Research course

Cancer Biology

University of Cambridge · Department of Oncology

Entry requirements

This is a highly-competitive programme and we anticipate that most applicants will have a first-class degree from a well-regarded University. However, students with good 2:1 degree, with additional relevant experience, may also be considered.

Months of entry


Course content

At the end of the MRes/PhD programme, candidates will be prepared for further postdoctoral training to produce the cancer research leaders of the future. The course design reflects our belief that, for this to happen, students need a much deeper and broader knowledge of cancer biology and its relationship to the clinic, as well as a breadth of experience of experimental work to make an informed choice of research area.

The first year of this programme, the MRes in Cancer Biology, has research elements as well as additional training elements.

The overall MRes programme is designed to give students a broad understanding of both the basic biology as well as clinical management of the whole spectrum of malignant disease. It also allows students to develop their own skills in experimental science as well as in project design and management.

The first year MRes degree comprises two research rotations, a weekly 'Lectures in Cancer Biology and Medicine' series, together with a week of intensive teaching in genomic medicine, and a one- to two-week placement in a patient-facing, clinical setting. The placement will enable insight into the rewards and challenges of cancer research and development of diagnostics and treatments. Project write-ups, group presentations and the formation of a PhD proposal are also integral to the programme.

The MRes programme aims to introduce students to research skills and specialist knowledge as well as a more general grounding in cancer biology. Its main aims are:

  • to give students with relevant experience at first-degree level the opportunity to carry out focussed research in the discipline under close supervision; and
  • to give students the opportunity to acquire or develop skills and expertise relevant to their research interests.
  • to give students a broad grounding in both the theory of cancer genomic medicine and also more insight into the practicalities of clinical cancer treatment and care.

Successful completion of the one-year MRes programme will lead directly on to a three-year PhD, usually in one of the rotation project host laboratories, which will allow in-depth study of a particular area of cancer biology.

PhD students are probationary during their first year. Full PhD registration occurs after the successful completion of a report and viva at the end of their first year of the PhD stage. The PhD itself is examined by thesis and viva.

Learning Outcomes

Students should leave the MRes year with an overview of the basic biology of cancer and of diagnosis, treatment and research frontiers across the range of different tumour types covered by the CRUK Cambridge Centre. Students should also obtain a better understanding of the practical treatment and management of cancer from a patient perspective.

By the end of the MRes programme, students will have:

  • An understanding of the molecular basis of cancer formation.
  • Insight into clinical issues related to cancer diagnosis, prognosis and treatment.
  • Experience of research in two different cancer-related laboratories.
  • Written two research reports describing their research placements.
  • Written a PhD proposal that will form the basis of their PhD in the CRUK Cambridge Centre, the expected next destination for the vast majority of this MRes cohort.

Students will also acquire enhanced technical skills from their rotation project and a broad appreciation of the literature and scientific methods and techniques applicable to their own projects. They will have developed their ability to critically evaluate research methodologies and outcomes. They will also have developed their project planning and management skills and should be able to formulate their own research questions.

At the end of their PhD, students should additionally:

  • have a thorough grasp of the literature and research methodologies pertinent to their own research project;
  • show the ability to undertake planning and execution of a research project independently;
  • demonstrate originality in their ability to create and interpret new knowledge; and
  • have gained skills in oral and written presentation.

Qualification, course duration and attendance options

  • MRes
    full time
    12 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification
  • PhD
    full time
    36 months
    • Campus-based learningis available for this qualification

Course contact details