Background
 
At Peoples-uni, we want our courses to provide the competencies to improve the health of populations. We want to give people the skills to implement programmes and be action oriented and evidence-based. We also stress the importance of collaboration and the use of open educational resources and that we are doing this at the 'train the trainers' level. The dissertation is designed to test the ability of the students to reflect on these objectives and apply the skills they have learned. This part of the course will provide the student with a planned, approved, supervised, and assessed public health practice opportunity that involves: integration of professional knowledge; designing and application of methods to examine one or more public health problem/issue; application of data/evidence collection, analysis, and interpretation, and professional communication skills; and providing evidence-based conclusions and recommendations for policy, planning, practice, or research in the selected area.
 
Competencies (learning outcomes) to be gained from the Dissertation.
 
1. Demonstrate the ability to apply prior learning in identifying an important public health issue facing his/her community.
 
2. Develop a systematic understanding of the methods for performing a systematic review of the literature. Critically analyse the knowledge gaps and design a potential project to explore or address an important public health issue facing his/her community.
 
3. Perform, and critically analyse, a literature search about an important public health issue facing his/her community 
 
4. Develop a systematic understanding of the methods for performing a relevant research project.
 
5. Critically analyse the knowledge gaps to design a research project to explore or address an important public health issue facing his/her community.
 
6. Synthesise and reflect on information from the experience throughout the course.
 
This Dissertation should be in the following stages:
 
1. Identify an important Public Health Problem: identify an important health problem for your population (would require some preliminary investigation of the literature and discussions with your supervisor/adviser). This part should conclude with the identification of which aspect you want to study further (prevalence/causes/healthcare etc). Note that at this stage you are not identifying the specific question which would form the basis of your project subsequently.
 
2. Systematically reviewing the literature: Once you have decided on the specific problem you wish to study further, develop a research question appropriate for a systematic review. Next, develop a search strategy, conduct a literature search and screen/sort citations, read / critically review the literature, write up the literature review. Reflecting on this should enable you to come up with a specific question to pursue.
 
3. Developing a potential study protocol: Develop a project/study plan for using skills/knowledge learned in the course to explore/address the specific question you have identified above. The plan should start with the study design and include an estimate of resources and time required to complete the project, and should predict obstacles, problems and/or shortcomings. The nature of the course does not allow you to complete the project, but you should demonstrate that the plan is appropriate and feasible.
 
4. Application of knowledge and skills: Demonstrate how the results of the project you plan to carry out might be used to influence health policy in your setting, how you plan to use the knowledge you have gained in the course in your own professional practice and your own research plans and how you plan to share your learning, so that your knowledge and experience from the course can help others.
 
IMPORTANT NOTES
 
1. The process is designed for each part to build on the previous one, as you develop your ideas from a broad area of interest, then develop a more focused question from the literature review, and design a research project that you plan a study for. You have to pass each part, before proceeding to the next, till the end. This way you will develop the discipline of systematic inquiry – by going from broad overview to detailed question, showing your understanding of the evidence at each stage by looking at relevant literature, and demonstrating why you choose a particular question and how you will answer it. This is the hallmark of a good public health specialist. Although we use the term ‘report’ for your submission and generally expect them to be text based but since an important element of an MPH, and becoming a good public health specialist, is being a good communicator, we urge you to think about supplementing your reports with diagrams including powerpoint slides as relevant. You should also pay close attention to technical editing with clear labelling of the various sections of reports, page numbering and always put your name and date on any submission. There is further guidance on writing below and on the website.
2. It is important for the students to appreciate how the whole process of dissertation works and note that there are two important themes:
a. There is a hierarchy with increasing refinement from
i.identifying an important Public Health Problem
ii.to identifying one particular aspect of the Problem amenable to the enquiry by systematic literature review
iii.to identifying a specific researchable question relevant to that aspect of the problem, by undertaking the systematic review
This schematic is important to not just understand a problem but also demonstrate how to prioritise.
 
Here is an example of how this would work in practice.
 
i. The student starts by identifying an important public health problem – say high Maternal Mortality Rate (MMR) and wishes to devote their dissertation to study this further in their setting.
 
ii. They would then need to study the problem of MMR- how high, what are potential causes and solutions etc; thus the high MMR could be due to lack of service, affordability, lack of trained professionals or not practising safe care, poor nutrition and so on. The student would write a short essay (10 marks) to demonstrate a holistic understanding of the problem and based on that suggest one particular area of the problem that they wish to develop further. They would then frame a question for a systematic literature review which is to be performed in a later part of the Dissertation. Do note that the question at this early stage is still broad but should be specific enough to guide a thorough literature review. 
 
iii. The students then undertake a rigorous systematic literature review and which helps them develop a very specific researchable question for the next part, the research protocol. The assignment is a systematic literature review (40 marks) ending with a research question for the research protocol.
 
iv. Next, the students design the study for the question identified above and this is methodological. The assignment is a research protocol (40 marks).
 
b.Knowledge of the existing evidence base is a theme that runs throughout the dissertation whereby you must constantly keep referring to the relevant literature for each part of the dissertation. Although you will perform a proper systematic review, you should learn the discipline of constantly checking emerging literature as new evidence becomes available which may have implications.
 
This is important since one major learning from dissertation is to recognise the need to learn what is already known and not to rush into following your instinct only – the hallmark of a good Public Health Specialist is a systematic inquiry. Try and learn more holistically first, before getting into specifics, not rush into excluding or including particular studies without good reasons since as soon as you do that you will start limiting your thinking. You may find the idea of using SMART criteria - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/SMART_criteria - for each stage of the dissertation, as you progress, helpful.
 
 
Practicalities:
 
Each student will be assigned an academic supervisor, and be asked to identify a local adviser, and will be enrolled in a facilitated discussion forum with other students enrolled in the dissertation. However, your main support is your academic supervisor and regular contact is essential. The IT support team will be in contact with you to remind you of assignment dates and you should contact them in the first instance for most questions.
Assignments: You will see that there are 4 assignments. You have to pass each assignment before you can progress to the next stage of the Dissertation. We do not have a strict word count, but the various assignments should add to around 9-10,000 words. If you look to around 1000 words for assignments 1 and 4, this would leave around 4,000 words for each of assignments 2 and 3.
 
Prerequisites for the Dissertation:
 
Successful completion of Introduction to Epidemiology, and Biostatistics modules.  It is highly recommended that students also complete the Evidence-Based Practice module prior to the Dissertation.