Course Descriptions

Course Descriptions

Core Course

During the first year, this course meets daily for 15 weeks during the fall and spring semesters. Topics are presented through a mix of didactic lectures, workshops, and discussions focused on research papers. Students are expected to present papers and lead conversations in which the group analyzes research.

The course is divided into four main sections

Experimental Biology teaches conceptual and practical aspects of 5 different research disciplines: imaging, genetics, biochemistry, genomics, and quantitative biology.

Mechanistic Biology I and II teach what is understood about how cells are constructed and maintained, how groups of cells collaborate to achieve normal development, and how the immune system works.

Cancer Biology teaches how to think about cancer as a disease and also as a biological problem. This course leverages the world-class research and clinical expertise at Memorial Sloan Kettering.

Observing in the Clinic

An important aspect of integrating basic and clinical sciences is developing an appreciation of the human side of disease, observing real-life challenges faced by clinical practitioners, and understanding the gap between a good research idea and its execution in the clinic. During the first year of the program, students visit various clinics as observers.

Laboratory Rotations

Students complete three five-week laboratory rotations during the first year. Students choose their first rotation in consultation with the dean prior to their arrival on campus. Students who wish to join their thesis laboratory after completing two rotations may opt out of the third rotation upon permission by the dean. Rotations provide students with an opportunity to get to know the faculty, students, and postdocs in the laboratory. There is no coursework during the rotations, allowing students to focus on developing an appreciation for the ongoing research, the style and approach of the principal investigator, and the personality and dynamics of the laboratory, as well as ideas for potential thesis projects.
Students prepare a two-page written summary at the end of each rotation. Each student’s performance in the rotation is assessed via a written evaluation by the rotation mentor in discussion with the student. In the spring semester, students present a 15 minute chalk talk, based on research from one of their rotations, for their fellow students, first year mentors, and rotation mentor.

Logic and Critical Analysis

All first-year students complete this course during the first rotation period. Scientific papers are used to help set the foundation for students to develop their ability to think logically, critically analyze information and data, and present scientific results to a group.

Students are encouraged to develop an approach to understanding the scientific literature, which includes asking the following questions about each experiment: What is the question the authors asked? How was the experiment performed? What techniques were used and why? What is the nature of the data produced? What represents a significant result? What were the conclusions made by the authors? Does the authors’ data justify the conclusions made? What conclusions would the student make?

Responsible Conduct of Research

All students are required to complete this course in the fall semester of the first year. It provides formal training related to issues of research integrity.

The goals of this course are to:

  • heighten the awareness of trainees to ethical considerations relevant to conducting research
  • inform trainees of federal, state, and institutional policies, regulations, and procedures applicable to conducting ethical research
  • provide trainees with the opportunity to engage with senior faculty and peers, in a relatively informal setting, about the implications of policies and procedures on their behavior in a research environment
President’s Research Seminar Series Journal Club

All students complete two semesters of this course during the first year. The President’s Research Seminar Series brings some of the most-distinguished scientists in the world to Memorial Sloan Kettering. The topics presented include some of the most exciting recent developments in modern biology.

Students participate in a journal club the day before the President’s Research Seminar Series meets, in order to review some of the speaker’s published work, and they meet with the speaker on the day of the seminar.

Graduate Student Seminar

Developing the ability to present and discuss the results of your research in a coherent, logical and compelling fashion is an important feature of becoming a successful scientist. From the first through the fourth years in the program, all students are required to attend and participate in presentations that will help to develop these skills, from chalk talks in the first and second years, to formal graduate student seminars presented in years three and four. Each student presents his or her project, and fellow students provide critical feedback.

Current Topics Journal Club

Students participate in this student-run course beginning in the second year and continuing throughout their fifth year in the graduate program. There are eight sections of roughly five participants each. Students select papers of interest (based on the section’s topic) and present them to the group for discussion.

A journal club of this type is important in that it helps prevent the tunnel vision that can sometimes develop as students focus on their thesis research. Because the entire student body participates, the forum includes diverse topics and a continued exchange of ideas within the graduate community.