Amato Giaccia's Advice to New Students

Amato Giaccia

Director, Cancer Biology Program

Jack, Lulu and Same Wilson Professor, Professor of  Radiation Oncology, and by Courtesy, of Obstetrics and Gynecology and of Surgery


  1. Your main goal is to morph from student into scientist.
  2. Your most important job this year is to find a thesis lab.
    Things to think about:
    • Learning to do science well is more important than the specific project
      (you will almost certainly NOT work on your thesis project forever) Projects that interest you
    • Personality and style of PI
      (e.g. meeting once a day with young Asst. Prof. vs. once a month with Superstar, P.I.)
    • Personality and style of lab
      (e.g. truly independent projects vs “cog in the machine”)
    • Are current and previous graduate students happy in the lab of interest? Have current and previous graduate students published as first author?
  3. Lab Rotations
    You should do rotations in three different areas (e.g., genetics, biochem, cell biology, genomics).
    This is an important part of your education. Geneticists approach problems differently from biochemists from cell biologists, etc. (see The Salvation of Doug and The Demise of Bill, a pair of allegories)

    Identify interesting labs (see the participating faculty page, follow links to lab pages and Medline)
    Read papers from the lab first
    Meet with P.I. to discuss lab and possible projects
    Attend lab meeting(s)
    Meet with lab members, especially other grad students, without the P.I.
    Compare and contrast...

    If necessary, you can do another rotation in the summer of your first year.
  4. Required Courses, Exams, Forms
    Use this website!
    Ideally, all coursework can be completed in your first year.
    If you don’t have enough background in genetics, you might postpone GENE 203 until 2nd year. Your qualifying exam must be completed in your second year.
  5. Interesting Reading
    Kathy Barker, “At the Bench: A Laboratory Navigator,” Cold Spring Harbor Press, 1998.
    Michael Bishop, “How to Win a Nobel Prize,” Harvard Univ Press, 2003.
    Evelyn Fox Keller, “A Feeling for the Organism,” W.H. Freeman, 1993.
    Horace Judson, “The Eighth Day of Creation,” Cold Spring Harbor Press, 1996.
    Robert Weinberg, “Racing to the Beginning of the Road,” Harmony Books, 1996.
  6. Final Words of Wisdom
              “HAVE FUN”
              “IT’S YOUR CAREER”
Name School
Andrea Chaikovsky UCLA
Yonglu Che Yale University
John Coan University of Wisconsin, Madison
Joshua Eggold  Vanderbuilt University
Brittany Flowers College of William and Mary
Megan Garland Boston University
Benson George Massachusetts Institute of Technology
Alyssa Kaiser University of Michigan
Christopher Murray Arizona State University
Kevin Nuno UC Irvine
Yan Ting Shue Nanyang Technological Univ Singapore
Andrew Spencley UC Berkeley
Josh Tay National University of Singapore
Catherine Yao UCLA

Cancer Biology Program

2015 NSF Awards: Cancer Biology Program

NSF recipients:

Michelle Atallah - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Edgar Engleman & Parag Malliick)

Fiorella Grandi - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Nidhi Bhutani)

Maggie Martins - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Edgar Engleman)

Amy Tarangelo - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Scott Dixon)

NSF Honorable Mentions:

Michael Bocek - Class of 2013 (P.I.: Michael Bassik)

Sean Hunter - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Jennifer Cochran) 

Zintis Inde - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Scott Dixon)

Ben Topacio - Class of 2014 (P.I.: Jan Skotheim)