Path to Your Ph.D.

As a student in the cancer biology program, you will participate in courses at USciences and The Wistar Institute and engage in hands-on training at the Molecular Screening Facility.

You will be trained for success in both an academic and an industrial setting, taking advantage of the tradition of academic excellence and history of discoveries at The Wistar Institute, as well as USciences' successful record of training students for prominent industrial positions at pharmaceutical companies in the region.

The following are the major steps toward the completion of your degree.


Please see the detailed list of required coursework.

Rotations, Advisors, and Research

During the first year in the program, students will perform a minimum of two rotations of 6-8 weeks in different laboratories, at which time the student will select a research advisor who is willing to direct the student’s research project. A student may take up to four rotations to find a suitable advisor. An advisor is required for continuation in the program. These rotations are expected to begin during the student’s first semester in the program.

Rotations and final thesis work may take place at either The Wistar Institute or USciences.

Following the selection of the research advisor, the student will form an advisory committee in conjunction with his/her research advisor. This committee will consist of at least four members, as follows:

* The research advisor
* At least one additional member of the graduate faculty from the student’s program
* At least one member of the graduate faculty from another department, from either USciences or Wistar
* At least one additional member who can contribute to the research effort of the student

For the dissertation defense, a reviewer is required.

Exception: If a student enters the program with a mutual agreement with a selected research advisor, the rotations may be waived with approval of the program director.

Research-in-Progress Meetings and Seminars

The course requires attendance in Research-in-Progress (RIP) meetings coordinated by the various Wistar Cancer Center programs. Students are expected to present their research at least once every two semesters, starting three months after commencement of the student’s research. All students enrolled in the program are expected to participate, and forms to evaluate performance will be distributed. In addition, students are expected to participate in the regular seminar series at Wistar.

Comprehensive Examination

When the doctoral student has completed all requirements as established by his/her graduate program, the student will submit a request in writing to the program director for permission to sit for the comprehensive examinations.

Research Proposal Submission

As soon as possible after the formation of the student's advisory committee, the student will submit a research proposal, which will be the basis of the student's thesis project and a prerequisite for eligibility to begin the comprehensive examination process leading to admission to Ph.D. candidacy. The research proposal will be prepared with the advice and approval of the Research Advisory Committee, and the format will follow guidelines in keeping with the forms used in the affiliated USciences graduate programs.

Examination Process

Students must complete the comprehensive examination process within 14 months after the initial request. Students who do not complete the comprehensive examination (written and oral portions) within this time period will be administratively withdrawn from the program. During the comprehensive exams, students must demonstrate a familiarity with the current literature in their major field and be able to answer questions with breadth and depth of understanding to show their mastery of the field.

This exam is based on the student learning how to compose a defensible hypothesis. This will include two components: written and oral.

Written Examination

The written part will be based on a grant proposal. A one-page set of preliminary Specific Aims must be approved by the student’s Research Advisory Committee.

After receiving approval by the advisory committee, the student will independently prepare a grant proposal, which will follow NIH Kirschstein (F32) guidelines. The proposal will be original to the student, must be based on testable hypotheses, and must be based at a level that a postdoctoral fellow would be able to accomplish in a 3-year period (as would be the case in applying for a postdoctoral fellowship). The written proposal will be provided to the members of the student’s Research Advisory Committee, who will be given two weeks to assess the proposal. A minimum of three-fourths of the members of this committee must approve the written proposal. If the proposal is unsatisfactory, the student has one additional attempt to prepare a satisfactory proposal. If the committee does not approve the second proposal, the student will be administratively withdrawn from the program.

Oral Examination

Upon approval of the written proposal by the committee, the student will progress to the oral phase of the comprehensive examination.

In this phase, the student will present and defend the proposal to an audience consisting of at least three-fourths of the membership of the advisory committee as well as other programmatic faculty members. The audience may ask questions about both the proposal and the science that it involves. After the audience has completed its questioning of the student, the student will be excused and the members of the audience will discuss the student’s performance in a closed session after which time they will vote as to whether or not they feel the student has satisfactorily passed the oral examination.

If, in the judgment of three-fourths of the members of the audience, the student did not satisfactorily pass the oral presentation and defense, the student will be provided a written and oral summary of the strengths and weaknesses of the presentation by the student’s advisor and the program director. The student will be given one additional chance to present and defend the proposal. 

This second presentation cannot occur before a month has passed from the previous presentation but must occur before 14 months from the original date of the request for the comprehensive examination. If three-fourths of the audience does not agree that the student has satisfactorily passed the second presentation and defense, the student will be administratively withdrawn from the program.

After the successful completion of the written and oral portions of the comprehensive examination and the completion of the dissertation, the student may petition the USciences Dean of the College of Graduate Studies for admission to candidacy.