About the Cancer Biology Program

The Cancer Biology Ph.D. Program was established in 1978 at Stanford University. During the past three decades, our understanding of cancer has increased dramatically with the discovery of oncogenes, tumor suppressor genes, pathways of DNA damage and repair, cell cycle regulation, angiogenesis and responses to hypoxia, and the molecular basis of metastasis among others. In addition, methods of parallel analysis including gene expression arrays, protein arrays, and tissue arrays have begun to refine and redefine the taxonomy of cancer diagnosis. This explosion of basic and clinical science has in turn resulted in the first successful cancer chemotherapies and immunotherapies based on a knowledge of specific molecular targets. Stanford presents a unique environment to pursue interdisciplinary cancer research because the School of Medicine, the School of Humanities and Sciences, and the School of Engineering are located on a single campus, all within walking distance of one another.

The goal of the Cancer Biology Ph.D. Program is to provide our students with education and training that will enable them to make significant contributions to this remarkable field. Coursework during the first year is designed to provide a broad understanding of the molecular, genetic, cell biological, and pathobiological aspects of cancer. Students will also learn about the current state of clinical diagnosis and treatment of human cancers. Equally important during the first year is a series of three rotations in research laboratories chosen by each student. By the beginning of the second year, each student will have chosen his/her research advisor and will have begun work on his/her dissertation project. A qualifying examination must be completed by the end of the second year. An annual Cancer Biology Conference provides our students with an opportunity to present their research to one another and to the faculty. The expected time to degree is four to five years.

Our students are not limited to a single department in choosing their research advisor. The Cancer Biology Ph.D. Program currently has approximately 65 graduate students located in a variety of basic science and clinical departments throughout the School of Medicine and School of Humanities and Sciences. Many of our students are supported by a training grant from the National Cancer Institute, a branch of the United States government.

The Cancer Biology Ph.D. program is committed to fostering a diverse community of students. We welcome all individuals and strive to support them so they achieve their full potential. We value the diversity of our students because culture, socioeconomic and educational background, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, physical ability, life experiences, hobbies, and interests allow us as a group to reach a greater level of innovation in cancer research.

Advising Expectations


The mission of the Cancer Biology PhD program is to train graduate students so that they may ultimately launch careers related to the study and treatment of cancer. A major goal of program is to assist students in their growth and development by constructing meaningful educational plans. We believe that students will become outstanding cancer researchers through frequent and collegial personal contacts with their primary research advisors, members of their thesis committees, and other faculty in the program. Scientific interactions between students and faculty foster the development of motivated students who are independent thinkers and responsible decision-makers. We expect faculty thesis advisors to have an active role in the advising process, including by monitoring progress frequently and by helping define and develop realistic educational career plans through regular interactions with the advisees. Faculty thesis advisors should refer students to other institutional resources as needed. We expect students to clarify their academic and career goals with their advisors and to be equal partners in the advising process, including by scheduling regular meetings with their advisors and by adhering to institutional policies, procedures, and requirements. These expectations, which are detailed in the program handbook, will ensure the successful completion of degree requirements and timely graduation.


Stanford University

Stanford University, ranked as one of the leading research universities in the United States, is a private university founded in 1885. The University, often referred to as "The Farm," is located 35 miles south of San Francisco in Palo Alto, California. The campus offers a renowned art museum, extensive athletic facilities, many student- and community-oriented activities, and a large amount of open space, including wildlife preserve areas for running and hiking. Approximately 13,000 students are enrolled at Stanford, divided about evenly between undergraduates and students enrolled in the graduate and professional schools. 

Funding Source

"This investigation was supported by PHS Grant Number CA09302, awarded by the National Cancer Institute, DHHS."

PhD Program

The Knight-Hennessy Scholars program awards full funding to Stanford graduate students from all disciplines, including Cancer Biology, with additional opportunities for leadership training and collaboration across fields.