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Cancer Biology

Administrative Unit:Oncology
College/School: School of Medicine and Public Health
Admitting Plans:Ph.D.
Degrees Offered:M.S., Ph.D.
Minors and Certificates:Ph.D. Minor

Faculty: Professors Ahlquist, Allen-Hoffmann, Bertics, Bradfield, Bresnick, Bushman, Drinkwater, Friedl, Friesen, Gould, Griep, Harari, Hoffmann, Jarrard, Kenney, Kiessling, Lambert, Loeb, Mertz, Miyamoto, Mosher, Raines, Rapraeger, Schuler, Shull, Sugden, Verma; Associate Professors Alarid, Alexander, Kalejta, Keely, McNeel, Moser, Sandgren, Striker, Tibbetts, Xu; Assistant Professors Halberg, Sherer, Weaver, Wheeler, Xing, Zhang


The program in cancer biology offers a course of study and research leading to a Ph.D. degree in cancer biology. (Students are accepted only for the Ph.D. program; the master of science degree is awarded only under special circumstances.) The graduate curriculum provides the opportunity for advanced study in cellular, developmental, and molecular biology, as well as in the basic medical sciences, and is designed as a basis for a career in fundamental biological and biochemical research. Students are introduced to the body of knowledge that has been derived directly from experiments on the induction, properties, and therapy of cancer, and they receive the necessary background in one or more of related fundamental sciences to enable them to do original research.

Graduate students in this program receive training in areas that span the disciplines central to basic cancer research, including biochemistry (of receptors involved in signaling, of gene transcription, and RNA processing), carcinogenesis (including the genetics of susceptibility to tumor formation), developmental genetics (including the analysis of proto-oncogenes in different organisms), and molecular virology of tumor viruses (including the study of viral replication and viral transformation of cells in culture). Since cancer research as a discipline is unusually broad, encompassing a wide variety of approaches to the biology, biochemistry, and genetics of this disease, the curriculum requirements are designed to be flexible and to provide students with a maximal opportunity for specialization within this multidisciplinary field. Specific information about the requirements for the Ph.D. degree in cancer biology, as well as for a minor in cancer biology, may be obtained from the program office.

Students who join this program rotate in several laboratories during the first semester to become familiar with laboratory personnel and with ongoing research. By the end of the first semester, students generally have a major professor and begin their research projects. The major professor, along with a certification committee (made up of four additional faculty members), provides guidance to the student throughout the graduate career. The ratio of graduate students to faculty is purposely kept low to maximize student and staff interaction.

The program in cancer biology includes over 40 faculty trainers from 13 departments. The research interests of the faculty broadly span cellular and viral biology, genetics, and biochemistry. A detailed description of faculty research interests is available on the program Web site. Faculty trainers have been the recipients of numerous national and international awards and prizes for outstanding scientific contributions. In addition, members of the faculty play an active role in affecting science policy, hold positions on study sections and committees of private and governmental research organizations, and serve on the editorial boards of many professional journals.

Alumni of this program hold research and teaching positions at universities throughout the U.S. and in many other countries, as well as research positions in governmental agencies, in research institutes, and in industry. Specific information on career placement of former students is available from the program office. All students who join the program in cancer biology receive financial support in the form of a traineeship or a research assistantship, though funding for the support of international students may be limited.


Students seeking admission to the program should have an undergraduate degree in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, molecular biology, or a related area and should have a grade point average of at least 3.0 (on a 4.0 scale). The background of the student should include basic courses in these areas as well as several advanced courses from among chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, physiology, and molecular biology. Prior laboratory research experience is highly desirable.

Applicants to the program must submit a completed application online, personal statement (reasons for graduate study), official college transcripts, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores, and three letters of recommendation.

For more information: Cancer Biology Program, McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research, University of Wisconsin–Madison, 1400 University Avenue, Madison, WI 53706-1599; 608-262-4682; admissions@oncology.wisc.edu; www.cancerbiology.wisc.edu.