First Year

First Year

An atomic force microscope in the Molecular Cytology core facility.

An atomic force microscope in the Molecular Cytology core facility.

In The Cook PhD in Cancer Engineering program, first-year students enroll in an immersive curriculum that encourages them to make connections between diverse aspects of biology, physical sciences, engineering, computation, and medicine that they might not become aware of in a more traditional approach.  

Laboratory Rotations

Students rotate through at least two MSK labs, with the option of a third and fourth rotation. While the period of each rotation is relatively short, 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. Students have the opportunity to gain significant hands-on experience and develop an appreciation for the style of research and potential thesis projects in different laboratories. This enables students to start their thesis research in a serious and focused manner at the start of their second year. The school organizes a symposium at the end of each rotation for students to formally present their projects.

Fall semester of the Cancer Engineering PhD program at GSK
The Cook PhD in Cancer Engineering First Year


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 5 sections: Experimental Biology, Cancer Engineering, Immunology, Entrepreneurship, and Cancer Biology.   

Experimental 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? 

Cancer Engineering

Cancer Engineering provides students with a foundation in engineering principles that can be used to solve challenges in cancer biology and oncology. The curriculum includes 9 weeks of classes organized into three sections: Molecular and Nanoengineering; Cancer Imaging; and Genetic Engineering. 

  • Molecular and Nanoengineering. This three-week section starts with a focus on the basic principles of pharmacology. It then teaches basic molecular, biomolecular, and nanoengineering methods needed for success in a research lab, including: drug delivery, nanomaterials, instrumentation, and tissue engineering. The course will focus on molecular and nanoengineering from the perspective of solving problems in cancer biology and oncology.
  • Cancer Imaging. This three-week section introduces basic and advanced concepts in molecular imaging in the context of cancer biology. It includes methods for optical (including microscopy and intravital) and acoustic imaging (including ultrasound), nuclear imaging (PET, SPECT, and CT) as well as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI/MRS).  
  • Genetic Engineering. This three-week section provides a foundation in genetic engineering tools and concepts that can be applied to laboratory research. It also provides a greater awareness of the benefits and risks of genetic engineering and an overview of the latest research and technologies advancing the science of genetic principles explored during the Experimental Biology course that are essential to understanding genetic engineering. 


Dr. Michel Sadelain is a pioneer in engineering CAR-T cells to target cancer.

Dr. Michel Sadelain is a pioneer in engineering CAR-T cells to target cancer.

This four-week course familiarizes students with cellular, molecular, and biochemical aspects of the immune system and how immune responses function in physiology. It focuses on the development of the immune system and the biological functions of its major components. It ends with an overview of recent developments in cancer immunotherapies and how engineering principles were applied. This section of the Core Course will be shared with PhD students enrolled in the Cancer Biology Graduate Program.


This one-week course teaches the processes involved in developing a technology for the market, including: 

  • Understanding intellectual property 
  • Evaluating the market for a technology 
  • Building a basic financial model 
  • Establishing funding mechanisms 
  • Assessing regulatory issues 
  • Developing a business plan.  

Cancer Biology

The Core Course culminates with Cancer Biology, a 10 week course that is also required for PhD students in the cancer biology program. This course teaches students 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. 

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

  • Cancer as a Disease
  • Cancer Signaling
  • Genetic and Epigenetic Mechanisms
  • Cancer Metabolism
  • Computational Oncology
  • Tumor Modeling and Heterogeneity
  • Cancer Types and Environments
  • Metastasis
  • Cancer Therapy and Immunotherapy