MSc Demography & Health (pre-course info)

General welcome

Congratulations on your offer of a place on our master's programme. We look forward to welcoming you to LSHTM and to the MSc Demography & Health.

The year ahead will be very busy but it will also be very exciting. LSHTM is a stimulating place to be, with a diverse student population, staff undertaking topical research and with a wide variety of seminars always available.

We are working hard to make sure you are offered not only well supported learning but the opportunities to meet and converse with staff and fellow students. You will find that you learn a lot from the other students and informal meetings with members of staff as well as from the formal teaching. So please make sure you take advantage of the activities you are offered, and we are always open to requests and suggestions, so do not hesitate to let us know any queries or ideas you have.

Please find your Welcome Week timetable below (coming soon). Lots of questions will become clear then as we discuss and get you settled into the MSc.

To help with that, we’d also love to get to know you and to match you with a suitable tutor. Please could you prepare a short introduction to yourself by completing this form as soon as possible and by Monday 25th September.

Sarah Walters, Programme Director

Welcome Week

Welcome Week timetable

Overview of the MSc

Please make sure you attend the Welcome Week sessions as we will be introducing you to the programme, teaching staff and other students on your programme. You will be given information about life at LSHTM and your programme as well as the opportunity to meet staff and other students. So please take part and do not miss out on finding out about how teaching will operate this academic year.

Teaching starts in earnest the week following the Welcome Week. Most modules will consist of lectures as well as groupwork sessions  facilitated by a staff member. You will be also encouraged to be in contact with teaching staff via emails, video conferencing and face-to-face.

Every student is allocated a personal tutor, although this may be largely for pastoral care it is also for academic advice and support. A tutor is someone who takes an interest in your progress and with whom you can discuss problems, academic or personal. Allocation of tutors will be made during the Welcome Week and we need information from you about your background – so please fill in the form we have already mentioned.

Prior to that the Programme Director will field all enquiries and concerns so email them on

One thing that we will push you to decide almost immediately are your module options for Term 1. The range of options is very limited, which makes the decisions thankfully few. Choices will be discussed during the Programme Directors’ briefing on day 2 of Welcome Week

Choices of modules for Terms 2 and 3 need to be made mid-Term 1. However, you will be well prepared for these choices because the Programme Handbook on Moodle contains descriptions of the modules and because you can discuss your choices with your tutor.

The year is a very full one, but an exciting one. LSHTM is a stimulating place to be, with a wide variety of seminars always available. You will find that you learn a lot from each other too. Most students get stressed at some time or other with the sheer pace of the programme, but at the end of the year you will be amazed how much you have learnt, and most students enjoy their year tremendously. Working at this level can be a challenge so be aware there are professional welfare and counselling services on offer to support students.

Each week there will be lectures as well as facilitated classroom sessions and there are also private study periods - and you will need those! There will be much reading to be undertaken if you are to gain full advantage of this programme. Because of the amount of study time required it is not recommended that full-time students do more than 6 hours of paid work in any term-time week.

This is the second year that we are assessing all modules at the end of each module rather than by exams in June. For Term 1 modules these assessments can be at the end of Term 1 or beginning of Term 2. You will be briefed about the timing by each module organiser.

Summer project

We do not start project preparation until Term 2, although there will be a briefing session before the end of Term 1. You can discuss any thoughts you have about projects with your tutor, but we do not expect you to have any ideas at this stage and we urge you to keep an open mind – after all you don’t know yet what will excite your interest during the programme! We leave it up to you, with guidance from your tutor and Programme Director, to choose your own supervisor, and we will provide you with advice and guidance on this.

Computer skills

For those of you who need to improve your computing skills, any practice you can get between now and start of term will certainly help you. All assessments are submitted in Word and basic spreadsheet skills are also very useful. Therefore any practice with Word and Excel will help! Simple skills like being able to copy files from one place to another, using Google Chrome or another browser, will save you time struggling in a class. We use the statistical package Stata extensively during the programme but we do not expect you to know this package in advance.

An inexpensive calculator (such as Casio FX85 GT) will be useful to you throughout the course.

Information for new half-time students

The first thing to say is that students studying half-time at LSHTM usually do well, enjoy themselves, and pass successfully - so please look forward to a good two years!

We refer to this method of study as “half-time” because you really do need to allow half of each term-time week for study. It is often possible to reduce this to two days actual attendance for live sessions but this cannot be guaranteed and in any event it is unwise to use private study time for anything except just that. The programme requires a lot of personal reading and study; it is easy to fall behind if this is not budgeted for. A certain flexibility with employment arrangements is essential.

Term 1

The first term for full-time students is an intensive one where they are introduced to reproductive health, some demography, statistics, computing, epidemiology, social science methods and other courses. For half-time students the pace is more manageable, but the problem arises about which of these courses to take first.

The recommended option is to attend Epidemiology and Statistics as these will be needed for Term 2 and 3 modules (usually these run on a Tuesday and Friday morning) . If you wish to take Extended Epidemiology (optional) then you will need to attend on Wednesday mornings as well. No reproductive health sessions are therefore taken until Year 2, which means that the module Sexual Health in Term 2 must be left until Year 2.

The disadvantage that arises from half-time study in the first term is that modules in Terms 2 and 3 do assume that you know all the first term material and therefore some extra work is sometimes necessary to fill in gaps in knowledge, however this has not proved to be a serious problem for previous students.

Terms 2 and 3

In Term 2 full-time students take four modules. All modules are designed on a “five half-week” basis, so one module will run all of Monday/Tuesday plus Wednesday morning for five weeks, with the other in the latter half of the week. Often the Wednesday half-day will be timetabled for private study but this cannot be guaranteed and some modules do timetable taught sessions on the Wednesday.

For half-time students, attendance on more than two days of the week may not be necessary - we timetable to avoid this - but it is sometimes required.

Some modules are better timetabled for half-time students than others and you can’t be sure of the actual arrangements until you get a timetable for your chosen module. However no module timetables sessions outside their respective half of the week and therefore if you plan to be in student mode for the whole of that half-week then there will be no problem.

In Term 2 it will be possible to take up to two modules from the LSHTM master's programmes by distance learning offered via the University of London, which allows more flexibility in the timing of studying the material as it is self-directed. This may be of particular interest to half-time students, although usually take-up is low. The choice of modules is limited and must be taken in Term 2. Details will be available at the start of the term.

In Term 3, one more module is taken, running in the second half of the week i.e. Wednesday afternoon, Thursday and Friday. The remainder of the week is for private study.

The advantages of half-time study

1. Students must take five modules in across Terms 2 and 3. For half-time students, the only requirement is to complete these over the two years. Therefore there is much greater flexibility over which modules to take, and when. Half-time students can, if they wish, take a module from one timetable slot in one year, and another from the same slot the following year; a flexibility that full-time students do not have.

2. Half-time students do not usually undertake their project until June of Year 2. That means in Year 1 there is a large gap between the end of modules in May and the start of the next academic year. It is recommended that half time students take three modules in Year 1 and only two in Year 2 leaving more time to undertake their project. Also many half-time students are able to arrange with their employers to go back to work for this period and “bank” their half-time entitlement to allow some full-time study over the project period in Year 2.

3. Full-time students are required to work on their research project from shortly after the end of Term 3 assessments until the deadline in early September. Half-time students can of course plan and work on their project over the whole two-year period and therefore have more flexibility. However very few actually do this! For all the good intentions the norm is actually for half-time students to do little towards their project in Year 1 but arrange more time off from employment in Year 2 and cope with their project almost as a full-time student would. This is up to you, but it is a good idea as trying to do the project half-time in Year 2 can be stressful if pressure from your job increases. Remember however that at the end of Year 1 you still have not been taught some basic material of Term 1 and this does make it more difficult to make progress on the project in Year 1. Organising to have extra time for the project in Year 2 is a good idea.

Reading list

Background Reading

You are not expected to purchase any background reading volumes but you may like to look at some of the following if you can locate them in a library or through online repositories.

These books written for a popular audience on demographic and health issues are particularly recommended

Hans Rosling, Ola Rosling & Annal Rosling Rönnlund (2018) Factfulness: Ten Reason We’re Wrong about the World – and Why Things are Better Than you Think 
Written for a general audience by a team of excellent science communicators about the state of global health, much of which focuses on demography

Jade Sasser (2018) On Infertile Ground: Population Control and Women’s Rights in the Era of Climate Change
A critique of population control narratives reproduced by international development actors in the 21st century

Danny Dorling & Stuart Gietel-Basten (2017) Why Demography Matters
Written by two British demographers for a general audience, highlighting the importance of demography to human affairs

Harper, Sarah 2016. How Population Change Will Transform Our World Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2016
Discusses how population dynamics are changing rapidly worldwide, and the social and economic impact of these changes

Important texts on methods (Term 1)

These will be available from the LSHTM library once you have registered

Holdsworth, Finney, Marshall & Norman (2011) Population and Society
Introductory demography textbook, which covers the basic concepts used in population studies, but tends to focus on measurement and methods, though without great detail on the mathematics of methods

Preston SH, Heuveline P, Guillot M. Demography. Blackwell: Oxford, 2001

Roland DT. Demographic Methods and Concepts. Oxford, 2003

Kirkwood B. and Sterne J. Essential Medical Statistics. Blackwell (2nd edition, 2003)

Rowntree D. Statistics without tears. Penguin, 1991.
For those of you completely new to statistics this book helps with some of the basic concepts

Campbell M. and Swinscow T. Statistics at Square One. 2009. BMJ books.

Webb P., Bain C., Pirozzo S (ed.). Essential Epidemiology: An Introduction for Students and Health Professionals. Cambridge University Press. (2nd edition)

If you have access to them, recent issues of the main journals, especially Population Studies, Demography and Population and Development Review, are worth browsing in for articles that interest you.

Web resources

There are plenty of resources online which have material of relevant to demography and health, including:

1. Hans Rosling’s Gapminder website has many useful and entertaining resources on population and development issues, from hour-long documentaries to shorter videos and data visualisations:

2. The Population Reference Bureau’s website provides a range of useful resources and reports, somewhat US-focused but it does cover global issues:

3. Our World in Data has ‘Research and data to make progress against the world’s biggest problems’ and includes much demographic data:

4. WorldPop maps world populations:

5. The International Union for the Scientific Study of Population is an international organisation whose website has links to a range of population resources:

In addition to the resources recommended on the Reading List, these books written for a more academic audience and/or on more specialised topics may be worth a look if you have time

Tony Champion & Jane Falkingham (2016) Population Change in the UK
An edited volume covering population changes, including migration, reproductive health, families & inequalities, in the UK over the last few decades

Tim Dyson (2010) Population and Development
Describes one particular demographer’s view of the demographic transition in detail, written in an accessible style but intended as a textbook rather than for a popular audience

Elizabeth Pisani (2008) The Wisdom of Whores: Bureaucrats, Brothels and the Business of AIDS
An insider’s view of the AIDS industry, written for a general audience by an alumna of the MSc Demography & Health

Matthew Connolly (2008) Fatal Misconception: the Struggle to Control World Population
Lengthy, scholarly and controversial account of the history of population studies

Massimo Livi-Bacci (2001) A Concise History of World Population
Does what it says in the title, though now rather out of date

Grundy, Emily. Demography and public health. In: Oxford Textbook of Public Health (5th edition), eds., Detels R, Beaglehole R, Lansang M A, Gulliford M. Oxford University Press (vol. 2, pp734-751, 2009) - A good primer article for Population Studies

Fiction based on population issues

Population issues are of great importance socially, economically and environmentally. For that reason, there is a considerable amount of fiction which involves population issues. A selection of such novels is listed and annotated below, in case you would like to read fictionalised accounts of population-relevant issues (note: this is not ‘recommended reading’, as some of these books are ‘of their time’ and may contain themes which are now considered problematic).

Ayòbámi Adébáyò’s 2017 Stay With Me (a novel about childlessness)

Laila Lalami 2014 The Moor’s account (a novel about migration, a failed attempt at colonisation, written from the point of view of a slave)

Ma Jian 2013 The Dark Road (fictionalised consequences of China’s one-child policy)

Lola Shoneyin 2010 The Secret Lives of Baba Segi’s Wives (a novel about polygyny)

Lionel Shriver 2008 Game Control (the contemporary population debate set in the Kenyan development community)

Anthony Burgess 2001 The Wanting Seed (“A Malthusian comedy about the strange world overpopulation will produce”)

Maggie Gee 1999 The Ice People (gender politics in a future ice age)

Rohinton Mistry 1995 A Fine Balance (following the lives of several characters during the state of ‘Emergency’ in 1970s India, caught up in the forced sterilisation campaign)

Amin Maalouf 1994 The First Century After Beatrice (a novel about sex selection of foetuses)

Alice Walker 1992 Possessing the Secret of Joy (a novel about female genital cutting)

PD James 1992 Children of Men (a novel set two decades after the human race became infertile; also made into a 2006 film)

Frank Bonham 1986 The Missing Persons’ League (set in a world in which the earth’s natural resources have been used up)

Margaret Atwood 1985 The Handmaid’s Tale (a dystopian novel set in a world where infertility is widespread and women have no reproductive rights; also a 1990 film and 2017 TV series)

Gunter Grass 1983 Headbirths, or the Germans are Dying Out. (a novel about declining birth rates in more developed countries compared to less developed countries)

Zoe Fairbairns 1983 Benefits (a feminist perspective on dystopia)

RK Narayan 1982 The Painter of Signs (Set in India, tells the story of Raman who falls in love with Daisy who is trying to establish family planning clinics in the area)

Marge Piercy 1977 Woman on the Edge of Time (a utopian novel, for a change)

John Brunner 1968 Stand on Zanzibar (this sci-fi novel has been described as perhaps the definitive overpopulation novel, and won a Hugo award for best SF novel in 1969)

Harry Harrison 1966 Make Room! Make Room! (an overpopulation dystopia by the author of the Stainless Steel Rat sci-fi series; made into the 1973 film Soylent Green)

Information for returning half-time students

Welcome back to the second year of your programme!

An important thing to remember is that E slot modules run in the second half of the week i.e. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday am, with the remainder of the week for private study. You will need to consider this when making arrangements with employers etc.

The summer project is an important time for you this year – basically because you have to cope with it in the same way as full-time students but you have other calls on your time.

For projects, we have always recommended that half-time students try and book as much time off as possible during the summer so that you can devote it to the project. Projects can develop slower than you think. If you manage it in less time than budgeted then you’re in credit, but this is much better than being in panic, with work demands to cope with as well. Please don’t hesitate to discuss potential problems with us.

Don’t forget that you also have full access to things like the one-off special courses that are laid on, often during reading weeks, as well as the Careers Service.

Page last updated September 2023