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Student Information

Prospective Students

The Department of Oncological Sciences serves as the hub for graduate student training in cancer biology at the Huntsman Cancer Institute (HCI) at the University of Utah. Participating faculty in the Department of Oncological Sciences accept PhD students from the molecular biology or biological chemistry programs at the University of Utah. To learn more about these programs, including how to apply, please visit the University of Utah's bioscience PhD program's prospective students page. Students can also join the department through University of Utah School of Medicine's MD/PhD program.

After completing the first year of graduate work, or first two years of medical school, a student selects a thesis lab and formally joins the department.

If you are interested in joining the department, please take a look at the information on our faculty and their research interests.

Information for Current Students

In addition to the policies discussed below, students must follow University of Utah policies and regulations, as outlined in the following resources:

Safety and Wellness


Your safety and well-being are our top priority. In an emergency, dial 911 or seek a nearby emergency phone (throughout campus). Report any crimes or suspicious people to 801-585-COPS(2677); this number will dispatch an officer at the University of Utah Department of Public Safety (DPS). In addition, if you would like to be escorted by a security officer to or from areas on campus at any time, DPS will help — just give a call.

Counseling and Support Services

The University of Utah seeks to provide a safe and healthy experience for students, employees, and others who make use of campus facilities.  In support of this goal, the University has established confidential resources and support services to assist students who may have been affected by harassment, abusive relationships, or sexual misconduct. A detailed listing of University Resources for campus safety can be found at

Your well-being is key to your personal safety. If you are in crisis, call 801-587-3000; help is close. The university has additional excellent resources to promote emotional and physical wellness, including the Counseling Center, the Wellness Center, and the Women’s Resource Center. Counselors and advocates in these centers can help guide you to other resources to address a range of issues, including substance abuse and addiction. Here is a list of support services available on campus:

  • American Indian Resource Center: 801-581-7019
  • Black Cultural Center: 801-213-1441
  • Center for Ethnic Student Affairs (CESA): 801-581-8151
  • Center for Student Wellness (victim-survivor advocates, bystander intervention training): 801-581-7776
  • Dream Center: 801-213-3697
  • Employee Assistance Program(staff): 801-587-9319 or 800-926-9619
  • Independent Review Committee: complaints about public safety personnel may be reported to the Independent Review Committee at
  • LGBT Resource Center: 801-587-7973
  • Office for Equal Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and Title IX: 801-581-8365
  • Office of the Dean of Students: 801-581-7066
  • Resiliency Center: 801-213-3403
  • University Counseling Center (students only): 801-581-6826
  • University Crisis Center: 801-587-3000
  • University Neuropsychiatric Institute crisis line (available 24/7): 801-587-3000
  • Women’s Resource Center: 801-581-8030

COVID-19 Resources

If you are experiencing general fear and anxiety regarding COVID-19, or any other distress, the University of Utah provides many free resources for students, including crisis and counseling services (listed above). Additional information on COVID-19, including the latest updates on campus testing programs, current health guidelines, self-reporting forms and hotlines for any other COVID-19 related questions can be found here:

Tuition & Health Insurance


The Department of Oncological Sciences is committed to providing financial compensation to students throughout their tenure in the department. In addition to tuition benefits (for a required minimum number of credit hours and at least a 3.0 GPA), the faculty advisor pays a stipend to each student according to the recommended levels set by the interdepartmental programs.

Students are expected to devote their full effort toward graduate studies while enrolled in the program. It is not permissible for a student to work another job or be enrolled in another educational program. A variety of student loans are available to ameliorate cases of severe financial hardship.

From the Graduate School website concerning Summer Semester tuition coverage for students on Tuition Benefit: "Tuition benefit support is available for all graduate students during summer semester, no matter their source of pay. Summer TBP covers only 3 credit hours and students must register for 3 credits to be eligible. Summer semester does not count against the total number of semesters that a student is eligible for."

Health Insurance

To ensure appropriate medical insurance coverage for graduate students and their families, the Department of Oncological Sciences will cover medical insurance in one of three ways:

  1. Single students are covered by payment of health insurance premiums by the department.
  2. Married students whose spouses are covered through their employment may be covered as above, or the student can be covered through the spouse's insurance.
  3. Married students (with and without children) whose spouses (and families) cannot be covered by outside employers, can have their family's health insurance covered through the department*.

*Note that this additional family policy is only a trial at this point, and we cannot guarantee it will be continued indefinitely. Contact the department office for enrollment information.

Preliminary Exam


The intent of the Preliminary Examination (Prelim Exam) is to determine if the student is prepared for PhD-level research in the Department of Oncological Sciences. The student must pass this exam in order to qualify for candidacy in the PhD program and remain a graduate student in the department. The exam committee will evaluate the student’s knowledge of their thesis field, their critical thinking skills and ability to formulate hypotheses, their originality and creativity, their writing and presentation skills, and their general knowledge in the areas of Oncological Sciences, Cell Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry.


The prelim exam consists of two parts:

  1. A written proposal based on the student’s thesis project. Each student will consult with his or her thesis advisor to develop the concepts for the Specific Aims of their proposal based on their thesis research plan. Additionally, the student will independently conceive at least one student-developed Specific Aim that is related in general topic, but novel and not discussed with the thesis advisor.  If there is not a well-developed thesis project, the proposal can be focused around any problem central to the work in the thesis lab that does not overlap with other lab members’ projects.
  2. An oral exam that includes general knowledge and defense of the proposal.


The Prelim Exam should be completed during the student’s first year in their thesis lab (the 2nd year of graduate school for PhD students, the 3rd year for MD/PhD students).

  • Step 1: Select the exam committee, schedule the exam date, and reserve a room for the exam.
    The student should schedule the Prelim Exam as soon as possible to accommodate faculty schedules, and at least 6 weeks in advance of the exam date. Scheduling the exam meeting is the sole responsibility of the student.  Students should continue to work normal full-time hours in the lab until the exam period begins.
  • Step 2: Prelim Exam proposal preparation.
    The Prelim Exam period begins 6 weeks before the scheduled exam date.  During this time it is expected that the student will delve deeply into the literature related to their thesis research and prepare the written proposal. The student should be reading and writing every day. Students should not register for lecture courses, present in a journal club or be a teaching assistant during the examination period. In addition, the student will not be required to do any laboratory work during the examination period and is prohibited from doing more than 2 hours of laboratory work per day. The student is expected to continue to attend journal clubs, Departmental Research in Progress seminars and group meetings during the Prelim Exam period.
  • Step 3: Send Specific Aims page to exam committee. 
    Within the first two weeks of the Prelim Exam period, the student should email the Specific Aims page to their Exam Committee and indicate which Aim(s) are student-developed. The student should discuss the Specific Aims with their committee members by meeting in person, or by email, and revise the novel student-developed Aim(s) based on committee feedback. The student is responsible for obtaining approval of the Specific Aims page from each committee member within the first three weeks of the Prelim exam period.
  • Step 4: Prepare for oral exam, submit written proposal.
    The student should prepare a 30-minute presentation (20-30 slides) for the oral portion of the exam that summarizes the proposal. The student should be prepared to answer questions related to their thesis field of research, 1st year coursework, and broader areas of Oncological Sciences, Cell Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology and Biochemistry. It is recommended that the student organize a mock oral exam involving other students and post-docs to practice in preparation for the questioning of the oral examination. The thesis advisor, mentors, and examiners may not participate in mock examinations. The student should submit the written proposal to each member of the exam committee at least 5 days before the exam date.

Exam Committee

The exam committee will be composed of the same individuals as the thesis supervisory committee. The student and the thesis advisor (faculty mentor) should work together to choose the supervisory committee members. The thesis advisor will be present at the exam but will not participate in the examination process (questions or scoring). The student will email a draft of the Specific Aims page to the exam committee by email within the first 2 weeks of their Prelim Exam period. The committee members, excluding the student's thesis advisor, are responsible for reading the Specific Aims page and discussing the novel student-developed aim(s) with the student. If there is an issue with the feasibility, structure or logic of the aim(s) the committee should discuss and resolve it by meeting with the student and/or discussing it by email. The committee members will decide who will serve as the exam committee chair-person at the beginning of the Prelim Exam meeting.

Role of the Thesis Advisor

The student is encouraged to consult with his/her thesis advisor during preparation for the Prelim Exam about the concepts and principles of the study. The thesis advisor can have conversations with the student about the non-student developed Aim(s) and provide guidance and recommendations on the development of the experimental approach. However, the student is responsible for crafting of a document that speaks in his/her voice and the details of the proposal should be developed by the student.

The thesis advisor should not read or edit the student's written proposal before it is submitted to the committee. The thesis advisor will be asked at the beginning of the oral exam to comment on how much of the proposal includes details and ideas synthesized by the student, rather than verbatim from the advisor and lab members. The thesis advisor is asked to confirm that the written document is the student’s own writing and does not include text from grants or papers.

At least one of the Specific Aims should be entirely conceived and developed by the student and not discussed with the thesis advisor. The thesis advisor should allow the student to demonstrate their originality and creativity and not influence the content of the student-developed Aim(s). The thesis advisor will be asked at the oral exam to confirm that one of the Specific Aims was conceived and developed entirely by the student. Thesis advisors are reminded that it is not their ideas that are being examined, but the student’s understanding of these scientific ideas and the student’s critical thinking skills and ability to formulate hypotheses.   

Written Proposal

The proposal guidelines closely follow those for a Pre-Doctoral Fellowship application to the NIH (NRSA F31). Applicants must describe a well-defined research project that is well-suited to his/her stage of career development and can be accomplished by the individual within the time-frame of the training period (3-5 years). The text of the written proposal must be the student’s original writing.  Students may not use text from the thesis advisor’s previous grants or papers. Plagiarism in a Prelim Exam is grounds for failure.

Content (excerpted from NIH NRSA F31 instructions):

Specific Aims (1 page)

Introduce the problem that will be addressed.

Succinctly list the specific objectives of the research proposed, e.g., to test a stated hypothesis, create a novel design, solve a specific problem, challenge an existing paradigm or clinical practice, address a critical barrier to progress in the field, or develop new technology.

Summarize the experimental approach in Specific Aims (including at least one novel student-developed aim), where each aim reflects a major research goal. While specific aims can be interrelated, it is critically important that one aim not be entirely dependent on another. Summarize the expected outcome(s), including the impact that the results of the proposed research will exert on the research field(s) involved.

Research Strategy (6 pages)

Organize the Research Strategy in the specified order using the instructions provided below. Start each section with the appropriate section heading — Significance and Approach.  Include figures as appropriate, keeping in mind that these count toward the page limit.  Consider including a graphical abstract or a diagram that illustrates the model or hypothesis being tested to help orient the reviewers to the design of the study. Preliminary data generated by the student can be included, but is not required. 

  • Significance
    • Introduce the problem or question that will be addressed in this study
    • Provide a review of the field that explains the importance of the problem or critical barrier to progress in the field that the proposed project addresses.
    • Explain how the proposed project will improve scientific knowledge, technical capability, and/or clinical practice in one or more broad fields.
    • Describe how the concepts, methods, technologies, treatments, services, or preventative interventions that drive this field will be changed if the proposed aims are achieved.
  • Approach
    • Describe the overall strategy, methodology, and analyses to be used to accomplish the specific aims of the project.  
    • Describe how the data will be collected, analyzed, and interpreted
    • Discuss potential problems, alternative strategies, and benchmarks for success anticipated to achieve the aims
    • If the project is in the early stages of development, describe any strategy to establish feasibility, and address the management of any high-risk aspects of the proposed work.  

Bibliography and References Cited (no page limit)

Cite published experimental details in the Research Strategy section and provide a bibliography of any references cited. Each reference should be formatted according to NIH standard guidelines. The Endnote software tool can be used to manage citations and the bibliography should be formatted using the “NIH” output style. Students should be especially careful to follow scholarly practices in providing citations for source materials relied upon when preparing the application.

Page Formatting:

  • Font: Arial 11 point in the main text. Font in figures and figure legends should be Arial 9 pt font.
  • Spacing: Single Spaced
  • Margins: 0.5 inch page margins on all sides.
  • Language: Formal Scientific American English. Avoid jargon. If terms are not universally known, spell out the term the first time it is used and note the appropriate abbreviation in parentheses. The abbreviation may be used thereafter.

Oral Exam

The goal of the oral examination is to determine whether the student has the fundamental knowledge and skills needed to succeed in their thesis research.  The exam committee will be evaluating the student’s knowledge of their field, their critical thinking skills and ability to formulate hypotheses, their originality and creativity, and their presentation skills. The student should prepare a 30-minute presentation (20-30 slides) for the oral portion of the exam that summarizes the proposal. For the oral defense, the student is expected to have substantial depth of knowledge in the thesis area, broadly defined. The examiners are most interested in a student’s understanding of the concepts, assumptions and limitations of their proposal.  A key element of the oral examination will be to explain and defend the importance of the questions to be addressed, and to place these questions in the broader context of the field. The student is expected to be well versed in the relevant literature and broader areas of Oncological Sciences, Cell Biology, Genetics, Molecular Biology, and Biochemistry.

Exam Day Procedure

The exam should be scheduled for 2 hours. The student should print the prelim exam scoring sheet and bring it to the meeting. When the committee has gathered and the members have been introduced to the student, the student will be asked to leave the room briefly. The topics discussed in the student's absence are:

  • The committee members should decide who will serve as the exam committee chair-person.
  • The thesis advisor should report on the extent to which the proposal includes details and ideas synthesized by the student, rather than verbatim from the advisor and lab members.  The thesis advisor is asked to confirm that the written document is the student’s own writing and does not include text from grants or papers. The thesis advisor is asked to confirm that one of the Specific Aims was entirely conceived and developed by the student.
  • The student's overall record should be discussed. Any deficiencies that might need special attention in the oral questioning should be identified.
  • Any specific deficiencies revealed in the written proposal should be identified and pursued in the oral questioning.

The chair should then invite the student to return to the room and ask the student to begin the prepared 30 minute presentation. The committee should interrupt the student during the presentation with questions about the proposal, general knowledge related to the topic proposal, or general knowledge in the fields of Oncological Sciences, Cell Biology, Genetics, and Molecular Biology.  

At the conclusion of the presentation and questions the student will be asked to leave the room. The exam committee will score the student’s performance using the designated score sheet. The thesis advisor can stay in the room to help relay content and advice from the committee’s discussion to the student, but the thesis advisor should remain quiet unless asked for input by the committee. The committee chair will record the decision on the score sheet. The student will be asked to return to the exam room and will be told the results of the exam. The committee chair and committee members will give the student feedback on their performance, including suggestions for how to improve their knowledge base and skill sets.

Exam Scoring

It is the responsibility of each specific Prelim Exam Committee to decide whether it is in the best interests of the student and the department for the student to advance to candidacy and continue with their thesis research. The successful completion of a PhD dissertation requires substantial commitment of time and resources on the part of the student as well as the thesis advisor, faculty and institution.  The student will be evaluated based on several criteria outlined in detail on the Prelim Exam scoring sheet including: knowledge of their field, critical thinking and the ability to formulate hypotheses, originality and creativity, and writing and presentation skills. There are four possible outcomes for the examination:

  1. Honors Pass- The department will award the student an Honors Pass if the committee unanimously agrees that it was an exceptional performance (i.e. exceptionally creative and consistently high-scoring)
  2. Pass- If a student receives a full pass the committee feels that they have performed well on all aspects of the exam and are qualified to work towards a doctorate.
  3. Conditional Pass- If a student performs well overall, but exhibits a significant deficiency in one area, the committee may require remedial work in that particular area. This must take the form of a defined task with a defined method of evaluation.
  4. Fail- If a student fails the Prelim Exam, the committee feels that they were severely deficient in one or more aspects of the exam.  Under these circumstances the student has the option to retake the exam within a 4-6 week time frame. However, the University of Utah Graduate School rules state: "An examination or parts of an examination may be repeated only once and only at the discretion of the student's supervisory committee".  As such, in cases of extreme deficiencies the option of retaking the exam will not be offered.  At the time of the second examination the student may either receive a full pass or fail.  If the student fails the second exam, the Examination Committee will recommend to the Graduate Committee termination of the student from the program. This recommendation must be approved by a vote of the entire Graduate Committee.  All appeals will be made to the entire Graduate Committee.  Students who fail the exam the first time and are not offered the option to retake the exam and students who fail the exam the second time may, with the recommendation of their advisor and approval of the examination committee, pursue a Master’s degree.  In cases of extreme deficiencies, the option of pursuing a Master's degree may not be offered.

Thesis Committee Composition & Meetings

The committee’s functions are to advise the student concerning thesis research both technically and philosophically and to preside over the writing of the thesis.

  • Preliminary examinations must be scheduled during the students’ 2nd year as a PhD student or 3rd year as an MD/PhD (see preliminary exam guidelines section). Before the exam, the student and the thesis advisor (faculty mentor) should work together to choose the supervisory committee members. The committee consists of five members, including the thesis advisor as the chair. The composition of the other 4 committee members is shown in the figure below and depends on whether the thesis advisor is a primary faculty member or an adjunct faculty member in Oncological Sciences. See the faculty page to determine who are primary faculty in Oncological Sciences. If the thesis advisor is a primary faculty member, then the committee must consist of one primary faculty member, one primary or adjunct faculty member, one non-primary faculty member (adjunct or outside of the department), and a fourth committee member from any category. If the thesis advisor is an adjunct faculty member, then the committee must consist of at least two primary faculty members and at least one non-primary faculty member (adjunct or outside of the department). The formation of the committee must be reported to and approved by the Director of Graduate Affairs and the graduate school.          

Thesis Committee Member Requirements

If your advisor IS a primary OncSci faculty member: If your advisor is NOT a primary OncSci faculty member:
1) Your Advisor (Chair) 1) Your Advisor (Chair)
2) Primary OncSci Faculty Member 2) Primary OncSci Faculty Member
3) Primary OR Adjunct OncSci Faculty Member 3) Primary OncSci Faculty Member
4) Not a Primary OncSci Faculty Member 4) Not a Primary OncSci Faculty Member
5) Anyone 5) Anyone
  • The supervisory committee is required to meet with the student once per year, with additional meetings optional if either the student, advisor, or committee, believes they would be helpful. The student is responsible for scheduling the meetings. Be aware that faculty schedules are often busy and meetings usually have to be scheduled several weeks or months in advance. In addition, the student should notify the supervisory committee when they are scheduled to speak at RIP. Starting in Year 6, the committee should meet twice a year, although one meeting could be “virtual” (an email round-table), if agreed upon.
  • To facilitate easier scheduling, a quorum of 4 faculty is now sufficient for a student to have a committee meeting instead of the prior standard of five faculty. In these instances, the student will follow-up with the absent faculty member via a one-hour individual meeting.

The student, with input from their thesis advisor, should prepare a meeting summary documenting the recent progress and future plans, as well as noting decisions reached by the committee. The student is responsible for submitting the thesis meeting report after each committee meeting to the department office.

Career Development and Individual Development Plan (IDP)

Career Coaching

Career and professional development resources, including graduate student specific advice, can be found at Career development services include one-on-one advice from career coaches and individualized planning.

Individual Development Plan (IDP)

An individual development plan (IDP) is designed to identify and prioritize career goals to facilitate a plan to achieve them. An IDP is intended to be a “living” document that is updated regularly as professional and personal goals change. The document is equally suited to help define both academic and non-academic career aspirations. Importantly, the document should enable career development discussions with your mentor(s) on an annual basis. An IDP provides tools to explore the following areas designed to accelerate your career development:

  • Assessment: Determine your current skill sets, personal interests and values
  • Plan: Identify gaps in skills and/or networks and create action plans to fill them
  • Track: Measure progress towards research and career goals

Investing time to complete an IDP is expected to help you identify and achieve research milestones and career development goals that are important to you. Such perspectives will provide clarity on the value of your PhD for any profession and help position you to invest in opportunities that will maximize your success in the job market, regardless of your intended career path.

In the Department of Oncological Sciences, we expect all graduate students to fill out an initial IDP in their third year and then update it every year until they graduate. The student is expected to discuss their IDP annually with their mentor(s), which will be reported on the students’ thesis committee meeting form. If needed, the student may also discuss relevant sections of their IDP at their thesis committee meeting. Finally, the student may choose to have both a confidential/private and public version of an IDP, but only the public version will be used for mentor/committee discussions.

A link to the Department IDP is provided here. Please note that multiple IDP formats are acceptable for Department requirements, and we provide additional links to these formats in the attached document. Please select an IDP that is best suited to facilitate career development discussions between you and your mentor(s). Finally, we would greatly value any feedback from students or mentors to improve the Department IDP by emailing Rodney Stewart.

Oncological Sciences Course Requirements

For the first 3 years after joining the department, students generally take 9 credit hours to qualify for the graduate school tuition benefit.  Some exceptions include students on training grants and students entering the program with a master’s degree. If you have questions, contact the department office. After students no longer qualify for the tuition benefit they typically register for only 3 credit hours.

  • All students need at minimum 3 credit hours of Thesis Research [ONCSC 7970].
  • Usually students should register for 1 credit hour of Lab Research Conference [ONCSC 7720].
  • Usually students should register for 1 credit hour of Research In Progress “RIP” - [ONCSC 7710].
  • Students must also register and attend an ongoing general focused journal club 1 credit hour; available options will be listed each semester for students to select from [ONCSC 7700] *Start of 5th year - students are only required to register for Journal Club from years 2-4 (3 years total). If a student would like to elect to participate in Journal Club for longer, this is at the discretion of the student and committee.

A minimum of 1.5 semesters of graduate level courses (5000 or above, not necessarily from Oncological Sciences) as approved by the student’s supervisory committee. In some cases, a relevant undergraduate course may be approved by the student’s supervisory committee (note: this may affect tuition benefit). This required coursework must be completed prior to reaching 84 cumulative credit hours.

Students are required to participate in the following activity throughout their association with the department even if formal registration is no longer required.

  • Research in Progress [ONCSC 7710]

You must accumulate at least 14 credit hours of ONCSC 7970 (PhD Thesis Research) to get your PhD.

Summer Semester Course Registration - In the summer, students usually register for 3 credit hours of thesis research [ONCSC 7970]. Section numbers will be sent to students prior to registration.

Course Registration

  • Registration for all University of Utah coursework is done via the University of Utah ACS system. All section numbers and applicable permission codes for coursework will be available via the department office each semester.
  • Coordination of tuition payments is handled by the department office. If you do not register for the minimum required credit hours for your status, tuition benefits will not be paid, and you will receive a bill from income accounting. Please bring this bill to the department office immediately and you will be advised on what steps to take to correct the problem. If you do not increase your course-load by the end of the current semester, you or your advisor will be responsible for full tuition payment. 
  • Student insurance and applicable documentation is also handled by the department office.

Typical Registration for Students in Years 2 through 4

  • ONCSC 7700- Journal Club (1 credit)

  • ONCSC 7710- Research in Progress (1 credit)
  • ONCSC 7720 - Lab Research Conference (1 credit)
  • ONCSC 7970 - Thesis Research (6 credits)

Graduate Tuition Benefit

Students generally receive 2 semesters (fall/spring) of tuition benefit per year for 5 years with an entry bachelor’s degree or for 3 years with an entry master’s degree. To qualify, students must maintain good standing in the program, a GPA of 3.0 and register for the minimum designated credit hours per semester with at least 3 credit hours of Thesis Research. To ensure facilitation of tuition payments, students are required to report their registration to the department office each semester. This can be done by submitting the semester schedule via email or as a paper printout. Once you have submitted this verification, please do not change your registration without the counsel of the department office. Doing so could trigger fees and grade issues which can be avoided by working directly with the department office.


Tuition for non-residents is higher than tuition for Utah residents and the Graduate Tuition Benefit Program and department do not cover out-of-state tuition rates after 84 credit hours.  US students may only apply for Utah State residency the semester after reaching a total of 40 cumulative credit hours. 

International Students as from the university catalog: "Foreign nationals who are present in the United States on visitor, student, or other visas that have authorized only temporary presence in this country do not have the capacity to intend to reside in Utah for an indefinite period and therefore are classified as non-residents for tuition purposes. Foreign nationals who have been granted legal immigrant or permanent US resident status are classified for purposes of resident status according to the same criteria applicable to US citizens."

Training Grants

A list of active training grants can be found here. Training grant recipients should maintain regular contact with both the training grant administrator and the Oncological Sciences Graduate Office. All documentation for training grant recipients needs to be copied to the department office for proper calculation of tuition benefits, coursework guidance, and to ensure that full program mandated stipend coverage is administered through the appropriate channels.

Teaching Assistantships

All Molecular Biology and Biological Chemistry students are required to work as teaching assistants for one semester.  This requirement must be fulfilled by the end of the third or fourth year unless a specific waiver is sought. Please report all teaching assistant assignments to the department office. Names of students with unfulfilled teaching requirements will be submitted to the TA pool. The TA coordinator will request information from students and faculty concerning their preferences.  Students should contact Shannon Nielsen in the biology department (call 801-581-5636 or email) as early as possible to discuss participation in courses of particular interest.

International Students

Before fulfilling the teaching assistantship requirement, all international students are required to attend the ITA (International Teaching Assistants) workshop. The TSE (test of spoken English) is offered by ETS and can substitute for the SPEAK test. The SPEAK test is offered weekly and should be taken in the first or second year, well before you wish to take the ITA workshop, at the testing center in the student services building (801-581-8733).

Travel Support

Graduate School Travel Overview

Graduate students whose research or creative project has been accepted for presentation at a professional meeting can apply for travel support from the Graduate School. This assistance is contingent upon the applicant presenting at the meeting. Applications must be received in the graduate school prior to travel dates. Requests are considered up to a maximum of $500 and must be supported with a dollar-for-dollar match from university funds. Matching support must be from university funding sources, such as development, operation, service, and research. One award only will be made during each fiscal year (July 1–June 30) to any graduate student. Student travel assistance funding can reimburse airfare/car mileage, ground transportation fares, lodging, abstract fees, and conference registration fees. The assistance will not reimburse meals, per diem, society memberships, or poster preparation fees. For a complete process overview and the link for application, please visit the Graduate School site.

Department of Oncological Sciences Travel Overview

Applications for department travel assistance are invited from current department students in good standing whose research or creative project has been accepted for presentation at a professional meeting. This assistance is contingent upon the applicant presenting at the meeting. Applications must be received in the department office and approved by the graduate committee prior to travel dates. Requests are considered up to a maximum of $500. The department will determine total funds available for each month; funding is granted on a first come, first serve basis until funds for the month are exhausted.

John H. Weis Memorial Graduate Student Award

"The Award will be given on a competitive basis, with selection by a committee of faculty members in the Molecular Biology Program. This Award will recognize outstanding graduate achievement by a student who exemplifies John’s creative and original approach to science and life at the University of Utah. It will provide either stipend support for research by an outstanding Ph.D. or M.D. student, or one or more travel awards to support student participation in a scientific meeting." Notifications of the application dates and guidelines are emailed annually.

Vacation Policy

Students may take up to two weeks of vacation per calendar year. All vacations must be discussed in advance with the graduate advisor. Vacation time over two weeks must be approved by the graduate advisor in advance.

Parental Leave Policy

The Department of Oncological Sciences (“Department”) policy is intended to supplement existing University regulations related to parental leaves of absence. In the event of any conflict between this policy and any University Policy or other regulation, the University Policy or other regulation shall govern.

Advanced Student Review (ASR) Process

The Advanced Student Review (ASR) is a formal review by the student's PhD graduate committee for students entering their fifth year of graduate school (fourth year for MD-PhD students). This review evaluates the advancement of students toward the completion of a PhD and assesses the alignment of the mentor, the student, and committee members on achieving this goal.

Student and mentor meet and discuss dissertation outline and timetable to complete studies. Student provides the following ASR documentation to his/her committee and the department manager at least three days prior to the committee meeting:

  1. A brief dissertation outline, one sentence per chapter
  2. A brief summary of dissertation research progress (less than one page)
  3. A proposed timetable for completing your dissertation
  4. A signed graduate status letter (provided by the department manager)
  5. A brief letter stating you and your mentor have discussed the student review documents

What Happens During the Committee Meeting?

During the committee meeting, the committee, student, and mentor discuss the student's accomplishments and trajectory toward completion of studies. The committee may request a revision to the ASR documentation. The final revision must be provided to the department manager and all committee members.

Important: All students in their fifth year or beyond must complete the ASR documents, unless they have already set a defense date during the fall semester of the formal review process. Those students who have set a defense date require only a letter/email from their advisor stating their defense date and that the thesis committee is in agreement.

Note: These students must file a program of study form no later than the beginning of the semester prior to dissertation defense, and preferably far before then. Forms are available below in the section “Important Documents” and should be turned in to the department offices when completed for formal entry into the graduate tracking system.

Thesis Writing & Defense

  • The program of study must be submitted to the department office for filing with the Graduate School the semester prior to the final exam.
  • Thesis Writing: The thesis must conform to university rules, and the thesis committee will have discretion on other matters concerning content and form within university limits. The thesis editor, located in the Park Building [room 302], is available for consultation. A publication from that office is available to assist you in preparation, and their website offers helpful writing tips.
  • After the thesis is written, the student will present an open one-hour seminar on the research carried out, after which, the thesis committee and student will meet and the results must be detailed on the report of the final examination and delivered to the department office.
  • The university requires that the candidate must be regularly enrolled for a minimum of three credit hours during the semester in which the final oral examination is taken.

Time Limits

As required by the graduate school, a time limit for full completion of the PhD program is set. After seven full years in the program (since the first matriculation), the student is no longer permitted to continue in the PhD program. A short extension (usually no more than one semester) can be requested by submitting a letter explaining the reason(s) for the extension and a timeline for graduation to the Director of Graduate Affairs. If approved, a formal request for an extension will be submitted to the dean of the graduate school. Special cases, such as leaves of absence, will be evaluated by the graduate committee to determine whether additional courses or examinations are required to prepare the student for continuation of graduate studies.

Master's Degrees

Occasionally, for any number of reasons, students leave the program prior to completion of a doctoral dissertation. Students in their second year and higher of graduate school may qualify for a master’s degree based on completion of coursework. A master’s degree with thesis is offered at the discretion of the advisor and advisory committee if there is sufficient data to warrant writing a master’s thesis.

University rules also govern the awarding of the master’s degree. See the current University of Utah General Catalog for requirements. For a thesis master’s degree, a student must have achieved a B or better grade in all core courses, have at least 20 hours of course work (semester system), and pass a final oral examination administered by the supervisory committee. The format of this master's examination is flexible but must be approved by the graduate education committee.

Important Documents