Eric Green, Ph.D., Duke University

Teaching Assistant: TBA

Course Description

This course will introduce you to research designs and methods in global health. Global health is a multi-disciplinary field, so we will consider approaches common to the behavioral and social sciences, public health, and medicine.

Our primary interest will be the study of causal inference. In global health, we are often interested in knowing what treatments, programs, interventions, and policies “work” and why. To answer questions of impact, we often turn to randomized controlled trials, a mainstay of medical research. As such, we will spend time exploring the rationale, process, and limitations of field experiments.

Randomization is not always possible or advisable, however, and researchers must build a causal argument using non-experimental methods. We will review several approaches, consider relevant threats to causal inference, and discuss how to improve non-experimental research designs.

Along the way, we will cover research basics, such as asking evidence-based research questions, searching the literature, developing a theory of change, identifying indicators and collecting data, selecting research participants, and testing hypotheses. In the latter part of the course, we will turn to more specialized topics in global health research, such as writing research proposals and manuscripts, economic analyses, and making an impact.

Learning Objectives

We have two broad goals this semester:

  • to make you a better consumer of research, and
  • to prepare you to contribute to research teams at Duke and beyond.

The course is divided into six modules:

  1. Getting started
  2. Define study aims
  3. Select a research design
  4. Specify your methods
  5. Practice good science
  6. Make an impact with your work

By the end of the semester, you should be able to:

  • Ask a good research question
  • Effectively search the literature and make use of systematic reviews and meta-analyses
  • Critically appraise scientific work
  • Understand the fundamental challenge of causal inference
  • Develop a theory of change
  • Identify indicators to measure throughout the causal chain
  • Select the best method of data collection given study objectives and resources
  • Evaluate the reliability and validity of study instruments
  • Devise a sampling strategy to meet study objectives and resources
  • Design a high-powered study
  • Articulate the benefits and limitations of random assignment
  • Explain the logic and limitations of different quasi-experimental and observational designs that can be used when randomization is not possible or ethical
  • Write a study protocol
  • Explain how an economic analysis can put “treatment effects” in context
  • Make a plan to promote the use of research in policymaking

Class Format

Prior to each class, students will complete a readiness assessment online. These assessments will test your basic understanding of the assigned readings and videos.

Class sessions will typically begin with a brief lecture designed to reinforce or extend pre-class learning, but the aim is to spend most of the in-class time on application activities. Activities will be based on assigned readings and will incorporate the use of tools like R/RStudio. Please review the activity before class, just as you might prepare for a lab in biology or chemistry.

Between preparing for class and completing homework assignments, you will be exposed to more than 50 scientific articles. Skimming is OK. If I did not skim articles, I would never read anything. The key is to learn how to skim effectively as you progress in your studies. To that end, I recommend that you use a simple template like this one to jot down some notes for each article you read. This is not a comprehensive tool for critical appraisal, but it will help you focus on the key details and link each reading to a course concept.

I don’t expect you to have fully mastered the art of skimming, so I’ve created activities designed to walk you through the important parts of articles that we’ll read. I assume two things with these activities:

  1. You will review the readings before class.
  2. You will go back to the activities after class to focus on the core concepts I highlighted.

Some people can get by coming to class cold and never returning to the material. I don’t think this is the case for most of us.

Course Requirements

The main course text is “Global Health Research: Designs and Methods”. You can access it for free through the “Books” link in the menu bar. This on-line book includes videos that are required viewing.

You’ll also be reading journal articles that will be available through this website or the Duke Library. You do not need to pay for any articles. If you are struggling to access a resource, consult with a librarian or ask for help on Piazza.


A reasonable rule of thumb is somewhere between 2:1 and 3:1 out-of-class to in-class hours. At the upper end, this is about 100 hours of outside class time this semester.


Your final grade will be a weighted average of several components: pre-class preparation, application activities, homework, a midterm exam, and a study proposal.

Pre-class preparation: Short online readiness assessments (≤10 questions) that will open 48 hours before class and close 1 hour before class.

In-class application activities: Short activities designed to be completed in class in groups of 2-3. Pass/fail.

Homework: Assignments generally due one week after the end of the module.

Midterm: There will be an in-class midterm exam. Multiple-choice, fill-in-the-blank, and short answer questions.

Study proposal: Your study proposal will take the place of the final exam. Details on format and process will be provided.

Component Weight
Pre-class preparation 10%
In-class application activities 20%
Homework 20%
Midterm 25%
Study proposal 25%

Ranges for letter grades will be set at the end of the semester, and grades may be curved. Cumulative scores of at least 90, 80, and 70 will be guaranteed at least an A-, B-, and C-, respectively.

Getting Help

Getting help is easy. Try the following, in order of priority:

  1. Ask a question in class.
  2. Post a question to Piazza. This is a great platform that turns your questions and answers into public goods. We’ll strive to answer every question within hours (often minutes). You can post anonymously to your peers if desired, so there really are no “dumb” questions.
  3. If you need additional help after trying #1 and #2, attend office hours or set up individual or small-group meetings.

Please limit your emails to personal matters that are not appropriate for class or Piazza. “I don’t understand power calculations” is not a personal matter. Emails like this will probably go unanswered, whereas Piazza messages will be rewarded with snappy replies since they benefit everyone.

Where do I find…?

You will find everything you need for this course on this website.

  • Schedule: your gateway to everything we will do.
  • Book: primary text and videos
  • Piazza: announcements, info on office hours, Q/A, supplemental materials (under resources)

Two exceptions:

  1. Sometimes the schedule lists journal articles but does not provide a link. This is my way of making sure you know how to go out into the world and find resources.
  2. Grades will be posted on Sakai.

Is X Required?


Please note the following:

  • Pre-class readiness assessments are due 1 hour before the start of class. Late submissions will not be accepted, and there will be no make-ups for any reason. Your 2 lowest scores will be dropped.
  • If you miss an in-class application activity, you will have until the start of the next class to contact the TA and submit your completed work. After this time, you will receive a score of 0 unless you have permission to follow a different schedule. See here for more details about Duke’s policies regarding class attendance and missed work.
  • Homework will be due at the start of class on the date indicated on the schedule. Late submissions will penalized 5 percentage points. For every 24 hours late after the missed deadline, an additional 5 percentage points will be deducted from the score.
  • Students should abide by the Duke Community Standard at all times. If a questionable circumstance arises, do not hesitate to seek my guidance (before is always better than after).
  • Any student with a documented disability needing academic adjustments or accommodations should speak with me during the first two weeks of class. All discussions will remain confidential. Students with disabilities will also need to contact the Student Disability Access Office.

Looking for previous semesters? See here.