It has been eight months since my last post, which I wrote when I was about to dive into the intense exam prep period of my second year in the MSc epidemiology distance learning program. Exams for my three classes (EPM303, epidemiology of non-communicable diseases, EPM202, Statistical Methods in Epidemiology, and EPM304, Advanced Statistical Methods in Epidemiology) went well, helped by the fact that I’d gone through LSHTM exams once already and knew what to expect. The basics—create a realistic exam prep schedule and stick to it, do a dry run to the exam center so you know where it is and how long it takes to get there, and sleep well the night before—were no different. The only thing that had changed was that I parenthetically turned 50 the day before the first exam.
So I’m gradually approaching the exam segment of the second year of my pursuit of an MSc in Epidemiology. It feels like someone has been speaking Greek to me for months (otherwise known as EPM202 and EPM304) and – all of a sudden, I can understand (at least a little more) what is being said.
How do you decide on the best strategy for answering a research question?
Newsflash: It depends on what you want to know!
I know this will come as a shock to all those epidemiologists out there…But that phrase the tutors have been patiently repeating for months is (deep breath)…true.
So after Christmas I encountered my biggest bump thus far in my road to an MSc in Epidemiology. Its name is “Using Stata [a data analysis software] to Perform Conditional Logistic Regression” and it is a fearsome beast. It is closely related to the creature “Using Stata to Do Pretty Much Anything” and both of them really had me down for a while.
I am attempting to study simultaneously two statistics courses (EPM202, Statistical Methods in Epidemiology, and EPM304, Advanced Statistical Methods in Epidemiology) that are not meant to be treated so flippantly. Indeed, one should be completed before the other is attempted. I have more or less achieved this, since I have finished the coursework and FA for EPM202—but I’m cutting it rather close, as I have still only completed three sessions of EPM304. Not to mention taking two other courses this year, and my work, and my kids. I feel the pressure! So it wasn’t great that I got stuck on my second practical for EPM304—for weeks.
So, what was so hard about the 304 Practical 2, and how is it that I find myself more or less on the other side of it today?
I don’t know if I am kidding myself, but studying is easier this year. Perhaps it’s just that I have yet to tackle any of the assignments. I’m in the second year of what has become the pursuit of an MSc in Epidemiology, though it started out as just a one-year post-graduate certificate. I’d hoped to complete the MSc in two years but bowed to the reality of family and other non-study commitments. So I’m doing it in three instead. This year, I’m taking another quartet of classes: two required courses (EPM 202, Statistical Methods in Epidemiology, and EPM 201, Study Design: Writing a Grant Application) and two electives.
So the second year of my expected three-year course of study has officially begun. I successfully switched my registration from the one-year Postgraduate Certificate in Epidemiology to the MSc, and registered for four classes this year—the same load I was able to manage last year. Due to course requirements and the due dates of various assignments, I am only working on two classes from now through mid-December: Statistical Methods in Epidemiology (EPM202) and Epidemiology of Non-Communicable Diseases (EPM303). By the New Year I will have to add the remaining two courses.
I had a lovely month off from studies in September, which gave me time to catch up on my research (on stillbirth and neonatal death classification systems) and help my three boys with the start of the school year. Though I received all my course materials well in advance, I decided not to open them until the official start to the academic year, on October 1.
Last Friday, I submitted my final assignment for the postgraduate certificate in epidemiology, an “Assessed Assignment” for EPM105 (Writing and reviewing epidemiological papers). So much for a summer break! I did manage to squeeze in family holidays, to the detriment of my studies, and fear that I ended up spending more time on the assignment than I had on the class itself. Time will tell whether that was a wise allocation of my study hours.
In mid-August I finally received my exam results and was very happy that I passed all three. I felt that the big investment of time—on the order of 12 hours a day for 6 weeks with few breaks—had paid off. Exams were a true learning experience for me despite the pain.
With these two events behind me, I’ve made the decision not to stop. Sometime this week, I hope to formalize my decision to switch from the postgraduate certificate to a full MSc in epidemiology. This is a different animal from the one I encountered last year. Simply put, it’s more time, more money, and a longer commitment to being a mainly one-income family of five. Not a decision to take lightly, and I don’t.