemiologic concepts, theoretical hypotheses, designs, methods, analyses and interpretation;
- develop theoretical formulations and testable hypotheses from concepts in the literature or epidemiological observations, and propose research questions and design and write research proposals;
- understand the practical and scientific implications of epidemiological research designs and the associated methodological and analytical techniques;
- identify and evaluate available data for addressing specific research questions;
- 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;
- address ethical issues related to epidemiologic studies;
- appreciate the policy implications of epidemiologic research; and,
- write and defend a doctoral dissertation which makes a contribution to the scientific literature.
Click here to view PhD Competencies
- Click here for information regarding the application process.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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: This course requires enrollment during the first 2 years of study
to achieve credit. After the second year, upper year students and faculty
supervisors are expected to attend and participate.
|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.
The qualifying examination is made up of 2 components. Both of the components of the qualifying examination should be completed by the end of the first year.
Details of each component are below:
- 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 email@example.com (http://www.pre.ethics.gc.ca/eng/education/tutorial-didacticiel/)
- Doctoral Qualifying Examination: Written doctoral qualifying 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%).
*The written qualifying 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)
PhD Proposal defense
The PhD proposal defense is a requirement for candidacy and is should be completed by December of the second year. The proposal defense can be done during the first year of study with the approval of the Program Director. The purpose of the proposal defense is to:
- Ensure that proposed research will result in a successful PhD dissertation.
- To strengthen the thesis question, design, and methods through critical feedback.
- Assess the students’ ability to conduct independent and original research.
- Assess sufficient content/substantive knowledge base relevant to their thesis topic.
- Provide a formal approval to proceed with the dissertation research.
Format: The proposal will include a brief and cogent review of the literature, justification of the research question, the objectives and hypotheses, design, data collection or data sources, proposed analysis strategies, timetable, ethics, and potential problems or issues. The proposal will conclude with references in proper bibliographic format. The proposal also will include a concise statement of the student’s role in the development and conduct of the research. A title page, with word count, will include the names and signatures of the Supervisor and other Supervisory Committee members. The proposal will be printed using a 12-point font, and limited to 20 double-spaced pages. The bibliography and title page are not included in the page or word counts. Appendices should be kept to a minimum.
Defense for approval of PhD proposal:
The proposal defense consists of a written outline of the dissertation proposal and an oral presentation. The completion of this process also counts as the protocol approval, which is required for candidacy. The following areas will be assessed:
- The literature review is comprehensive and specific to the content area;
- The proposed work demonstrates scholarly impact and innovation with respect to methods and/or substantive contribution;
- Quality of research approach, including:
- Clarity of research question/objectives
- Completeness and relevance to study design/research plan
- Rationale for approach and methodology
- Appropriateness of research design
- Appropriateness of research methods and statistical analyses
- Feasibility of research approach including power calculation as appropriate
- Requirement, timeline, preliminary data etc.
- Anticipation of difficulties/limitations and plans for management
- Ethical considerations
- The project is adequate and appropriate for a PhD dissertation and manageable within the time-frame and expectations of the PhD program.
The proposal presentation must be attended by the student, the Supervisory Committee and two external reviewers approved by the Program Director. The presentation will be advertised within the Graduate Department of Public Health Sciences, and students and faculty are encouraged to attend. At least one reviewer (Full or Associate member of SGS) should have research supervisory experience at the doctoral level in epidemiology. Reviewers should have had no previous involvement with the development of the proposal under review.
Process for evaluation:
- The student’s Supervisory Committee approves the written proposal, at least three weeks before the anticipated date of proposal defense.
- The student contacts the Program Director, with a copy to the Administrative Assistant, to give notice that the proposal is ready for defense, together with the names and email addresses, and rationale for the two potential reviewers. At least one reviewer must be appointed within the division of Epidemiology and will act as the Divisional representative.
- The Supervisor contacts reviewers and arranges the date/time of the presentation, and informs the program Administrative Assistant of the arrangements.
- The Administrative Assistant reserves a room and any required audiovisual equipment specified by the student, and posts notices on bulletin boards and e-mail, including a confirmatory e-mail to the reviewers and Supervisory Committee.
- The student distributes the proposal to the two reviewers, Supervisory Committee members, and Administrative Assistant, three weeks before the date of the proposal defense.
- The proposal defense will begin with a 20-minute presentation of the research proposal by the student, followed by a period of questions and discussion. Presentation, questions are posed to the student in two rounds, with approximately 10 minutes allotted to each reviewer per round, 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.
- At the end of formal questioning, the student and other attendees not part of the review panel will leave the room, and the reviewers and Supervisory Committee will have a general discussion of four elements (I – IV) outlined above. The reviewers will rate the performance of the student using a standardized form and an Accept/Provisional Acceptance/Not Accepted decision will be reached. The Supervisor and Divisional Representative will take note of the feedback and prepare a summary of the recommendations to share with the student.
The following outline the implications for the evaluation:
Approval: The student may proceed with dissertation work and remaining program progression, taking note of all feedback received during the protocol defense and in consultation with the supervisor considering minor amendments to their doctoral research accordingly. This candidacy requirement has been met.
Provisional Approval: The student must create a point-by-point response to the concerns/issues raised and make changes to the proposal 60 days of the proposal defense. Once the Supervisory committee has approved the revisions, the proposal must be submitted to the Program Director and Administrative Assistant as a final record. An approval will then be recorded for candidacy.
Not approved: Non-approval indicates that the performance was inadequate and/or the protocol has major deficiencies according to the IV domains. In event that the student is not approved on the first attempt, the student will be permitted one more attempt. Failure of the second attempt will result in a recommendation for program termination.
- At the conclusion of the discussion, the student will be invited into the room to learn the general outline of the committee’s decision. The decision and the completed form must be conveyed to the Program Director and Administrative Assistant within 1 week of the defense.
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.
With the assistance of the Supervisor, and with the approval of the Program Director, the student will assemble a Supervisory Committee within the first year of study.
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 (www.research.utoronto.ca/for-researchers-administrators/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.
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.
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:
- The student has adequately met the requirements for a dissertation; and,
- 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.
- The Supervisory Committee approves the dissertation, at least four (4) weeks before the anticipated date of the defense.
- The Supervisory Committee identifies at least two potential reviewers.
- 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.
- The Supervisor contacts reviewers and arranges the date/time of the defense, and informs the Administrative Assistant of the arrangements.
- 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.
- 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.
- The Oral Defense Committee comprises the external reviewers, the Supervisor and the other Supervisory Committee members.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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)
- Click here to view Policies & Procedures, PhD
- Click here to view the Procedures for Arranging PhD Defences
Student Profiles & contact
rural health, mental health
“Help-Seeking Behaviours, Access to Care and Suicide among Rural and Urban Populations in Ontario, Canada.”
|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|
|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.”
|Adele Carty||Howard Hu & John McLaughlin||
Environmental toxicants, neurocognitive development, fetal exposures, child health, global health
“Prenatal exposure to environmental toxicants and neurocognitive development in children”
|Kathleen Dobson||Peter Smith||The Population and Individual Level Impacts of Mental Health among the Canadian Workforce|
|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|
|André McDonald||Robert Mann||Cannabis legalization, alcohol policy interventions, addiction and mental health, Indigenous health|
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|
Social determinants of health, health disparities
“Socioeconomic inequalities in birth outcome distributions: A cross-national comparative study of Canada and its peer nations.”
Maternal and Child Health, Reproductive and Perinatal Epidemiology, Health Services Research
“Adverse Health Outcomes in Infants of Mothers with Intellectual Disability.”
|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.”