Committee on Cancer Biology Curriculum

  • Cancer Biology Curriculum

    The Curriculum in the Cancer Biology program provides an overview of the field, while allowing students to focus in areas of interest

The Committee on Cancer Biology offers a graduate program of study leading to the Ph.D. in Cancer Biology.  The program provides multidisciplinary training for the student interested in pursuing a research career in any aspect of Cancer Biology, focusing on mammalian (particularly human) biology as well as the study of genes and processes in other eukaryotic organisms. The program provides doctoral students with the most up-to-date knowledge and research training in molecular and cellular aspects of Cancer Biology and prepares the students for leadership positions in the academic community.  The broad range of interests and expertise of the faculty members of the Committee on Cancer Biology enables students to concentrate specifically in one of several areas of Cancer Biology such as apoptosis, cancer cytogenetics, cell cycle, chromosome damage/repair, drug resistance, metastatic progression, signal transduction, or tumor biology.

The Biomedical Sciences Cluster

The Committee on Cancer Biology is integrated within a cluster of graduate programs, including the Committee on Immunology, the Committee on Microbiology, the Committee on Molecular Metabolism and Nutrition and the Molecular Pathogenesis and Molecular Medicine Program. The five academic units share several common courses, a seminar series, and additional common events for students and faculty within the cluster. The goal of the cluster system is to encourage interdisciplinary interactions among both trainees and faculty, and to allow students flexibility in designing their particular course of study. 

In addition, students will have extensive opportunities for interaction with the three other clusters within the Biological Sciences Division: the Molecular Biology Cluster: Biochemistry and Molecular Biology, Developmental Biology, Genetics, Human Genetics and Molecular Genetics and Cell Biology; the Ecology, Evolution, and Integrative Biology Cluster; and the Neurobiology Cluster.  These clusters offer courses and sponsor seminars and symposia open to Cancer Biology students.  Many students from the Molbio and Neurobiology Clusters with cancer research interests are very active in the life of the Committee on Cancer Biology. The Cancer Biology student will thus enjoy an exceptional training environment with extensive opportunities for scientific interaction among a variety of students and faculty.

Formal Coursework

The academic program in Cancer Biology will require that each student take at least nine graded courses, six quarters of Introduction to Experimental Cancer Biology, and complete two research rotations for a total of 10.5 course credits.


The student will take two elective courses in an area, or areas, of specific interest to the student, in consultation with the Curriculum Committee, which will keep the individual interests and the goals of the student in mind.  Students may take additional electives according to their specific interests. All course requirements should be completed by the end of the student's second year.

Laboratory Rotations

The student will complete at least two research rotations (CABI 30100: Introduction to Research) in different laboratories.  Each rotation will be graded.  At the end of the first year (4 quarters of residence) the student will select an advisor in whose lab he or she will conduct research.

Preliminary Examination

All first year Ph.D. students will be required to take an oral preliminary exam in the early summer of their first year.  Students will be given two currently published articles and two weeks to prepare. They will then present the article to four faculty members and be responsible for responding to questions aimed at testing the general knowledge and thought process of the student in presenting the paper.

The purpose of the Preliminary Examination is to help both the student and the Program determine whether he/she has received adequate training in core areas prior to progression to thesis research.  The Preliminary Examination will be given early in the Summer quarter of the student’s first year.  By this time it is expected that the student will have taken a minimum of seven of the nine required courses (three general core courses; four programmatic core courses) prior to the exam.  An overall grade average of "B" or better from all courses taken to date is required before taking the Preliminary Examination.

Dissertation Committee

All students who pass their preliminary examinations will set up a dissertation committee within six months of choosing a thesis advisor. Students will pursue original research (CABI 40100: Research in Cancer Biology) in the laboratory of their advisor.  During this time students will participate in the Introduction to Experimental Cancer Biology course, Cancer Biology Journal Club, Student Research Presentations, Student Seminar Series, and Symposia, and should consider taking additional courses of interest.

Thesis Proposal

The thesis proposal will be taken preferably in the Spring Quarter of the student's second year and no later than in the Autumn Quarter of the student's third year. The thesis proposal will consist of an oral defense of the student's written research proposal before the student's dissertation committee. The purpose of the thesis proposal is twofold, to evaluate the project and the student's understanding of it, and to evaluate the student's bench skills as exemplified in research rotations and pursuit of the research project. Following satisfactory performance in the thesis proposal, the student will be formally admitted to Ph.D. candidacy.  After approval of the thesis proposal, students are required to meet with their thesis committee at least once a year.  Meetings are meant to facilitate and monitor progress in the project and thus can be scheduled more frequently, if faculty input is sought on particular problems or choices in research direction.

Dissertation Defense

The Ph.D. will be awarded when the student, working in concert with his or her doctoral committee, has prepared a dissertation based upon original research which has been presented in a public seminar and defended successfully before the doctoral committee.