Study Design in Etiologic Research

Part of:

This course is a core component of any Master´s degree in Epidemiology, and is also key to being able to follow specialized courses in epidemiology. Its aim is for you to learn about the principles and practice of cohort, case-control and cross-sectional studies. We will discuss design, data collection and outcome measures, as well as the major advantages and disadvantages of the different study designs. The emphasis will be on the application of study design in etiologic research.

This online medical course focuses on the more classical approach but also addresses modern concepts and design options, such as case-cohort designs. Various other study designs will also be discussed, with an emphasis on validity issues.

Study Design in Etiologic Research is part of MSc Epidemiology Postgraduate Online; the online MSc program in Epidemiology offered by Utrecht University, University Medical Center Utrecht, MSc Epidemiology and Elevate Health

Learning objectives

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

  • Explain the principles, design and validity aspects of a cohort study, a case-control study and a cross-sectional study
  • Interpret the measures of frequency and association from cohort, case-control, and cross-sectional studies

In particular, you should be able to:

  • Calculate the corresponding measures of frequency and association, and explain these calculations
  • Explain the modern designs used instead of the classical case-control study (e.g. case-cohort study or case-crossover study)
  • Explain the methods of data collection in the different study designs
  • Explain the specific aspects of study design in veterinary epidemiology as compared to human epidemiology (e.g. clustering of animals and the effects this has on study design, measurement of exposure status, disease status and confounders, and the selection of the study population)
  • Appraise scientific abstracts and papers on the choice of study design, and debate the relevant validity aspects
  • Design an appropriate study to be used in a specific situation or to answer an etiologic study question

Course topics

  • Design of cohort, case-control and cross-sectional studies
  • Data collection of the above studies
  • Outcome measures of the above studies
  • Advantages and disadvantages of the above studies

Learning methods

The whole course will take place online, apart from the final exam. The following learning methods will be used:

  • Web lectures
  • Group discussions
  • Group assignments
  • E-modules

Course Deadlines

Week 0
Sunday before start date - introduce yourself

Week 1
Sunday – complete Learning Unit 1-3

Week 2
Sunday – complete Learning Unit 4-6

Week 3
Sunday – complete Learning Unit 7-8

Week 4
Sunday – complete Learning Unit 9-11

Week 5
Monday – start preparing the writing of a study proposal
Sunday – complete Learning Unit 12

Week 6
Monday – submission of the study proposal
Wednesday – review of all other study proposals submitted by peers
Sunday – complete Learning Unit 13

Week 7
Monday – Final Exam


This course includes an exam with essay questions, which is the only part of the course that is not online.

Exam March 2019 edition 
The exam will take place on May 6th, 2019. The re-examination will take place on June 17th, 2019.

Exam October 2019 edition 
The exam will take place on November 25th, 2019. The re-examination will take place on January 6th, 2019.

If you are able and willing to take the exam in Utrecht, the Netherlands, we are available to proctor the exam for you without any costs. If you have to take the exam from a different location, you need a proctor. This proctor may ask you to pay for their expenses. Please read more about proctoring on our specific webpage

The exam is not compulsory. However, if you want to receive the Course Certificate and the credits, it is obligatory to take the exam. You are allowed to redo the exam once. 

It might be that, due to a force majeure situation, you cannot be present during the first exam moment. You must then, preferably prior to the first exam option, ask the academic counsellor for permission to be absent. Please note that the academic counsellor can ask for some form of proof of your absence (e.g. in case of illness) to establish if you are applicable for authorized absence. Jaco de Fockert-Koefoed, MSc is the academic counsellor you need to turn to

In short, as of now, it is no longer possible to skip the first exam option and -automatically- enrol in the second (re-sit) exam. Unauthorized absence during the first exam period results in no longer being able to finish the course that college year.

Course reviews

“Interesting lectures and instructive, enthusiastic lecturers.”  Course participant, 2013-14

“It´s given me a better understanding of how to conduct (etiologic) research and of how to understand, evaluate and analyze published articles.”  Course participant, 2013-14

“The assignment was very informative for me. By designing your own study, all the positive and negative aspects of all study designs become clearer.” Course participant, 2012-13

“Carla van Gils & Rolf Groenveld are great teachers! Great didactic skills & experts in their fields.” Course participant, 2012-13

“The reading assignments involving articles/abstracts were very useful for my overall understanding of study design.” Course participant, 2011-12

“The lectures about case-control studies really clarified the subject.”  Course participant, 2011-12


As this is a university course, it is covered by academic accreditation. Upon successful completion of this course, you will receive a recognized certificate from Utrecht University and the UMC Utrecht.

Entry requirements

To enroll in this course, you need:

  • A Bachelor’s degree in (bio)medical education or a degree in epidemiology or related subject
  • Sufficient proficiency in English reading and writing

Compulsory study materials:

  • ‘Clinical Epidemiology – Principles, Methods and Applications for Clinical Research’ by D.E. Grobbee & A.W. Hoes, Jones and Bartlett Publishers, 2014, ISBN-13: 978-1449674328.

Please note
As this is an online course, you do need access to an internet connection in order to be able to follow lectures, complete assignments and communicate with fellow participants.

The entire course is also available offline.  For more information about this option, please visit the MSc Epidemiology website.

Course staff


Pick a date for this course:
(Enrollment deadline: 13 October 2019 - 23:59 CET)
120 days left.

Quick overview

  • 14 Oct 2019 – 24 Nov 2019
  • 6 weeks
  • 14 hrs/wk
  • Academic Certificate
  • 3.0 EC
  • Online
  • English
  • Desktop, Laptop, Smartphone, Tablet
  • 1285

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