Fostering a research-enriched MPH experience

Evidence Informed Public Health (EIPH) was a term coined by Guyatt and colleagues in 1992. It applies the principles of evidence-based medicine to public health by articulating “[t]he process of integrating science-based interventions with community preferences to improve the health of populations” (1,2). The principles of EIPH practice involve nothing short of a research-rooted centre from which all other contributions in the field arise. 

If you are interested in advancing the field by contributing to the literature that informs it, keep reading!

The skills that you can cultivate as a budding researcher may be useful, mutatis mutandis, in a public health career that employs evidence-informed practice. Suffice to say, this is probably a part of every possible professional trajectory in public health. One of our esteemed faculty members, Dr. Lawrence Mbuagbaw from the department of Health Research Methods Evidence and Impact (HEI) at McMaster University, authored an article, that I think should be required reading for students interested in diving into the world of research and contributing to the evidence that informs health systems, policy, and practice. The article, entitled; Tips for Charting the Course of a Successful Health Research Career, is really a quintessential read (3). It provides insightful, and pragmatic tips for students interested in making their mark in health research. 

In my experience seeking out research opportunities as a graduate student in public health, it was evident that those who conduct research are keen to involve individuals who are eager to learn, contribute meaningfully, and who have aligned interests in the topic of study. It has also been my experience, that there can sometimes be a discrepancy in bridging the ‘supply’ of interested student researchers with the ‘demand’ of research projects requiring personnel (who is going to create an app for this?). It is with this in mind that I encourage all MPH students interested in partaking in research activities within and outside of their institution, to not shy away from seeking out potential opportunities. If a professor’s work aligns with a current interest, or appeals to an untapped curiosity you have yet to explore, drop them a line!

I’d like to elaborate on the simple yet perhaps daunting task of ‘dropping them (a researcher) a line’.  In my experience, it is best to directly approach/email a potential researcher/research team with these 3 things: your specific interest in their work, the research skills you could potentially bring to the team, and the skills you are looking to refine or develop. My next tip would be to not be discouraged by a negative response or dissuaded by a no response. Often times, researchers are inundated by the sheer volume of emails flying into their mailbox daily. Take the time to reach out again, and perhaps by a different means (Does anyone else use the phone in 2019, or is that just me?). 

Clarifying and prioritizing your goals in a short program (like a 1-2 year MPH degree) is helpful. If your goal is to become a better health researcher throughout the course of your masters, think about seeking out research opportunities that will compliment the didactic learning of your courses. A quick tidbit on prioritization…there is probably no shortage of opportunities to learn in your time as an MPH student (from courses to lecture circuits, conferences, practicum/thesis opportunities, volunteering, community outreach, and research). It is a brief chapter of knowledge acquisition in what will hopefully be a lifelong affair with learning in public health. The opportunities presented, and available (should you be receptive to, and seek them) are plentiful. In prioritizing research opportunities, I would say, identify the areas you are keen to explore, that present a fair challenge to encourage growth, and that will confer some benefit or meaning to those beyond you. 

Here are some of the articles I mentioned above:

  1.  Cullum, N., Ciliska, D. K., Marks, S., & Haynes, B. (2008). An Introduction to Evidence-Based Nursing. In: N. Cullum, D. Ciliska, R.B. Haynes, & S. Marks (Eds.), Evidence-Based Nursing: An Introduction (pp. 1-8). Oxford, U.K.: Blackwell.
  2. Ciliska, D., Thomas, H. and Buffett, C. (2008). An Introduction to Evidence-Informed Public Health and A Compendium of Critical Appraisal Tools for Public Health Practice. [ebook] Available at: [Accessed 12 Sep. 2019].
  3. Mbuagbaw, L., Morfaw, Lengwe Kunda, Mukonzo, J., Kastner, Zhang, Kokolo and Thabane, L. (2013). Tips for charting the course of a successful health research career. Journal of Multidisciplinary Healthcare, p.163.


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