Molecular Oncology & Tumor Immunology PhD Training Program Curriculum | NYU Langone Health

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Molecular Oncology & Tumor Immunology PhD Training Program Molecular Oncology & Tumor Immunology PhD Training Program Curriculum

Molecular Oncology & Tumor Immunology PhD Training Program Curriculum

The Molecular Oncology and Tumor Immunology PhD Training Program at NYU Grossman School of Medicine’s Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences offers a robust curriculum to train future scientists in cancer biology and anti-tumor immunity. The program includes laboratory work, coursework, and a comprehensive research thesis project. Students and their thesis advisor work together to select a research topic of interest.

Students enter the program with varied backgrounds and interests and are mentored individually. As a student in our program, you consult with the program’s graduate director and advisors to choose the most appropriate courses relevant to your background and interests.

Current students can access detailed guidelines, including information on the qualifying exam, thesis committee meetings, and forms, as well as seminar schedules and important information on thesis defenses and graduation by logging into our student community with their Kerberos ID and password.

Program Overview

During the first year, you participate in three 12-week lab rotations and take courses, described in detail below. In the second year of the PhD program, you select your thesis advisor and begin conducting laboratory research and continue to take courses. At the end of the second year, you take a qualifying examination in your area of research focus consisting of writing and defending a proposal on your dissertation project. The proposal is read by a thesis committee consisting of faculty members of your choosing. You meet with this committee every six to twelve months until your thesis research is complete.

Throughout your tenure in our training program, you have the opportunity to participate in various seminars and workshops based on your research focus. Vilcek Institute of Graduate Biomedical Sciences also provides financial support for participating in external conferences.


Most coursework occurs in the first two years of the program and is composed of a set of core courses specific to molecular oncology and tumor immunology, courses required for all graduate students, and elective courses. All students, regardless of their program, will require the same minimum number of credits prior to graduation.

Molecular Oncology and Tumor Immunology Core Courses

The following are core courses for our training program:

  • Basic Mechanisms in Molecular Oncology and Tumor Immunology: This course merges coverage of concepts in classic cancer cell biology with the growing body of work on the complex interplay between cancer cells and immune cells in the tumor microenvironment.
  • Translating Cancer Discovery into Clinical Practice: This course leverages the rich clinical expertise of NYU Langone’s Perlmutter Cancer Center to provide a clinical perspective of the current critical questions in cancer treatment, from chemotherapy to immunotherapy.
  • Introduction to Immunology and Advanced Immunology: These intensive didactic courses are taken jointly with students from the Immunology and Inflammation PhD Training Program.
  • Works in Progress Series: Students and postdoctoral researchers present their current research and receive feedback from peers and faculty on research direction and presentation style.

Required Courses

Introduction to Research

Rigor and Reproducibility

Data Analysis and Biostatistics with R

Ethics: Scientific Integrity and Responsible Conduct in Research (first and fifth years)

Grant Writing for Scientists

Thinking Strategically About Your Science Career (Individual Development Plan, third year)

Elective Courses

Protein Modifications in Cell Signaling

Genetics and Genomics

Mammalian Stem Cells in Disease and Regeneration


Molecular Mechanisms in Biology

Topics in Molecular Biology

Seminars and Workshops

In addition to the Works in Progress Series that all students are required to attend, there are myriad opportunities to interact with scientists at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, throughout New York City, and nationally. Some of these are listed below.

Perlmutter Cancer Center Program Meetings (Cell Biology, Genome Dynamics, Melanoma, and Tumor Immunology subgroups)

Honors Program Lecture Series

Immunology Seminar Series

Pathology Seminar Series

Works in Progress Series of other training programs

Lab Rotations

Lab rotations enable students to experience working with individual mentors for 12 weeks. Rotations are an excellent opportunity to learn about different research topics and approaches within the training program and develop rapport with mentors and lab members. After completing three rotations, you select your thesis advisor and work with them to formulate a thesis project.

Qualifying Exam

In the summer following year two in the program, you must successfully pass your qualifying exam. The qualifying exam requires submission of a written thesis proposal and its oral defense before a committee that consists of three members selected by the student in consultation with the mentor. The exam is intended to test analytical skills, evaluate basic knowledge in the selected research area, and assess the capacity to cogently formulate specific questions and to design and interpret experiments directed toward answering them. After successful completion of the qualifying exam, the committee members will provide advice and guidance on your thesis proposal and continue to advise you throughout your predoctoral training.

Thesis Committee Meetings

Once you have selected a thesis advisor, you receive individual mentorship from your advisor on a continuous basis. In addition, once you have successfully completed the required coursework and the qualifying exam, the thesis committee you selected regularly monitors your progress. The thesis committee meets at least once a year and submits a written report to the graduate advisor and program director until you are ready to write your thesis.

Thesis Defense

At the end of your graduate training, you prepare a written thesis. A thesis constitutes a substantial body of published or publishable research, with a general introduction and discussion to place the findings in a larger context. Students obtain permission from their thesis committee to initiate preparation of the written thesis. The thesis research is then presented in a public Thesis Seminar open to the scientific community at NYU Grossman School of Medicine, and then defended privately in front of a thesis defense committee consisting of the advisor, the members of the thesis committee, and an expert in the field from outside NYU Grossman School of Medicine.