First Year

First Year

Your First Year in the PhD Program

Laboratory Rotations. All students enter our PhD program without a formal commitment to a particular laboratory. They have the opportunity to rotate in, or try out, three different laboratories in their first year. Each rotation lasts for 5 weeks. The first begins in July after students arrive on campus and is organized in advance in consultation with the dean. The second occurs in January, and the third in June. Students may complete all three rotations prior to joining a lab, or they can decide to join a lab in February after the second rotation. Our rotations are offset from classes so that students can concentrate on their research when they are in lab, and then they can focus on coursework when they are in class.

Coursework. Our students take formal classes only during their first year of graduate school. They take one “core” course all together. Through this course they learn how to read, understand, and discuss science, and they learn how to do cutting edge research. The course has 4 sections: Experimental Biology, Mechanistic Biology I and II, and Cancer Biology.  

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

Each topic is considered for one week through a combination of workshops, research paper discussions, and lectures. Questions that are considered include:

  • How is imaging performed at different length scales, and what can be learned through different techniques?
  • How have imaging technologies pushed the boundaries of knowledge?
  • How are genetic principles and applied technologies used to make new discoveries?
  • What techniques allow for the experimental manipulation of DNA, RNA, and protein, and how do they work?
  • How do the “kits” on my research bench actually work?
  • How can I think quantitatively about different approaches and data sets?

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. In this class a research paper is dissected every day with one of our GSK faculty members who is at the cutting edge of their research field.

Over 15 weeks the class will consider:

  • Genome biology, gene expression, and proteins
  • Cellular architecture: from the cytoskeleton to organelles
  • Cell cycle control, cell division, and cell death
  • Cell signaling
  • Stem cells and pluripotency
  • Tissue and organismal development
  • Innate and adaptive immunity

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. The course lasts for 10 weeks and considers both the biology of cancer and also clinical approaches to combatting this disease.

Ten different, week-long topics are considered, including:

  • Cancer as a disease
  • Genetic and epigenetic mechanisms
  • Computational biology and oncology
  • Cancer signaling
  • Cancer metabolism
  • Metastasis
  • Tumor modeling and heterogeneity
  • Cancer types and microenvironments
  • Therapeutic strategies
  • Immunotherapeutic approaches


First Year Core Course Curriculum

2022-2023 Academic Calendar

Monday, July 25 – Friday, July 29Orientation Week
Monday, August 1 – Friday, September 2Laboratory Rotation #1
Wed., August 3 – Wed., August 31Logical & Critical Analysis Course
Monday, August 22PyMol training
Thursday, September 1Rotation Symposium #1 
Monday, September 5Labor Day Holiday
Tuesday, September 6Section I Experimental Biology Begins
Monday, October 10Columbus Day/Indigenous People’s Day Holiday
Tuesday, October 11Section II Mechanistic Biology I Begins
Wednesday, Nov 23 – Friday, Nov 25Thanksgiving Holiday
Friday, December 16Last Day of Fall Semester Classes
Saturday, December 17 – Mon., January 2Winter Break


Tuesday, January 3 – Fri., February 3Laboratory Rotation #2
Monday, January 16Martin Luther King, Jr. Holiday
Thursday, February 2Rotation Symposium #2
Monday, February 6Section III Mechanistic Biology II Begins
Monday, February 20Presidents’ Day Holiday
Sat., March 11 – Sun., March 19Spring Break
Monday, March 20Section IV Cancer Biology Begins
Wednesday, May 17Commencement
Friday, May 26Last Day of Core Course
Monday, May 29Memorial Day Holiday
Tuesday, May 30 – Friday, June 30Laboratory Rotation #3
Thursday, June 29Rotation Symposium #3
Monday, July 3Begin Full-Time Thesis Work
Tuesday, July 4Independence Day Holiday

GSK reserves the right to change this schedule. All students and faculty will be notified of such changes prior to their effective dates..