Q. What is the difference between the Interdisciplinary Program in Infectious Disease Epidemiology (IPIDE) and the Infectious Disease Epidemiology area of interest?

A. The IPIDE is a program spanning several departments that offers seminars, symposia and social events to the HSPH community on topics of interest. The IPIDE awards certificates to students who complete certain prescribed coursework. While anyone at HSPH may participate in IPIDE events, you cannot be admitted directly by the IPIDE. Rather, all students are admitted into a departmental doctoral or master’s program, or (for laboratory sciences) into the PhD program in Biological Sciences in Public Health. Students from any of these programs may then join the IPIDE.

The Infectious Disease Epidemiology area of interest is one of several areas of interest students admitted to the Department of Epidemiology may pursue. It includes seven faculty members and their research groups. Students who wish to study infectious disease epidemiology within the Department of Epidemiology should apply to this area of interest.

Q. Several faculty members are affiliated with both the Department of Epidemiology and the Biological Sciences in Public Health program.  How do I know which one to apply to?

A. Essentially, the training in the Department of Epidemiology is mainly quantitative. It focuses on the design and analysis of studies in human populations on the determinants and of disease incidence and prevalence.  Infectious Disease Epidemiology is one area of interest within the Department of Epidemiology. Students who apply to the department and indicate an interest in infectious diseases on their application will have their applications reviewed by infectious disease epidemiology faculty. If admitted, they will have one of these faculty as advisors.

Special epidemiological methods are required to study transmission of infectious diseases. The Department of Epidemiology offers coursework and research opportunities in this area. For all diseases, the challenge of epidemiology is to make causal inferences from observational (non-experimental) data, and the HSPH Department of Epidemiology offers excellent coursework in this area as the foundation of the doctoral program.  Doctoral research for epidemiology students is invariably quantitative. It may involve a laboratory component.  However, that component will likely be to generate data on human (or pathogen) samples that is then analyzed quantitatively, rather than to undertake direct manipulative experiments.  In Epidemiology, the typical doctoral trajectory is 2 years of nearly full-time coursework ending in a written qualifying exam, after which the student switches to nearly full-time research (perhaps occasional coursework). The 2-year MS track involves some or all of the same coursework as that for Epidemiology doctoral students, and a short (1 paper) thesis.  The 1-year MS has no thesis and half the amount of coursework of the 2-year degree. The 1-year MS is available to students already holding a doctoral degree. Admission to the Department of Epidemiology includes assignment to a defined faculty advisor, who is chosen as the one most likely to be a suitable advisor for eventual dissertation research.

In contrast, the BPH program is focused on biological sciences. Most of the research of BPH students is hypothesis-driven biological experimentation, in addition to bioinformatics, molecular epidemiology, and other allied approaches.  Students are part of the Harvard Integrated Life Sciences (HILS) program. Therefore, they formally register through the Faculty of Arts and Sciences, which grants the PhD.  Some BPH students include a portion of epidemiology in their theses. However, the goal is to train biological scientists with unusually good understanding of public health, rather than to train epidemiologists.  Coursework plays a smaller role in BPH training. Courses are required but are completed in the first two years alongside intensive laboratory rotations. Admission to the BPH program is not contingent on identifying an advisor for the student’s thesis research. A faculty advisor is assigned in Year 1, but it is assumed that the student will choose a dissertation lab based on rotations.

In considering these two options, a prospective student should decide the key expertise they wish to acquire:

  • The quantitative and conceptual background required to study disease determinants in human populations, the transmission of infectious diseases (Epidemiology); or
  • The experimental skill to address biological problems with a bearing on public health (BPH).

Students in either program can affiliate with the school-wide Interdisciplinary Program in Infectious Disease Epidemiology. This includes seminars, a set of required and elective courses, and other activities throughout the year.

Q. What are the differences between the Interdisciplinary Program in Infectious Disease Epidemiology (IPIDE), the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics (CCDD), and the Pediatric HIV/AIDS Cohort Study (PHACS)?

A. The Interdisciplinary Program is a training program for students that also offers seminars and other events for the HSPH community. It also administers an NIH/NIAID-funded training grant. Students in the program have a primary academic affiliation with one of the HSPH departments, usually Epidemiology, Biostatistics, Immunology and Infectious Diseases, and Global Health and Population.

CCDD (directed by Marc Lipsitch; Associate Director Caroline Buckee) is an NIH/NIGMS-funded Center of Excellence, part of the MIDAS network, and is a hub for research, outreach and training. Students working with CCDD-affiliated faculty may work physically within the CCDD (located on the 5th floor of Kresge) or elsewhere. However, they will usually have a primary academic home in the Department of Epidemiology or another department at HSPH.

PHACS (PI George Seage) is prospective cohort study of over 3,000 HIV-infected or HIV-exposed children funded by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and eight other National Institutes of Health. PHACS addresses two key issues. One is the safety to the child of antiretroviral therapy (ART) when used to prevent mother-to-child transmission of HIV-1. It also researches the impact of perinatal HIV infection on adolescents and young adults.