What does this mean, you ask? I put this as the banner photo on my twitter feed @drmarkbooth to make a particular statement about the value that epidemiology offers. Whenever I say I am epidemiologist it offers some insights into my role as a researcher, but does not indicate the depth or breadth of my interests. As I have moved through my career my research interests have widened considerably, but I have always been able to maintain the label and work within the domain of epidemiology. How is this possible?
To understand how epidemiology can be thought of as a discipline wihout borders you could open any modern epidemiology text book and glance at the contents page. There should be a few chapters devoted to the basic principles, theories etc of epidemiology but there should also be several chapters devoted to all the so-called ‘special topics’ or ‘sub-disciplines’. It is in these chapters that you will find out just how flexible and encompassing epidemiology can be.
Epidemiology is not the same as applied statistics – a discipline that also crosses disciplinary borders. Whist often using statistics, epidemiology is a more of a framework and philosophy for asking often complex questions relevant to many domains of enquiry. It can act as a glue for often disparate disciplines to develop a common bond, or act as the base to guide specific types of enquiry that might benefit from epidemiological framing.
In my own career I have enjoyed collaborations across a wide range of disciplines because I chose to become an epidemiologist. Border-less is not the same as state-less. You can keep a strong personal identity whilst walking across disciplinary borders, rather like holding onto and travelling with an academic passport that identifies you as belonging to particular discipline but which gives you permission to travel, perhaps permanently, perhaps just temporarily, to other disciplines.
If you are the kind of researcher that wants to meet and work with scientists across the social, physical, computational, mathematical, biological, clinical, ecological spectrum then maybe you should consider becoming an epidemiologist too?
I am an epidemiologist based at a UK Higher Education establishment (Durham University, if you are interested). My research interests are primarily within the domain of Neglected Tropical Diseases (NTDs). I believe that the only way we can effectively tackle complex problems affecting populations living in tropics and sub-tropics is through trans-disciplinary collaboration. My working definition of transdisciplinary is undertaking research alongside so-called 'stakeholders' - groups and individuals who do not call themselves 'researchers' but whose experiences and knowledge can be used to great effect when combined with the experiences and knowledge of the research community. You can read my online CV at the link below.