November 29, 2023

Introduction to Global Health Research Methods with Alan Tita, M.D., Ph.D., and Cynthia Ye, Ph.D.

Written by

Alan T. N. Tita, M.D., Ph.D., director for the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health (MHIGH) and associate dean for Global and Women’s HealthAlan T. N. Tita, M.D., Ph.D.Alan T. N. Tita, M.D., Ph.D., director for the Mary Heersink Institute for Global Health (MHIGH) and associate dean for Global and Women’s Health, and Cynthia Ye, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology, have partnered to instruct the Global Health Research Methods course.

The UAB Heersink School of Medicine and the UAB School of Public Health recently launched the UAB Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH). This course is a part of this new master’s program but is available to any graduate student. It provides an overview of theoretical and practical methodological tools for research and evaluation. Students will learn how these approaches are applied to global health research to address pressing problems and health inequities worldwide. 

The Heersink communications team met with Dr. Tita and Dr. Ye to discuss global health research and what students can expect from this new program at UAB.

Q: How did you become interested in global health research at UAB?

Tita: I grew up and worked in Cameroon, where I saw firsthand the toll of maternal mortality and HIV prior to antiviral therapy. A mentor who had trained at UAB directed me here for a Maternal-Fetal Medicine fellowship, considering the strong clinical program and UAB’s vibrant global health collaboration at the Centre for Infectious Disease Research in Zambia (CIDRZ) at the time.

Ye: My interest in global health research can be traced back to my international background. Born in China, I went to Canada for high school before pursuing my higher education in Indiana, Michigan, and Alabama. This diverse trajectory naturally fueled my curiosity about health challenges on a global scale. During my doctoral studies in Epidemiology at UAB, I was deeply involved in cervical cancer-related research in Nepal. I learned that health research under different health care systems and cultures could lead to distinct challenges and approaches in improving public health. For example, HPV DNA testing with concurrent cytology is the gold standard for diagnosing pre-cervical cancer lesions in the US. However, HPV testing is still not widely adopted in Nepal, where visual inspection with acetic acid (VIA) is the most common and affordable diagnostic tool, as it is in many other limited-resource countries. This experience was pivotal in shaping my commitment to global health.

Cynthia Ye, Ph.D., a researcher in the Department of Obstetrics and GynecologyCynthia Ye, Ph.D.Q: Why did you choose to teach Global Health Research Methods?

Tita: Helping the next generation of global health scholars and practitioners develop skills in research methodology is crucial to transforming global health.

Ye: My passion for global health research has been consistent throughout my academic journey. I was involved in international projects during my doctoral training and am currently collaborating closely with an international team in Cameroon on cervical cancer-related research. When Dr. Tita introduced the new course opportunity to me, I was excited and interested. I am looking forward to teaching research methods and sharing my experiences collaborating with international teams in the course.

Q: What can students expect to learn from the course? 

Tita: Students will learn a broad overview of research methods applicable to global health. Throughout the course, we will be joined by a highly accomplished group of global health guest speakers and lecturers, including faculty from multiple UAB Departments and schools and external experts, who will use global health examples and real-life experiences.

Ye: The course covers a variety of topics, including basic study and clinical trial designs, statistical analysis, and ethical considerations. We have also invited a group of guest speakers with expertise in diverse fields. Our goal is to bring abundant content to the course and guide students in learning the proposal and development of research projects. By the end of the course, students will be equipped to compose their own research proposal.

Q: How could graduate students from other disciplines benefit from taking this course?

Tita: The methods covered are applicable to research in any health care area, and the examples will provide a broad perspective.

Ye: We designed the course using an interdisciplinary approach. As a methods course, we will not focus on a specific health burden topic in class. Instead, we aim to teach students a system for developing a research proposal to address their research question or interest. Even for students not originally from health care or medical fields, this course offers an opportunity to learn essential aspects of developing research projects.

Learn more about the UAB Master of Science in Global Health (MSGH).