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Cancer Biology (Cluster)

Programs and Events

Background and History: Cancer biology is a major area of study for students in the DGP and IBiS graduate programs, as well as students in the MSTP program. The Cancer Biology curriculum extends beyond departmental boundaries and across the Evanston and Chicago campuses. Students actively participate in the Cancer Biology Club, mini-symposia (called Nanocourses), and seminars sponsored by the Robert H. Lurie Comprehensive Cancer Center. Every fall, the Cancer Biology Cluster hosts an informational meeting and reception to welcome new students on the Evanston and Chicago campuses interested in learning more about the cluster. Career Development activities are scheduled throughout the year.

How to participate:

Students rotate through laboratories in the first year of graduate school and if a cancer-focused mentor and research project are selected, students have the opportunity to join the Cancer Biology Cluster. Students do not need to be offered a spot on the training grant (see below) to be a part of the Cancer Biology Cluster and associated activities. We encourage students interested in cancer biology to take the introduction to Tumor Cell Biology (TCB) course during their first year. 

The following curriculum and educational enrichment programs are key features of the Cancer Biology Cluster:

Training Grants: Many students in the cancer biology cluster are supported by an NCI-funded T32 “Carcinogenesis” training grant. Students are nominated by their advisor in the summer preceding their second year for appointment in fall of the following year. 

Pre-doctoral Fellowships: Two Cancer Biology Cluster students per year may be awarded pre-doctoral fellowships provided by the Lurie Cancer Center or The Graduate School to perform cancer-related research projects. Students go through the same application process as outlined above.

Travel Awards: Cancer biology students are eligible to apply for travel awards to support attendance at national or international meetings with a cancer or career development focus.

Annual Symposium and Poster Session: Each June, selected graduate students and post-docs are invited to speak in the Annual Cancer Center Symposium. The annual poster session, aimed at allowing students to present their work to other students, post-docs and faculty associated with the Cancer Center, immediately follows the symposium. The best poster presentations will be selected for poster awards.

Journal Clubs and Seminars: All students are encouraged to attend the biweekly Carcinogenesis Journal Club. Attendance is required for all T32 trainees. Students are strongly encouraged to attend the weekly Cancer Center Basic Research Seminar Series, which showcases the research of prominent guest speakers and Northwestern faculty. Students help develop an annual Nanocourse on a “hot topic” in cancer research and have the opportunity to attend career development workshops/seminars throughout the year.

Cancer Biology Research Club: All students participate in a student run Cancer Biology Research Club where students present their work amongst their peers. No faculty are present so students can share ideas and discuss their work in a relaxed and collegial environment.

Student Leadership Opportunities: Students have the opportunity to join leadership of the Cancer Biology Cluster to serve roles such as

  • Student Representative to the Lurie Cancer Center Education Committee
  • Cancer Biology Research Club Director
  • Communications Specialist (maintain listserves, LinkedIn contacts, and distribution of curated announcements about pertinent activities)
  • Recruitment Specialist (create posters for advertising the Cancer Biology Cluster highlighting current student research)
  • Career Development Specialist (help plan and invite speakers from various career paths)
  • Nanocourse Planning Committee Member (help plan and invite speakers for annual Nanocourses)

Who to Contact

Cancer Biology Cluster Directors

Cancer Biology Cluster Student Directors

Applications are open for additional student leaders. Please contact the above students for more information.
  • The Cancer Biology Training Program requires core knowledge of cell biology, molecular biology and genetics, and biochemistry. In addition to core courses in these areas, a foundation course in Tumor Cell Biology (TCB) should be taken in the first year. TCB formally introduces students to the principles of tumor pathology, such as oncogenes and tumor suppressor genes, DNA repair, genomics, tumor invasion and metastasis, and tumor immunology.
  • Advanced readings courses are also offered. For trainees on the T32, the “Mechanisms of Carcinogenesis” course is required. This course provides training in critical evaluation of the literature, development of a grant proposal, and the fundamentals of the peer review system. Each student will work closely with a faculty mentor to write and defend a research proposal.
  • Students in Cancer Biology frequently complete additional elective advanced courses in areas encouraged by their departments and programs such as Pharmacology, Receptors and Effectors, Eukaryotic Cell Biology, Cytoskeleton, Immunology.