A Magazine for the George Mason University Community

Creating a Blueprint for Health Research

By Leah Kerkman Fogarty on October 24, 2011

Kathryn Jacobsen

Kathryn Jacobsen is an old hand at writing textbooks. After the success of this associate professor in the Department of Global and Community Health’s 2007 text Introduction to Global Health, she decided to tackle the world of research in Introduction to Health Research Methods (Jones & Bartlett Learning, 2011). An epidemiologist, Jacobsen explains that her field focuses on the research side of public health.

“Epidemiologists are the number crunchers of public health, and we use the research methods described in my textbook to identify what populations are affected by particular diseases and what the risk factors for those diseases are,” explains Jacobsen.

So tell me about your new textbook.

What’s exciting about this book is that it covers the whole research process. It starts with how to come up with an idea for a research question, and it goes all the way through how to publish a paper or present at a conference. My goal was to try to make research accessible to new researchers. I just finished my fifth year at Mason, and I’ve really enjoyed publishing with students. I’ve published about 20 papers with students—mostly master’s students—in the past three years. Guiding them through that whole process from a research idea to a published paper is what I drew on for this book.

Why did you decide to write it?

I hadn’t seen any other book that had this comprehensive view of the whole research process. There are a lot of excellent research methods books out there that focus on one method, and they’re 500 pages long and really intimidating. I wanted to create a book that wasn’t about comprehending the details of elaborate multimillion dollar projects but instead would help new investigators do meaningful research on their own.

How important is research to the world of public health?

Research is important for pretty much everything. I think a lot of people hear the word “research” and think it is limited to scientists wearing lab coats and experimenting on mice. But in reality, research is needed to answer a multitude of important questions, such as, Does this new drug work? Am I at risk for having this kind of disease? If we try this intervention, will it keep people from getting sick?

If we’re not doing research to see what improves health, then we may be wasting our resources. Health research is crucial for answering real-world questions about effectiveness. This is a book that applies to public health but could also apply to clinical medicine, psychology, or the social sciences. Because although the questions are a little bit different, the process of careful research that we use to answer them is the same.

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