Silver BlogBest Free Epidemiology Courses for Data Scientists

Are you interested in knowing more about epidemiology, the field which studies the spread and distribution of diseases? This article collects some free courses which are intended to help you do just that.


The emergence of COVID-19 has made for a tempting pool of data for data scientists to dip their toes into. While much of the amateur analysis being done on existing COVID-19 data is benign, and makes for good practice and can actually do a good deal of help in painting a picture of reality for those who consume this analysis — visualizations of the numbers of confirmed coronavirus cases and deaths, for example, has been a particular source of quality conveyance — there are tools that data scientists generally don't possess when it comes to expertly forecast or explain the spread, distribution, and impact of infectious diseases. This is what the field of epidemiology is in part about.

To be clear, spending a few hours studying epidemiology will not make an epidemiologist of you, any more than taking a Coursera course or two will make you a data scientist. But it will provide insight into how epidemiologists model data, and may provide enough of this insight in order for you to treat your forecasting or explaining infectious disease spread differently — or perhaps even change your mind about trying it at all.

Look, we've all seen the memes about data scientists who think they are able to model any data they get their hands on without domain knowledge, particular in light of COVID-19. Epidemiologists are the domain experts when it comes to modeling and explaining infectious disease spread, and so taking some time to properly learn about the field before jumping in and modeling such data is a good idea. And even if you aren't interested in understanding how infectious disease spreads in order to forecast it yourself, if you are like me you are interested enough in data and how it is modeled just to want to find out more about how it is done by those in specialized fields.

In any case, here are a collection of epidemiology courses which can bee taken for free and used to expand your understanding of a field which has taken a spotlight on the global stage in the past several weeks, for reasons I don't need to further explain. Course descriptions come directly from course websites.

COVID-19 Epidemiology Courses

This first batch of courses are specifically related to the emergence, spread, and analysis of COVID-19, the resultant disease of the novel coronavirus which has already changed everyone's lives since it reared its head only a few short months ago. The WHO courses may be a bit beyond the traditional idea of epidemiology, and seep into both wider public health concern and clinical work, but it's not really a set of lines I am expert enough to draw, and the courses will undoubtedly be of interest if you have made it this far in this article.

General Epidemiology Courses

This second batch of courses contains those which are not COVID-19 focused, and which cover a variety of aspects of epidemiology, from the study of local and global epidemics to the biology of infectious disease to bioterrorism to virus-host interactions and beyond. Lots of light topics here, right? Note, too, that there are additional courses in the next section, which lists a few Coursera specializations, each consisting of a series of courses, and no courses which are repeated from here. These are all standalone offerings.

  • Epidemiology: The Basic Science of Public Health, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
    Often called “the cornerstone” of public health, epidemiology is the study of the distribution and determinants of diseases, health conditions, or events among populations and the application of that study to control health problems. By applying the concepts learned in this course to current public health problems and issues, students will understand the practice of epidemiology as it relates to real life and makes for a better appreciation of public health programs and policies. This course explores public health issues like cardiovascular and infectious diseases – both locally and globally – through the lens of epidemiology.

  • Epidemics - the Dynamics of Infectious Diseases, Penn State
    Not so long ago, it was almost guaranteed that you would die of an infectious disease. In fact, had you been born just 150 years ago, your chances of dying of an infectious disease before you've reached the tender age of 5 would have been extremely high. Since then, science has come a long way in understanding infectious diseases - what they are, how they spread, and how they can be prevented. But diseases like HIV/AIDS, Malaria, Tuberculosis, or the flu are still major killers worldwide, and novel emerging diseases are a constant threat to public health. In addition, the bugs are evolving. Antibiotics, our most potent weapon against bacterial infections, are losing their power because the bacteria are becoming resistant. In this course, we'll explore the major themes of infectious diseases dynamics.

  • Epidemics, The University of Hong Kong
    Despite all the remarkable technological breakthroughs that we have made over the past few decades, the threat from infectious diseases has significantly accelerated. In this course, we will learn why this is the case by looking at the fundamental scientific principles underlying epidemics and the public health actions behind their prevention and control in the 21st century.

  • Unusual Biology: The Science of Emerging Pathogens, MIT
    Infectious diseases represent a serious global public health problem. They have the potential to kill millions of people, whether they emerge naturally as outbreaks or pandemics, or deliberately through bioterrorism. Some examples of diseases caused by emerging pathogens are the Bubonic Plague, Toxoplasmosis, African Sleeping Sickness, and Chagas Disease. Each day, infectious disease scientists serve on the front lines protecting us from such threats. In this course students will learn how to design and critique experiments through the discussion of primary research articles that explore the molecular basis of disease caused by emerging pathogens.

  • Clinical Epidemiology, Utrecht University
    This course teaches the principles and practice of clinical epidemiology, drawing on real problems faced by medical professionals and elaborating on existing examples of clinical research. Medical researchers will lean how to translate real clinical problems into tangible research questions for investigation, gaining insight into some of the most important considerations when designing an epidemiological study along the way. Core concepts will be introduced along four key themes: diagnosis, prognosis, treatment and etiology. Followers of this course will develop their understanding of the topics addressed through lectures from experts, peer interaction and review assignments.

  • Macroepidemiology, MIT
    This course presents a challenging multi-dimensional perspective on the causes of human disease and mortality. The course focuses on analyses of major causes of mortality in the US since 1900: cancer, cardiovascular and cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, and infectious diseases. Students create analytical models to derive estimates for historically variant population risk factors and physiological rate parameters, and conduct analyses of familial data to separately estimate inherited and environmental risks. The course evaluates the basic population genetics of dominant, recessive and non-deleterious inherited risk factors.

  • Virus-host Interactions in Infectious Diseases, MIT
    Co-evolution and adaptation between viruses and humans are often portrayed as a zero-sum biological arms race. Viruses enter host cells equipped with an array of mechanisms to evade the host defense responses and replicate. The rapid rate of mutation of viruses permits evolution of various methodologies for infection, which in turn drive development of non-specific but highly effective host mechanisms to restrict infection. This class will discuss the varied solutions each side has developed as a means for survival. We will use examples drawn from human disease-causing pathogens that contribute seriously to the global health burden, including HIV, influenza and dengue virus.

Epidemiology Specializations

These are a pair of Coursera epidemiology specializations. They each consist of a set of courses, which can be taken for free. Optionally, you can pay for graded coursework and a certificate of completion (you can get a one week free trial for each as well). The individual courses (also listed below) may be of specific interest to you, outside of the specializations.

  • Epidemiology in Public Health Practice Specialization, Johns Hopkins University
    This specialization is intended for people working or aspiring to work in the field of public health at the local, regional, and national level. Over five courses taught by faculty from the preeminent school of public health, you'll learn to use the core epidemiologic toolset to measure the health of populations, assess interventions, collect and analyze data, and investigate outbreaks and epidemics.
  1. Essential Epidemiologic Tools for Public Health Practice
  2. Data and Health Indicators in Public Health Practice
  3. Surveillance Systems: The Building Blocks
  4. Surveillance Systems: Analysis, Dissemination, and Special Systems
  • Epidemiology for Public Health Specialization, Imperial College London
    Thousands of new epidemiological studies are conducted every year and their results can have a profound impact on how we live our lives. Decisions regarding the food you eat, how much you exercise, where you live and what treatment you will follow if you get sick are made based on data from such studies. This specialization aims to equip you with the skills that will allow you to correctly interpret epidemiological research, consider its limitations, and design your own studies.
  1. Measuring Disease in Epidemiology
  2. Study Designs in Epidemiology
  3. Validity and Bias in Epidemiology