Observational Studies: Modern concepts & analytic methods

A comprehensive introduction to key concepts for observational (non-randomised) studies in clinical and public health research.

Observational studies are central to modern health research. They are key to addressing descriptive and predictive research questions, to quantify disease burden and enable risk stratification. Observational studies are also widely used to address "causal" questions, for example about the effect of treatments, policies, behaviours and other exposures on health outcomes.

Course overview

This course reviews the distinction between the three types of research questions (descriptive, predictive, and causal) and then provides a comprehensive introduction to causal inference and a guide to using regression to address causal questions. An overview of key concepts in the study of descriptive and predictive questions is also provided. The course has a strong emphasis on the design and planning of analyses – a critical step to strengthen the quality of conclusions we draw from data.

Please note: CEBU offers a core sequence of research methods courses. It is strongly recommended that the three courses: Foundations, Introduction to Biostatistics and Observational Studies be taken in that sequence because the latter ones assume familiarity with concepts, language and techniques introduced in the earlier ones. This course is third in the sequence and is not entry-level.

University of Melbourne
This course is delivered by Clinical Epidemiology and Biostatistics Unit (CEBU), a working partnership between Murdoch Children's Research Institute and the University of Melbourne.

Course format

Topics covered in this course include:

  • The three types of research questions
  • Definition of causal effects using the target trial framework
  • Causal diagrams i.e. directed acyclic graphs (DAGs)
  • Biases: confounding bias, selection bias, measurement error bias
  • Analysis planning for causal inference (target trial emulation)
  • Review causal effect measures (mean difference, risk difference, risk ratio, etc)
  • Basic concepts of regression and overview of different types of regression (e.g., linear, logistic, log-binomial)
  • Regression as a method for estimating causal effects
  • Interpretation and reporting of regression results
  • Interaction terms in regression
  • A brief introduction to causal inference methods beyond regression
  • Key concepts in the study of descriptive and predictive research questions

Materials supplied: All course material is provided electronically before the course, and solutions to the tutorials are made available as the course progresses.

Course dates

This course is offered online and in the classroom over five half-day sessions. See below for online and classroom details.

  • Classroom: 15-19 May 2023 - Completed
  • Online: 9-13 October 2023

Please note: course dates and/or venue may be subject to change. 

Course details

Classroom course - Completed

  • Date: 15-19 May 2023
  • Duration: Five half-day sessions - 9:00 am - 1:00 pm each day 
  • Course format: In-person with classroom-based tutorials and small group discussions
  • Venue:  Room RCHF MR - 5 FRC General Space, The Royal Children’s Hospital Foundation, Level 2, 48 Flemington Road, Parkville VIC 3052

Important: To attend this course you will need to adhere to The Royal Children's Hospital visitor guidelines. Please check them to ensure you are able to comply at least one week prior to attending the course. Lift access is from Larwill Studio Hotel, 48 Flemington Rd, Parkville VIC 3052.

Online course

  • Dates: 9-13 October 2023
  • Duration:  Five half-day sessions - 9:00 am - 1:00 pm each day 
  • Course format: Online with small group tutorials in breakout rooms
  • Venue: Online via Zoom 

Note: If you have already taken the course, you can register for the single half-day session on Friday 13 October 2023 which will cover new course material focusing on key concepts and methods for descriptive and predictive research questions.

Course fees (classroom & online)

  • $300 for internal applicants – Melbourne Children’s campus staff only (Murdoch Children's Research Institute, Royal Children's Hospital and The University of Melbourne, Department of Paediatrics)
  • $700 for external full-time students and participants from Melbourne Academic Centre for Health (MACH-affiliated) institutions (please enter institution name)
  • $1,000 for other external participants
  • $60 for a single half-day on Friday 13 October (covering key concepts and methods for descriptive and predictive research questions)
  • Returning participants: We offer a 50% discount for people who have previously attended this course and would like to attend a refresher. Find out more by contacting the email address below.
  • Low- or middle-income country (LMIC) participants: We offer special rates for people from low- or middle-income countries. Find out more by contacting the email address below. 

Payment and registration

Payment by credit card (not available to Murdoch Children's Research Institute staff)

You or your organisation can register and pay for the course directly via the Trybooking link below with a credit card. Follow the prompts to make payment and register. You will receive a course confirmation and tax invoice via email.  Please note: There is a Trybooking fee of 50 cents per registration which will be applied when you register online.

Trybooking - Register for Observational Studies

Payment via Unimarket (Murdoch Children's Research Institute staff only)

Payment must be made via Unimarket. Murdoch Children's staff must not make credit card payments and seek reimbursement from a Murdoch Children's cost centre (this is not permitted).

  • Go to Unimarket (also can be accessed from the Murdoch Children's intranet homepage for internal staff).
  • Log in and search for CEBU as a supplier.
  • Select CEBU courses and add the required course to the shopping cart for the CEBU course/s you wish to enrol in.
  • The GL account for training is 34460. Instructions on using Unimarket are on the intranet (internal staff only).
  • Once your Cost Centre manager approves it, CEBU will email you with the Trybooking link and promotional code to register for the course.

Please note: Your place in the course is not confirmed until you have registered via Trybooking.

Cancellation of registration

You can apply for a refund or request to change the course session to a different date pending availability if it is received seven (7) calendar days prior to the course start date. No refunds or credits will be issued for cancellations or non-attendance after this time.   

Contact us

Clinical Epidemiology & Biostatistics Unit (CEBU)
Murdoch Children's Research Institute
The Royal Children's Hospital
50 Flemington Road
Parkville VIC 3052

Fiona Snashall or Julie Perkins
Phone: show phone number

Full course timetable

See our full course timetable below for information on all CEBU courses.

CEBU course timetable