STAT 507: Epidemiological Research Methods

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course overview

The course examines the methods used in epidemiologic research, including the design of epidemiologic studies and the collection and analysis of epidemiological data. Epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of human disease and health outcomes, and the application of methods to improve human health. Epidemiological studies are typically observational in nature, meaning that that the investigator has limited control over the exposure that study participants experience. Epidemiological studies are typically concerned about the health of populations, while clinical medicine is concerned with the health of individual persons.

Upon completion of the course, the student will be able to:

  • Understand epidemiologic hypotheses, concepts and measures
  • Describe epidemiologic study designs.
  • Understand the strengths and limitations of various epidemiologic study designs.
  • Design an epidemiological study.
  • Identify sources of bias, confounding and effect modification in epidemiological studies.
  • Analyze epidemiologic data using multivariable methods.
  • Prepare and make an epidemiological presentation.
  • Write an epidemiologic report.
  • Write a proposal for an epidemiologic study.
  • Critically read epidemiological literature.

course topics

Topics typically covered in STAT 507 include:

  • Disease causation and epidemiological hypotheses
  • Measures of disease frequency
    • case definitions
    • incidence and prevalence
    • rates and risk
    • direct and indirect standardization
  • Measures of association
    • odds, rate and risk ratios
    • rate and risk differences
    • population attributable risk
  • Study designs
    • ecological
    • cross-sectional
    • case-control
    • cohort
    • interventional
    • community-based
  • Bias, confounding and effect modification
  • Multivariable analysis
    • Logistic, Poisson and binomial regression
  • Sample size and power in epidemiologic studies
  • Special topics:
    • prevention and screening
    • molecular epidemiology
    • geographic variation in disease occurrence
    • health disparities

Here is a link to the Online Notes for STAT 507.


3 credits in statistics, STAT 250 or equivalent


Recommended Texts

Readings from the literature will supplement the following texts:

Epidemiology: Study the occurrence of disease. (2002) by Thomas Koepsell and Noel Weiss. ISBN 0-19-515078-3, Oxford University Press, New York, New York.

Epidemiology: Study design and data analysis. (2005) by Mark Woodward. Published by Chapman and Hall/CRC.


Students will need to use software to calculate basic epidemiologic measures. This can be accomplished using a statistical software package such as SAS, R, Epiinfo, or Minitab. See the Statistical Software page for information regarding these applications.

assessment plan

  • Discussion - 10%
  • Homework - 25%
  • Group Investigation - 25%
  • Two Papers - 40%
    • surveillance of a specific disease or health outcome - 20%
    • proposal for a case-controlled study - 20%

academic integrity

All Penn State policies regarding ethics and honorable behavior apply to this course. Academic integrity is the pursuit of scholarly activity free from fraud and deception and is an educational objective of this institution. All University policies regarding academic integrity apply to this course. Academic dishonesty includes, but is not limited to, cheating, plagiarizing, fabricating of information or citations, facilitating acts of academic dishonesty by others, having unauthorized possession of examinations, submitting work of another person or work previously used without informing the instructor, or tampering with the academic work of other students.

For any material or ideas obtained from other sources, such as the text or things you see on the web, in the library, etc., a source reference must be given. Direct quotes from any source must be identified as such.

All exam answers must be your own, and you must not provide any assistance to other students during exams. Any instances of academic dishonesty WILL be pursued under the University and Eberly College of Science regulations concerning academic integrity. For more information on academic integrity, see Penn State's statement on plagiarism and academic dishonesty.

The Eberly College of Science Code of Mutual Respect and Cooperation embodies the values that we hope our faculty, staff, and students possess and will endorse to make The Eberly College of Science a place where every individual feels respected and valued, as well as challenged and rewarded.


Penn State welcomes students with disabilities into the University's educational programs. If you have a disability-related need for reasonable academic adjustments in this course, contact the Office for Disability Services (ODS) at 814-863-1807 (V/TTY). For further information regarding ODS, please visit the Office for Disability Services Web site at

In order to receive consideration for course accommodations, you must contact ODS and provide documentation (see the documentation guidelines at If the documentation supports the need for academic adjustments, ODS will provide a letter identifying appropriate academic adjustments. Please share this letter and discuss the adjustments with your instructor as early in the course as possible. You must contact ODS and request academic adjustment letters at the beginning of each semester.

course author

Dr. Eugene Lengerich is the primary author of these course materials. He is Professor, Department of Public Health Sciences, College of Medicine, and Director of Community Outreach and Education, Penn State Hershey Cancer Institute.