The curriculum for Cancer Biology is designed to introduce you to research related to the induction, properties, and therapy of cancer and to ensure that you have the necessary background in one or more areas of related, fundamental science to enable you to do original research.  Courses are drawn from the Department of Oncology as well as various related departments, including Bacteriology, Biochemistry, Biomolecular Chemistry, Chemistry, Genetics, Human Oncology, Medical Microbiology and Immunology, Pathology and Laboratory Medicine, and Pharmacology.

The Graduate School at UW-Madison requires PhD students to complete a minimum of 51 credits in order to obtain a PhD Degree. These credits are fulfilled via core curriculum courses, 990 research, and electives. Courses numbered below 300, audit, and pass/fail do not satisfy the minimum requirement. It is suggested that you take approximately 2 courses per semester with the remaining credits being 990 research. All courses must be completed by the end of your second year, before completing the Preliminary Exam. In addition, Cancer Biology students are required to participate in two seminar series (see below).



Year 1

  • Oncology 703
  • Oncology 640 (recommended) or Elective
  • Oncology 675-Readings in Cancer Biology
  • Oncology 675-Appropriate Conduct in Science
  • Elective

Year 2

  • Oncology 675: Problems in Cancer Research
  • BMI 541: Intro to Biostatistics
  • Elective
  • Oncology 675: Seminar

Core Curriculum

  • Oncology 703 – Carcinogenesis and Tumor Cell Biology; 3 credits/Fall 
    • This course covers factors involved in tumor production in humans and experimental animals; biology and biochemistry of neoplasia, both in vivo and in vitro.
    • A grade of B or better must be received or the course must be repeated.
  • Oncology 675 – Readings in Cancer Biology; 2 credits/Spring
    • This course focuses on how to master critical reading of seminal papers in cancer research.
  • Oncology 675 – Appropriate Conduct in Science; 1 credit/Spring
    • This course offers a review and discussion of the fundamentals of good scientific communication and ethical issues in science.
    • This course fulfills your ethics requirement.
  • Oncology 675 – Problems in Cancer Research; 2 credits/Fall 
    • The emphasis of this course is on the development of skills in data analysis and interpretation, proposal writing, and oral presentation to help prepare students for their Preliminary Exam.  Open to second-year graduate students only.  This course is not listed in the course schedule; the Coordinator will provide you with the course number in order to register.
    • A grade of B or better must be received or the course must be repeated.
  • BMI 541 – Intro to Biostatistics; 2 credits/Fall
    • Course designed for the biomedical researcher. Topics include: descriptive statistics, hypothesis testing, estimation, confidence intervals, t-tests, chi-squared test, analysis of variance, linear regression, correlation, nonparametric tests, and survival analysis and odds ratio. Biomedical applications used for each topic.
990 Research Credits

This is the course in which you will be conducting your independent research. As a first-semester student, you will register for 990 research credits under Program Co-Director, Dr. Dan Loeb. Once a lab is selected, these credits will be registered under the section of your Advisor. See the "Registration" section for more information.

Elective Courses/Minor Coursework

To fulfill the remainder of required credits, you must take at least 3 electives pertaining to individual training goals, as suggested or required by your Certification Committee (if a student chooses to complete a minor (see below), the minor coursework may fulfill these elective requirements). Some elective courses taken include, but are not limited to:

Fall Semester

Biochem 601

Protein and Enzyme Structure and Function

2 cr


Protein structure and dynamics. Protein folding. Physical organic chemistry of enzymatic catalysis. Analysis of enzyme kinetics and receptor-ligand interactions. Enzymatic reaction mechanisms. 

Biochem/Pharm/Zoo 630

Cellular Signal Transduction Mechanisms

3 cr


Comprehensive coverage of human hormones, growth factors and other mediators; emphasis on hormone  
action and biosynthesis, cell biology of hormone-producing cells.

Microbiology/Biochem/Genetics 612

Prokaryotic Molecular Biology

3 cr


Molecular basis of bacterial physiology and genetics with emphasis on molecular mechanisms; topics include nucleic acid-protein interactions, transcription, translation, replication, recombination, regulation of gene expression.

Microbiology/Genetics 607

Advanced Microbial Genetics

3 cr

J. Wang

Molecular genetic methods and related aspects of prokaryotic and lower eukaryotic biology, as well as critical analysis of the scientific literature. 

Microbiology MMI 740

Mechanisms of Microbial Pathogenesis

3 cr


Lecture-discussion. Host-pathogen relationships in microbial diseases.

M&E Tox/ Oncology/ Medicine/Path 625

Toxicology I

3 cr


Basic principles of toxicology and biochemical mechanisms of toxicity in mammalian species and man. Correlation between morphological and functional changes caused by toxicants in different organs of the body.

Oncology 640

General Virology-Multiplication

3 cr


Bacterial and animal viruses, their structure, multiplication, and genetics.

Oncology 675

Protein Purification and Characterization

2 cr


Offered every other year; offered next Fall 2015.

Path-Bio 528


3 cr

M. Suresh

Development and functions of immune response in animals; a comprehensive study of experimental humoral and cellular immunity.

Path-Bio 720 

Advanced Immunology: Critical Thinking

3 cr


Advanced course focusing on current questions in immunological research. Course explores immunology topics including genetic, cellular, and molecular features of immune system fundamental to regulation of immune responses. Course format: discussion of research articles and exposure to research seminars.

Pathology & Lab Med 803

Pathogenesis of Major Human Diseases

3 cr


This course will focus on disease pathogenesis and discussion of the leading disease research model. Throughout the course, we will combine expert clinicians, basic scientists, and literature review on specific major diseases.

Spring Semester

Biochem 620

Eukaryotic Molecular Biology

3 cr


This course focuses on the basic molecular mechanisms that regulate DNA, RNA, and protein metabolism in eukaryotic organisms. This course is intended for first year graduate students with a firm knowledge of basic biochemistry.

Biochem 625

Coenzymes and Cofactors in Enzymology

2 cr


Course will emphasize the importance of coenzyme and cofactors of enzymes in biochemistry. All aspects of the biochemistry of coenzymes will be covered, including their biosynthesis as far as is known, the biochemical reactions they catalyze, their chemical and spectroscopic properties, and the mechanisms by which they facilitate biochemical reactions.

Cell & Regenerative Bio 640

Fundamentals of Stem Cell and Regenerative Biology

3 cr


The course will provide a foundation to understand fundamental biological, mechanistic, and experimental concepts in the field of stem cell and regenerative biology.

Cell & Regenerative Bio 650

Molecular & Cellular Organogenesis 

3 cr


This course will cover the most current knowledge of the basic principles of organogenesis including the molecular and cellular pathways leading to normal organ development and tissue regeneration.  Tissue/organ specification, differentiation, and developmental processes, focusing on molecular and associated signal transduction pathways and transcriptional regulation will be covered in depth.

Cell & Regenerative Bio/
Medicine 701

Cell Signaling and Human Disease

1-3 cr


This course is intended for PhD students interested in medically relevant basic science. Landmark discoveries, as well as current knowledge and controversies in human health, with an emphasis on cancer biology, will be covered.

Chemical & Biological Engineering 520

Stem Cell Bioengineering

3 cr


Covers engineering approaches that are used to understand and manipulate stem cells. Concepts covered include: introduction to stem cell biology, quantitative modeling of stem cell signaling, methods to engineer the stem cell microenvironment, and the role of stem cells in tissue development and regeneration.

Chemical & Biological Engineering 783

Design of Biological Molecules

3 cr


Introduction to the methodologies for engineering the structure and function of biological molecules, especially proteins. Students will develop an understanding for the integration of computation and experiment to address biological molecular engineering problems.

Genetics/Medical Gen 677

Advanced Topics: Advanced Genetics

1-3 cr


Microbiology 625

Advanced Microbial Physiology

3 cr


Pathology 750

Cellular and Molecular Biology/Pathology

3 cr

O’Connor, S

The emphasis is on our current understanding of molecular and cellular mechanisms. Wherever possible, human diseases are used to illustrate the outcome at the organismal level of defects in these mechanisms. Lectures will draw from the current research literature and cover topics such as cell and tissue organization, intracellular sorting, cell migration and growth.

Path-Bio/MMI 750

Host-Parasite Relationships in Vertebrate Viral Disease

3 cr.


Lecture. Detailed study of the pathogenesis of vertebrate viral disease, stressing viral invasion, dissemination, mechanisms of disease production and resistance, and transmission.

For a list of all courses offered and their descriptions, please refer to the Course Guide: http://registrar.wisc.edu/schedule_of_classes_students.htm

Minor (Optional)

The Cancer Biology Program does not require students to complete a minor, however the option is available to those who wish to do so. Acceptance of the minor requires the approval of the Advisor and respective department in which the minor is administered.

  1. Option A (Degree Specific): Complete at least 9 credits from a degree program outside of Cancer Biology. You must abide by the minor department’s requirements.  Courses cross-listed with Oncology may fulfill the minor requirement, provided this is approved by your Certification Committee and the minor department.  Your Certification Committee must include one member from the minor department. See individual departments for specific requirements.
  2. Option B (Distributed):  Complete at least 9 credits from two or more departments outside of Oncology.  Courses cross-listed with Oncology may fulfill the minor requirement, pending approval by your Certification Committee.

If you wish to complete a minor, you must inform the Program Coordinator of your minor option selection by the end of the first year. The minor must be approved by your Certification Committee and must be completed along with the major course requirements by the end of your second year.  Please note that minor coursework may count towards the elective course requirements.

Previous Graduate Work

  • In some circumstances, a student may petition for a waiver of an elective course requirement. The basis for such a waiver will be evidence of previous work at the same level and content which must be approved by the program.
  • You must provide a written justification describing the reasons for requesting the waiver. You must also provide a copy of the substitute course syllabus and transcript (can be unofficial copy) indicating the grade received in the substitute course.
  • A course elective that has been waived carries no credit toward the Graduate School’s minimum credit requirements for the degree nor will the course appear on your UW-Madison graduate transcript.

Grades and Satisfactory Progress

  • To make satisfactory progress toward the degree, you must maintain a minimum graduate GPA of 3.0
  • Oncology 703 and Oncology 675-Problems in Cancer Research require a grade of B or better, otherwise the course must be repeated.
  • For other courses, grades of BC or C may be offset by higher grades on a credit-by-credit basis.
  • Courses in which a grade of D or F was assigned will not be counted toward the Graduate School credit requirement. 
  • Incomplete (I) grades are considered to be unsatisfactory if they are not removed during the subsequent semester of enrollment; however the instructor may impose an earlier deadline.
  • A student may be placed on probation or suspended from the Graduate School for low grades or failing to resolve incompetencies in a timely fashion.
  • In special cases, the Graduate School permits students who do not meet these minimum requirements to continue on probation upon recommendation of the Advisor.

Master’s Degree
The Cancer Biology Program does not admit for a Master’s Degree. However, a terminal coursework Master’s Degree may be awarded in some circumstances if the student and/or Certification Committee decide that the student should not continue towards a Ph.D. To obtain a Master’s Degree, the student must complete a minimum of 30 graduate credits.

Seminar Requirements

Cancer Biology Student/Postdoc Seminar

  • Beginning in your second year, you will be required to give an annual, formal presentation in the Cancer Biology Student/Postdoc Seminar Series. You will register for Oncology 675-Seminar during the semester in which you present. Your seminars will be recorded and you will receive feedback from the seminar course instructor to help improve your public speaking and presentation skills. 
  • The 2015-16 seminar is held on Mondays, at 3:30 pm in Rm. 6571 McArdle Laboratory (WIMR II).  Attendance at this seminar series is required.  The schedule is posted on the McArdle website: http://mcardle.oncology.wisc.edu/events/studentpostdoc_seminars.html

Cancer Biology Seminar

  • You are expected to attend the Cancer Biology Seminar throughout your graduate career (no registration required). The Cancer Biology Seminar, which features local and outside faculty speakers, is held on Wednesdays at 11:00 a.m. in 1345 HSLC. The schedule is posted on the McArdle website: http://www.mcardle.wisc.edu/events/cancerbiology_seminar.html

Formal coursework is only one element of graduate education. UW-Madison and the Cancer Biology Program offer a wealth of resources intended to enrich your graduate studies and enhance your professional skills. It is expected that you will take full advantage of the resources that best fit your needs and support your career goals as a scientist and professional (seminars and lecture series, national conferences, joint lab meetings, volunteer opportunities, campus workshops, etc.)

Speaker Chat
Following the Cancer Biology Seminar series is the opportunity to meet with the speaker during our “Speaker Chats.”  Paper(s) are provided by the seminar speaker and circulated the week before their talk for students to read in order to help prepare questions for the speaker in advance. Speaker Chat will take place in room 6471 McArdle Laboratory (WIMR II), from 12:15-1:15 p.m. A light lunch will be provided.

There is no formal teaching requirement as part of the Cancer Biology Program; however there are many opportunities on campus for students who wish to gain teaching experience (for example, the Biocore Program and serving as TA for some Oncology courses). Contact the Program Coordinator if interested in teaching opportunities.

Data Club
Data Club is a student-led group organized by Cancer Biology Graduate Students. It is open to all graduate students and postdocs on campus who are conducting cancer research and provides an informal environment to discuss science, troubleshoot, practice talks, and network with colleagues. For the Fall 2013 semester, Data Club will meet at 11:00 am on the first and third Fridays of every month.

Professional Development
A bi-weekly e-newsletter is sent to all Cancer Biology students that highlight various funding, professional development, volunteer, teaching, etc. opportunities. Visit the Cancer Biology website and UW-Madison Graduate School for a list of additional resources.