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Postgraduate Study

Course closed:

Cancer Biology is no longer accepting new applications.

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 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 diseases. 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 short intensive teaching period in genomic medicine, and a short 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 the 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 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.


The three written components of the work portfolio: two research reports and a PhD proposal,  and an oral examination of the PhD proposal and the general field of knowledge within which it falls will form the basis for the external and internal examiners' recommendations. 

For continuation from the MRes to a probationary PhD, an overall mark of at least 70% is required across the three pieces of work: two research reports and a PhD proposal. The PhD proposal and oral defence thereof must be at the level of distinction (75%).

Open Days

The Postgraduate Virtual Open Day usually takes place at the end of October. It’s a great opportunity to ask questions to admissions staff and academics, explore the Colleges virtually, and to find out more about courses, the application process and funding opportunities. Visit the Postgraduate Open Day page for more details.

See further the Postgraduate Admissions Events pages for other events relating to Postgraduate study, including study fairs, visits and international events.

Key Information

1+3 years full-time

Study Mode : Research

Doctor of Philosophy
Master of Research in the first instance

Department of Oncology

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Dates and deadlines:

Applications open
Sept. 4, 2023
Application deadline
Nov. 15, 2023
Course Starts
Oct. 1, 2024

Some courses can close early. See the Deadlines page for guidance on when to apply.

Course Funding Deadline
Jan. 4, 2024
Gates Cambridge US round only
Oct. 11, 2023

These deadlines apply to applications for courses starting in Michaelmas 2024, Lent 2025 and Easter 2025.

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