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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:Doctoral Minor

Faculty: Professors Alarid (co-director), Loeb (co-director), Ahlquist, Alexander, Allen-Hoffmann, Beebe, Bradfield, Bresnick, Bushman, Cryns, Drinkwater, Friedl, Friesen, Gould, Griep, Harari, Hoffmann, Huttenlocher, Jarrard, Kalejta, Keely, Kenney, Kiessling, Lambert, McNeel, Mertz, Miyamoto, Mosher, Raines, Rapraeger, Schuler, Shull, Sugden, Xu; Associate Professors Audhya, Kennedy, Marker, Moser, Ricke, Striker, Tibbetts, Wheeler, Xing, Zhang; Assistant Professors Burkard, Halberg, Johannsen, Kimple, Rui, Sherer, Weaver. For the most current list of faculty and descriptions of their research interests, the program website.


The graduate program in cancer biology offers a course of study and research leading to the Ph.D. degree. Although a master’s degree is offered under special circumstances, students are not admitted for a master’s degree.

The Cancer Biology Graduate Program was established at the McArdle Laboratory for Cancer Research in 1940 as the first graduate program in the United States to offer a degree in basic cancer research. The program now includes more than 50 faculty trainers from multiple departments including Oncology, Medicine, Human Oncology, Cell and Regenerative Biology, Medical Microbiology and Immunology, and others. This interdepartmental structure offers students remarkably diverse training opportunities that span the entire breadth of cancer biology research from haploid or diploid genetics, viral and chemical carcinogenesis, eukaryotic cell and molecular biology, virology, molecular toxicology, and whole-animal carcinogenesis. Through the graduate curriculum, students are introduced to the body of knowledge that has been derived directly from experiments on the induction, properties, and therapy of cancer, and receive the necessary background to conduct independent research.

Curriculum requirements are designed to be flexible, providing a maximal opportunity for specialization within this multidisciplinary field. Students learn through core and elective courses; by participation in seminars, conferences, and journal clubs related to their specific areas of expertise; and most important, from their research advisors. Students who join the program select research advisors after conducting a minimum of three month-long rotations in different laboratories during the first semester. After choosing an advisor, students will also create an advisory committee of five faculty members who will provide guidance throughout the process of earning the Ph.D. degree. The average time to complete the Ph.D. is 5.5 years. The program prepares students for careers in teaching and research in academia, government, and industry.

Financial Aid

The program is committed to ensure continuing financial support for all cancer biology Ph.D. students in good standing. Financial support includes a competitive stipend and tuition remission. All graduate students are also eligible for comprehensive health insurance. Ph.D. students are supported from a variety of different sources including research assistantships from faculty research grants, fellowships, and NIH training grants. There is no teaching requirement for cancer biology students; however, many opportunities exist on campus for those who wish to gain teaching experience.


Students seeking admission to the program must complete a bachelor's degree in biology, biochemistry, chemistry, molecular biology, or a related area from an accredited college or university 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 in chemistry, microbiology, biochemistry, genetics, physiology, and molecular biology. Prior laboratory research experience is highly desirable.

Applicants must submit a completed application online, personal statement (reasons for graduate study), official college transcripts, Graduate Record Exam (GRE) scores (the subject test is recommended, but not required), and three letters of recommendation.

For more information: Cancer Biology Program, 6405 Wisconsin Institutes for Medical Research, 1111 Highland Avenue, Madison, WI 53705-2275; 608-262-4682; admissions@oncology.wisc.edu; www.cancerbiology.wisc.edu.