Welcome to the Cancer Biology Program!

From the discovery of the first genetic abnormality that directly causes cancer, to the co-option of one’s own immune resources to find and destroy cancer cells, research at Penn has hugely impacted the study and treatment of cancer. Fundamentally, cancer will always be a genetic disease that manifests through pathologies rooted in cell and molecular biological defects. However, it is increasingly clear that efforts to fully understand and treat each cancer will require a multidisciplinary approach that capitalizes on intellectual insights from diverse scientific disciplines. The Cancer Biology Program is designed to train students in the core principles and experimental approaches within cancer biology and to empower their ability to conduct hypothesis-driven research to better understand the fundamental mechanisms that cause and define the hallmarks of cancer. However, beyond these fundamentals, we additionally arm students with critical intellectual skills that enable them to engage significantly within a scientific discipline that is critical for achieving their research goals. Students in the Cancer Biology Program capitalize on the diversity of opportunities that are available across campus ultimately integrating in faculty laboratories within the Perelman School of Medicine, School of Veterinary Medicine, School of Arts and Sciences, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, The Wistar Institute, The Parker Institute for Cancer Immunotherapy, The Abramson Family Cancer Research Institute, and many, many others.

A defining feature of Penn’s Cancer Biology Program is its central role in bringing together the diverse facets of cancer research across Penn’s campus. This nucleating function of the program positions students and their research in the spotlight of the community and provides an outstanding mechanism for engagement amongst students and faculty across diverse scientific disciplines. As a community, our mission is to create and nurture an environment that fosters professional development, ignites a passion for research, and embraces collaboration amongst its membership. As faculty, our goal is to empower students with the capability to launch careers dedicated to improving our understanding and treatment of cancer. As students, our goal is to realize our potential as scientists, prepare for the next step in our careers, and contribute new knowledge to the field of cancer research.

The Cancer Biology Program is committed to fostering diversity and embodying an inclusive culture amongst our membership. All CBP faculty receive unconscious bias training. As a resource to our students, select faculty members belong to the Trainee Advocacy Alliance or serve as Recruitment and Outreach Ambassadors within IDEAL Research. These faculty receive advanced training in Inclusive Mentoring, Restorative Justice, Racial Literacy, and Caring Community Cultivation. Select CBP students serve as fellows within IDEAL Research to contribute to research training programs that expose undergraduates and post-baccalaureate scholars from historically underrepresented backgrounds to biomedical research and its efforts to recruit the next generation of diverse trainees to Penn Medicine.

 

CB Program Activities

Students are required to rotate in at least three distinct laboratories. The overarching goal of the rotation process is to find a thesis laboratory and principal investigator that best matches the student’s research goals and mentoring needs. As the first year begins, we provide multiple opportunities and tools for new students to engage with faculty and explore the many cancer research opportunities available across campus. Though the options for thesis research at Penn are vast, we provide several mechanisms to acquire advice along the way that help guide your search. Rotations are ~12 weeks long and roughly begin in late September, early January, and late March. Typically, students have joined a thesis laboratory by June of their first year. However, additional rotations or an extended time frame for joining a laboratory is allowed with approval from the CBP Chair.

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First year students present two rotation talks—each 10 minutes long. The first rotation talk will take place after the first rotation. The talk will be given amongst other 1st year students and 3 faculty coaches. Students will receive feedback from the faculty coaches and their peers. The second rotation talk will be given after the second OR third rotation. This assignment will be made randomly. These talks are a “big deal”—not just for the students but for everyone.  All students & faculty are invited to the talk. Afterward, we will celebrate accordingly!

Faculty Coaches: Drs Celeste Simon, Warren Pear, and David Feldser

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CBP Talks is designed to highlight the cutting-edge research performed by our students. The talks are graduate student led but the entire Penn cancer research community is welcome. All students and faculty in CBP are encouraged to attend. First and second year students are required to attend. All CBP lab members are welcome. For 2021/2022 students in years 4 and up will present. This will change based on enrollment numbers for each year’s class. Presentations are scheduled based on seniority (i.e. the ‘oldest’ students present first). At each meeting, there are two 25 min talks with 5 mins of questions. CBP Talks is held Thursdays at 3:00 to 4:30 BRB Auditorium. Social lubricants will be served at 3:00* in the lobby. Each year CBP Talks will start in early September and run until we exhaust presenters. Breaks for holidays and other events excluded.

*Pending lifting of COVID-related restrictions.

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CBP Journal Club is for CBP students but a handful of faculty ‘coaches’ will attend to help guide discussion. All students in the CBP are invited to attend. Students in academic years 3 and 4 will each present once during the academic year. First and second year students are required to attend. Attendance is otherwise optional. The presenter decides what paper(s) they will present, but they will do so with the guidance of the CBP faculty coaches. The paper will be of broad interest to the cancer biology community and be highly significant. The paper should NOT be directly within the students’ thesis project area. Papers published by colleagues at Penn are discouraged.

The presentation is a comprehensive review of multiple papers that are centered around a single paper of focus. Though encouraged, it is not anticipated that the paper of focus will have been read by the audience. Therefore, the presenter should be able to contextualize the paper with extensive background that draws upon multiple other papers published earlier. Additionally, if ‘sibling’ papers are published around the same time, it is important to present the data in those papers as well. To do well in a presentation of this sort it is expected that a typical student might spend 20 or more working hours preparing for this. The final presentation should be limited to ~45min.

CBP Journal Club meets on alternating Wednesdays from 12:00-1:00pm. Each year the club will meet starting in early September and run until we exhaust presenters. Breaks for holidays excluded.

Faculty Coaches: Drs. David Feldser, Luca Busino, and Brian Keith

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CB Program Committees

Dr. David Feldser, Program Chair
Dr. Donita Brady, Vice Program Chair
Dr. Karin Eisinger, Admissions Committee Chair
Dr. Margaret Chou - Advising Committee Chair
Dr. Andrei Thomas-Tikhonenko, Prelim Advising Committee Chair
Sierra McDonald - Student Curriculum Rep

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We had 213 applications to the Cancer Biology Program for entrance in Fall 2021. We interviewed 27 students and accepted 25. Our incoming class has 10 students (80% female and 30% under-represented minority). The average GPA of accepted students was 3.78.

2022 Admissions Committee
Dr. T.S. Karin Eisinger, Ph.D. (Chair)
Dr. Xianxin Hua, Ph.D.
Dr. Patrick Grohar, M.D.
Dr. Irfan Asangani, Ph.D.
Dr. Crystal Conn, Ph.D.

 

 

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Each incoming student is paired with a faculty advisor to help guide their integration into the Penn CBP community. The advisor:student relationship is highly flexible and should evolve organically to fit the needs of each student. Specific areas of emphasis for advice are the selection of rotations, academic coursework, work-life balance, and program-related extracurricular activities. An additional layer of advising is provided by a three-member panel of faculty that meets with each student prior to each rotation period to help select rotations or provide any other insights and advice if needed. After the choice of thesis advisor, student advising is handed off to the PI of the thesis lab and the thesis committee. Additional advice and mentorship is provided by the program chair or vice chair throughout as needed.

2022 Advising Committee
Dr. Margaret Chou, Ph.D. (Chair)
Dr. Lewis Chodosh, M.D., Ph.D.
Dr. Maureen Murphy, Ph.D.

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Understanding that the study of cancer is a multidisciplinary enterprise, the Cancer Biology Program first provides all students with foundational knowledge of the cellular and molecular processes that underlie both cancer etiology and cancer therapy. Then, students undertake concentrated study in one of several academic disciplines that are particularly germane to cancer biology and timely to the current state of the field. This personalized approach is designed to give each student the opportunity to tailor their academic experience in a manner that best suits their research goals. See Academics page for details.

2022 Curriculum Committee
Dr. David Feldser, Ph.D. (Chair)
Sierra McDonald - Student Rep

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The preliminary exam for the Cancer Biology Program is formatted the same as for all CAMB programs. See details here.

2022 Preliminary Exam Committee
Dr. Andrei Thomas-Tikhonenko, Ph.D., (Chair)
Dr. M. Celeste Simon, Ph.D.
Dr. Rumela Chakrabarti, Ph.D.

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