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University of Pittsburgh    
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog 
  Feb 29, 2024
2023-2024 Graduate & Professional Studies Catalog

Cancer Biology and Oncology, PhD

Oncology Graduate Program (OGP)

The proposed OGP will be organized by Hillman Faculty in Hillman Cancer Center and the newly refurbished Ford Assembly Building (5KB) at 5051 Centre Avenue in Shadyside. On a student’s diploma it will be a PhD with a major in Cancer Biology and Oncology. The OGP be used to market the cancer focus of the program to students, faculty, and the public.

The OGP will be an innovative program in graduate education that aims to train highly motivated PhD students as self-reliant scholars in an environment with ready access to the breadth of expertise, approaches, and sub-disciplines that constitute the diverse fields of Oncology. This unique program will rapidly immerse students into a research environment that will train them to become independent and creative scientists.

Key features of the OGP include:

  • Providing didactic, lecture-based instruction in fundamental and contemporary aspects of Oncology.
  • Reinforcement of formal didactic teaching with informal small group discussions led by faculty experts and based on primary scientific literature.
  • Providing courses with cohesive themes to facilitate students’ understanding of the material, promoting gradual conceptual progression in the classroom with laboratory-based skill building.
  • Engaging students early in laboratory research in core competencies of mentors’ laboratories with emphasis on multidisciplinary approaches to important research questions.

Faculty research interests in the proposed OGP can be broadly divided into the following areas:

  • Cancer Biology Program (CBP)
  • Cancer Epidemiology and Prevention Program (CEPP)
  • Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy Program (CIIP)
  • Cancer Therapeutics Program (CTP)
  • Cancer Virology Program (CVP)
  • Genome Stability Program (GSP)

The OGP will be the 12th Graduate Program in the UPSOM, and will have a similar structure and requirements to the other UPSOM programs.

Admission Requirements

  1. A baccalaureate degree in a biological or physical science or in mathematics, computer science or engineering.
  2. A minimum grade point average of 3.2 (on a scale of 4) or its equivalent from an accredited institution.
  3. A minimum of three letters of recommendation. Letters from faculty familiar with the applicant’s research accomplishments are of particular value to the evaluation process.
  4. A personal statement.
  5. Applicants who are citizens of countries where English is not the official language (and the Province of Quebec in Canada) are required to submit evidence of English language proficiency by submitting the official results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), the International English Language Testing System (IELTS), or Duo Lingo.  A minimum overall TOEFL score of 90 (within a minimum score of 22 in each section), 100 iBT, 7.0 on the IELTS, or 120 on Duo Lingo is required for admission to the program.  Scores must be less than two years old.  To submit TOEFL scores, use Institution Code 2927 and Department Code 45.  Applicants who have earned a bachelor’s degree or higher from a regionally accredited institution in the United States are exempt from submitting English language proficiency test results.

Course Curriculum

In line with University requirements, students will be required to earn 32 course credits and 40 PhD dissertation credits in order to be eligible for graduation from the program.

Laboratory Rotations

Laboratory rotations are important for helping to ensure a good fit between a student and PhD mentor. Rotations in the OGP will run for 12 weeks. This is sufficient time for the student and potential mentor (and the mentor’s lab personnel) to interact, while still allowing time to perform a short-term research project. Each student is required to complete three lab rotations. Students will be expected to complete a short rotation report (2-3 pages), to be turned in within 1 week of the end of the rotation, detailing the goal(s) of the project and its rationale, as well as any results obtained and potential future directions. At the end of each rotation, students will be evaluated by the faculty member supervising the rotation; these evaluations will be forwarded to the Program Directors and will become part of the student’s academic record. Rotations will be graded, and each rotation will receive 3 credits.

Course Instruction

Courses will be taught by Oncology Graduate Program Faculty who will be chosen from existing Hillman Cancer Center members. This will fulfill their existing teaching requirement and therefore have no workload impact.

First Year


All first year OGP students will take a newly developed common courses in the fall semester, to be titled “Fundamentals in Biology” to be directed by Dr. Katherine Aird as well as “Cancer Biology & Therapeutics” an existing course directed by Drs. Laura Stabile and Roderick O’Sullivan (MSCMP3710). These will be three credit courses.

All first-year students will be offered a newly developed common course “Classic Manuscripts in Cancer Biology and Oncology. In this course, students will be taught how to read and analyze scientific literature, with an emphasis on current and classic papers in Oncology. This will be a two-credit course.

Students will also attend one of HCC’s research program’s work-in-progress conferences where they will learn how to present state-of-the-art research in Oncology.

Finally, students in the fall of year 1 will complete a laboratory rotation of 12 weeks each (three credits).


All first-year students will be required to take a newly developed common course “Fundamentals of Clinical Oncology” to be directed by Dr. Chris Bakkenist. This will be a three-credit course.

All first-year students will be required to take three elective courses in the Spring of the first year (two or three credits). These may be electives offered by OGP or other Graduate Programs. For example, we imagine that some OGP students will elect to take an existing course, Comprehensive Immunology MSMI 2210 with PMI (two credits) prior to taking a new course, Cancer Immunology and Immunotherapy (three credits) in the summer of their first year. Some OGP students may take an existing course, Principles of Pharmacology MSMPHL 2310 (two credits) and/or Drug Discovery MSMPHL 2370 (two credits) prior to a new course, Women’s Cancer (three credits) in the summer of their first year. While the OGP will be an innovative, contemporary, and comprehensive Graduate Program to train the next generation of cancer researchers, we do not propose that it be exclusive. We will integrate with existing Graduate Programs who offer electives that interest our students, and our electives will be open to Graduate Students in other programs. Students will also complete a second laboratory rotation.


In the summer concluding their first year in the Program, OGP students will take the same Scientific Ethics (one credit) and Statistics (three credits) courses currently required of all students in the IBGP and other SOM PhD programs. Many of the faculty who will participate in OGP have participated in the aforementioned courses and will continue to do so once the OGP is established. OGP students will also take an elective (two or three credits).

Students will also complete a third laboratory rotation.

Second Year


Upon completion of rotations, students will confer with their first-year advisor, rotation mentors, and/or the members of the OGP executive committee to identify a mentor and laboratory in which to conduct their thesis research. Students will commence or continue work in their chosen thesis laboratory, depending on when their laboratory rotations were completed.

If a thesis laboratory is not chosen at the end of the third rotation, a fourth rotation may be offered at the discretion of the Program Directors. These situations will be reviewed on a case by case basis.


All second-year students will be required to take a course in scientific writing (one credit). Our experience examining written comprehensive exams is that some students need intensive training in scientific writing as  they start working on their comprehensive exams.


OGP Electives

To be completed during the first two years of study.

OGP students will be required to complete 6 credits of Cancer elective courses based upon their particular area of interest. We anticipate that these will generally be of the following:

Research Credits

Lab Rotations (Fall/Spring/Summer First Year, 9 credits): Students will be required to complete three lab rotations of 12 weeks each for 3 credits per rotation. These rotations will commence in early September. After the rotations, students will sign up for Directed Study (Spring/Summer/Fall First/Second Year, 23/24 credits) or Dissertation Study (after completion of the qualifying exam and advancing to candidacy; until graduation).

Total Credits: 72

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