As part of a new collaboration between Harvard University and MIT called EdX, a new introductory course, Quantitative Methods in Clinical and Public Health Research, is to be offered online by Harvard School of Public Health to students in India and around the world beginning October this year .

The totally free course is an online adaptation of material from the Harvard School of Public Health’s classes in epidemiology and biostatistics and will be taught by two well-known Harvard School of Public Health faculty professors, Earl Francis Cook and Marcello Pagano.

Swati Piramal, Vice-Chairman, Piramal Enterprises said the course would be a great opportunity for physicians in India. She is an alumna of the Harvard School of Public Health.

With no admission process, Harvard-MIT EdX courses will be available to all with an Internet connection. The only prerequisite is students should have a sound grasp of algebra.

Honour code

“One of the big shortages we have in Indian science is the lack of research curriculum in our medical training. India has over 900,000 doctors but few are trained to be physician scientists. This is a glaring gap in our country,” said Swati Piramal, who is a member of the Board of Dean’s Advisors at Harvard School of Public Health and a member of the Board of Overseers for Harvard University.

Some 12,000 people globally have already registered. Only 25,000 students will be taken on board.

“It is 10 hours a week. For those doctors who have busy schedules, it needs to be sculpted to fit into their exacting lives,” she said.

Stating that it was “not just a video, but an interactive session with a live professor at the other end who will ask questions”, Swati Piramal added, “Though MIT has conducted these courses, and does really well using artificial intelligence, it is the first time for clinical research”.

Students will be asked to tick mark an ‘honour code’, stating that they won’t cheat.

“Providing medical doctors an introduction to the science of quantitative methods can be the first step to getting more of our physicians to become top professionals in clinical research,” said Piramal, adding that she had personally signed up for the course. “Though I did it 20 years ago, it is an honour to be taught by these PhD professors.”

Though clearly more than a single course is needed to create highly qualified clinical investigators, an online course can be an initial step toward raising the standards of medical research, which will help reduce the burden of disease.


(This article was published in the Business Line print edition dated August 11, 2012)
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