ROAD-MAP TO A CAREER IN CANCER RESEARCH
Here, we have put together a non exhaustive pathway for Life science, pharmacy, chemistry etc. graduates to land a career in oncology and some important things to keep in mind in your personal journey.
A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS
Applying for a scholarship is a highly competitive process often riddled with failures and rejections. We have taken valuable advise from serial scholarship winners to create a proven strategy to successfully apply and win them. The guide provided here is free and should not be used for commercial purposes.
TOP CANCER RESEARCH INSTITUTES WITH AN INTERNATIONAL PHD PROGRAMS
Finding the right institution to apply for masters and PhD scholarships isn't particularly easy. Thanks to our team of volunteer mentors, we have prepared a comprehensive list of institutions across the globe with at least one annual round of selection for PhD and Master's candidates in biomedicine and cancer research. For other PhD or MSc positions please see the next section below for regular announcements.
******Great news for PhD scholarship applicants******
The International Max Planck Research School for Cell, Developmental, and Systems Biology (IMPRS-CellDevoSys), Has changed its admission procedure for new PhD students!
Thanks to the Covid19 pandemic, a new rolling application process has been initiated as a pilot project.
What does this mean?
Applicants are now invited to submit their applications via the online application system anytime #without a fixed deadline!!
#International #students interested in molecular biology and oncology can take advantage of this amazing development!
ROAD-MAP TO A CAREER IN CANCER RESEARCH
Figure 1: Simplistic pathway to a non-clinical oncology career
Cancer is on the rise in Nigeria, our initiative is determined to help build capacity by guiding young Nigerians to pursue a career in oncology. The best case scenario will be that our mentees upon completing their training and building a career abroad will either return to Nigeria to contribute their scientific knowledge, resources and networks to improve cancer research, care and prevention in Nigeria or somewhat contribute significantly to the local cancer research environment through collaborative projects and regular visits to Nigerian labs.
For many of us, finding our way so far into the field of cancer research has not been quite straightforward nor easy. A vast array of individuals with scientific backgrounds ranging from classic biomedical programs to physics are known to be cancer researchers. However, for the sake of convenience and clarity we have streamlined the range of backgrounds to those that can easily find themselves in cancer research.
Below is a breakdown of the classic career stages and what you need to do to prepare effectively for the next phase.
1. Bachelor’s Degree
There is a wide variety of backgrounds in the natural and medical sciences that can easily enter a master’s degree relevant to biomedicine. A bachelor’s degree in biochemistry, microbiology, biology, physiology, human anatomy, chemistry, biotechnology, genetics, cell biology, pharmacy etc. will be typically accepted into a European Master’s program in biomedical science.
In order to best position yourself to land an MSc position in biomedicine in the developed world, good grades ideally a 4.0/5.0 is competitive for scholarship applications. BSc holders may take up additional leadership and extracurricular volunteering activities to boost their odds of being selected for a funded position. Furthermore, a solid grasp of the research area through online courses in cancer biology and biomedicine in general is a strong indicator of motivation.
Finally, BSc students should within their service year obtain an international passport, their academic transcripts, language certifications (may be optional) and solid commitment from trusted referees.
2. Master’s Degree
Congratulations! You succeeded in landing a master’s position in biomedicine or related program (see figure above). A major point to now consider is your master’s research thesis topic. If you hope to get accepted into a competitive PhD position in cancer research, it helps if you already have hands on experience in the field. For instance, an applicant for a PhD in a cancer drug discovery lab will stand a good chance if they are already experienced in cell culturing, functional genomics and/or small molecule experiments. Another smart way to gather experience is through internships. Explore these opportunities if your program accommodates it.
Furthermore, it is important to graduate your MSc with excellent grades, preferably with distinction! and if possible, try to publish a paper during your MSc. The competition is steep at leading institutes (please our summary of top institutes to apply). Finally, it helps a lot to begin your search very early in your MSc.
At this stage you are significantly more mature as a scientist and realizing that the same range of skills you have acquired in your prior training is applicable in most biomedical research areas, the major determinant of your specialty is the disease context. Consequently, irrespective of your previous degree specialization or the title of your doctoral program, a PhD candidacy in any area of cancer research qualifies you as a cancer researcher.
PhDs are tough! Not just for the academic rigor required to create original science but also the mental and emotional roller-coaster the 3-6 years (depends on country, continent and/ or your performance) will take you. Identifying what career-path you plan to pursue subsequently should inform your decisions during the PhD. In general, having high quality publications, a number of leadership accomplishments, grant awards, certifications, transferrable skills experience etc. will help you stand out for either a postdoc or industry position afterwards.
4. Post PhD Career options.
At this stage and indeed in the previous stages, you may wish to consider your long-term career direction. Do you wish to pursue the classic academic route or transition to an industry role relevant to your background? In a classic academic route, you can expect to spend a number of years going through postdoctoral training before landing an assistant professorship and eventually a tenured full professorship position. However, the competition for tenure positions are extremely fierce and for many, a senior postdoc position may be the plateau for their careers in the developed world.
For cancer researchers interested in industry roles in oncology. A myriad number of positions are constantly being advertised, you can expect positions with titles such as associate scientist, scientists, senior oncology specialist, team lead oncology, head of oncology program etc. off the bench, positions such as; medical science liaisons - oncology, clinical research associate -oncology etc. are quickly on the rise and may offer opportunity for cancer researchers to use their training in biology more practically in oncology management.
In conclusion, pursuing a career in oncology is really rewarding first as your scientific efforts may be part of some future life-saving therapeutic and also because of the increasing range of opportunities available to you. We at CCIN believe that the oncology research environment in Nigeria is ripe for exploration, the more Nigerians are in this field, the more likely we are to influence positive changes in cancer research, treatment and management in Nigeria.
A GUIDE TO SUCCESSFUL SCHOLARSHIP APPLICATIONS
By Chigozie Joseph Samuel
For many Nigerian students in bachelor’s and master’s programs in life sciences, winning a scholarship is critical for continuing their education. Having identified relevant scholarships, candidates are usually faced with the arduous task of preparing a winning application. This can be daunting considering that they have to impress the scholarship selection committee enough to be considered outstanding amongst other highly qualified applicants.
If you are one such students and you have an interest in cancer research or other aspects of biomedicine, we have put together this article for you. Part one will guide you in preparing for scholarships. Part two highlights the things that you need to pay attention to when applying for a scholarship to prepare a winning application.
Part 1: Preparing for Scholarships
Define your study interest
For students who would like to do a PhD in biomedicine, taking this decision early in their degree programs is critical. You can choose the appropriate modules, join the right research groups and complete research projects that would put you on your desired path. As an undergraduate, discussing your options with mentors can help you make the right choices at any given time.
Aim for Excellent Grades
Good grades are very crucial criteria for the award of most Master’s and PhD scholarships. Since International scholarships are highly competitive due to a large number of applicants for a very limited number of awards, scholarship committees may eliminate applications with inferior grades. Most winners apply with a CGPA of 4.0 and above (on a 5.0 scale). However, candidates should be aware that a better result improves their chances of success. So, while you are still studying, aim for the highest grade within your reach as this will surely count during your scholarship applications.
Your Research Experience is Crucial
For candidates looking for PhD positions, this is vital. PhD is an independent research and if a university or supervisor is to support a candidate financially, they would surely want to hire the best possible applicant who can demonstrate that they have the relevant skills and experience to complete the project. This is where your publications list or past research involvement through internships and personal research projects completed as part of your degrees become important. Our advice to those still completing their degrees is to get as much experience as possible. One way to achieve this is by interning in labs for free whenever you have a break. Many labs may not be willing to accept a random student for only a few weeks but by stating strong reasons why you need the opportunity, in most cases, you will be accepted. Avoid long periods away from research or routine lab work as this may hurt your chances. After my MSc program, I continued working in my lab, 3 days a week for a few more months to learn more techniques that would boost my CV, and to avoid a long period of inactivity.
Get Your Documents Ready
You do not want your near-perfect scholarship application rejected for failing to submit a single mandatory document. It is always a good idea to read application guidelines and carefully note down all required documents for any scholarship you are applying for. Scholarships usually attract a high number of quality candidates thereby making it difficult for the selection committee to decide who gets an award. Not submitting a mandatory document could lead to your application being rejected in very first round of screening not minding your academic excellence. The most common documents that we advise you to have as soon as you are finishing your bachelor’s program include an International passport, university transcript, degree certificate/statement of result, proof of English language proficiency (TOEFL, IELTS, Cambridge) and standardized tests such as GRE (for those wanting to study in the US and Canada). These documents are mandatory. However, most universities in the UK only require that you score a minimum of C6 in your English Language in your WAEC exam as a substitute for the standardized test of English language proficiency. Some other countries may accept a written confirmation from your last university that you were taught entirely in English Language throughout your degree program.
We recommend starting early to prepare these documents. During the application, it could also be helpful to make a checklist to be sure you have forwarded all necessary documents.
Part 2: Scholarship Application – Tips to Win
The importance of early scholarship search as well as preparing applications cannot be overemphasized. It is important to identify relevant funding bodies or scholarships and take note of the periods of the year when they start accepting applications and their deadlines. This will help you to not miss an opportunity. The procedure for many scholarships requires the applicant to first submit an application to their preferred department for admission before submitting a separate scholarship application to the funding body, all done within the scholarship deadline. Therefore, starting as soon the application portal opens leaves you with enough time for this. Additionally, if you begin early, you have enough time to get useful feedback on your whole application from your mentors.
For many scholarships, the application procedures, requirements essay question(s) remain largely the same every year. So, candidates can use the information from the previous round in preparing applications for the next intake. This is particularly helpful for scholarships that require the submission of essays. For instance, the theme for the Commonwealth Shared scholarship essay has been the same for as long as I can remember, so, it is possible to develop your essay around this question long before the scholarship commission starts accepting applications. However, you must always update yourself with the specific requirements and guidelines for each round of application when they are published.
Letter of Motivational/Essay is the Core of your Application
For applicants of MSc scholarships, the letter of motivational sometimes called a personal statement or statement of purpose is a critical part of the application. This letter will be required when submitting an application for admission and as a part of the scholarship submissions. However, the content would be different depending on its purpose. Some schools have specific guidelines and formats for writing the letter of motivation for admission into their programs. You want to check the school websites to be sure that you are following their guidelines and addressing all questions asked. If no format is given, keep your essay concise and within a limit of 500 words. Popular questions to address would be: (1) why you are interested in the course (2) why you think you are suitable for the course (you can make references to specific modules, internships or research project you completed in the past that provides a solid background to the course. They will see this in your academic transcript) (3) What you will bring to the course/department (you can talk about any extra-curricular activity that you excelled in your last university. Talk about any leadership positions you held and your contribution and how it helped the department). (4) Why you are interested in that university, and perhaps, why you want to study in that country (5) talk about your future goals and how the course will help you achieve them.
Guidelines for writing motivational letters/essays for scholarships are usually provided in the scholarship forms. This would normally come either as a compound question or individual questions that the applicant is required to answer. If it is a compound question, underlining all the individual questions within the main question can be an efficient way to make sure all the issues are addressed in the letter.
Write in a clear, concise and logical manner to capture the reader’s attention. Let your story be unique and passionate in a way that the reader would feel your emotions and motivation. Give specific answers when asked how you will apply the knowledge and skills gained from a scholarship to solve a problem in Nigeria. Do not make vague statements. Avoid grammatical and spelling mistakes. Let someone else read and critique your essay. This is another reason why you need to start the process early so that there is sufficient time for proof-reading of your essay before submission.
For candidates applying for PhD positions, your letter of motivation could decide if you are considered for an interview or not. In your letter, you should state why you want to do a PhD. Clearly define your area of interest, making make sure that this aligns with the focus of the lab, faculty or department that you are applying to. It is particularly relevant to state your motivation for looking in that direction. In this section, it would help your application to demonstrate the relevant experiences and skills that you possess, stressing on the core skills highlighted in the advert for the PhD position. Make it clear what your goals for the future are and how the project/lab will help you achieve them.
Your Scholarship is a Good Recommendation Letter Away
Many applicants underestimate the impact of a recommendation letter otherwise called a reference letter. For scholarship selection committees, or a supervisor, this is a way to get an honest assessment of the applicant from someone else who has known them for a considerable amount of time. This is the reason they mostly accept references as a confidential document. A letter of only a few sentences is usually not ideal as it would not have sufficiently described the candidate’s personal qualities and their academic or professional abilities that would make them stand out from the rest. For recent BSc graduates seeking MSc scholarships, the ideal person to write your recommendation letter would be a lecturer in your department who has known you for at least 2 sessions (least qualification is a PhD). He/she must be able to discuss your academic strengths, motivation and can say one or two positive attributes they have observed about you as a person. Your best choice would be your research supervisor.
For applicants competing for funded PhD positions, the recommendation letter is almost as important as your grades (smiles). A supervisor would not only want to hire someone with the right experience, skills and excellent grades, they want to hire someone they can work with… FOR 3-4 YEARS! A personality that can fit into their team. They rely a lot on a recommendation letter to know about you. A letter written by the head of the most recent lab where you worked in (preferably, someone who also taught you some modules) will be valued a lot more because they expect to get every information that they need about you. About your general work ethic, lab skills, performance, team work, and most importantly, your personality. To this day, my PhD supervisor still refers to my recommendation letter from my MSc supervisor. She makes it seem like that letter got me hired.
Always ensure that your referees submit this letter by the deadline. We advise that you contact your nominated referees as soon as the application portal opens. They are always very busy, so it is your duty to frequently remind them to ensure that they submit a quality reference for you.
A 2-Page CV is Helpful
For PhD applicants, develop a 2-page CV with a format that highlights mostly your research experience and relevant technical and soft skills. For MSc scholarship applicants, a simple academic CV will suffice.
Finally, always fill out all sections of scholarship application forms as long as they are applicable. Leave very few blank sections. You might think you have not have engaged in an activity worthy of including in that blank section. Speak to mentors to help you identify relevant activities to include and how to package them.
For any scholarship you are applying for, there are probably 100s of past winners and a couple of present winners from Nigeria. Having mentors to guide you through any application could greatly boost your chances of winning. For aspirants with interest in biomedicine, we have a free mentorship program at CCIN. You can reach out to us and we would available to help you achieve your goal.
TOP BIOMEDICAL RESEARCH INSTITUTES WITH CANCER RESEARCH INTERNATIONAL PHD PROGRAMS
Here we have put together a comprehensive list of top biomedical research institutes in Europe and Asia (to be updated frequently). When making applications please endeavour to pay close attention to the instructions from the institute websites. If you are selected for Interviews, A mentor from CCIN can guide you through the process, providing you tips and strategies for landing an offer.
The German Cancer Center: https://www.dkfz.de/en/phd-program/
The CRUK PhD opportunities: https://www.cancerresearchuk.org/funding-for-researchers/opportunities-for-phd-students-and-postdoc-researchers
The Max Delbruck Center: https://www.mdc-berlin.de/application
Friedrich Miescher Institute: https://www.fmi.ch/education-careers/programs/
Medical research council UK: https://www2.mrc-lmb.cam.ac.uk/students/international-phd-programme/
University of Geneva: https://lifesciencesphd.unige.ch/
Dresden International PhD program: http://www.dresden-ipp.de/
Max Planck institute: https://www.mpi-muenster.mpg.de/365788/applications
Institute Pasteur: https://www.pasteur.fr/en/education/ppu#application-information
CeMM of the Austrian academy of science: https://cemm.at/phd-program/application/
Innsbruck PhD school of biomedical Sciences: https://phd-school.i-med.ac.at/
Vienna biocenter PhD program: https://www.training.vbc.ac.at/phd-programme/
Center for genomic regulation-Spain: https://www.crg.eu/en/content/training-phd-students/crg-international-phd-programme
DUKE-NUS medical school-Singapore: https://www.duke-nus.edu.sg/education/our-programmes/phd/ibm-phd
Dual PhD in Integrative biomedical science Zje China :http://zje.intl.zju.edu.cn/en/admission/entry-requirements-0
Having an excellent MSc is crucial as these positions are extremely competitive.
This list is not exhaustive, so please do your own search if you do not find any of these programs fitting.
North American, Australian and New Zealand institutions have not been included as the application and selection process is somewhat different and will be covered in a later version of this list
Fully Funded International Master’s Scholarships
We have put together a list of fully funded MSc scholarships which support students in Life Sciences and accept applications from Nigerian citizens. It is important to note that awarding institutions can change the application timelines for their scholarships, especially, with the impact of COVID-19. Therefore, we advise interested candidates to frequently visit the website of each scholarship of interest for updated announcements regarding application deadlines.
1. MasterCard Scholarship
Deadline: Varies with participating universities
1. Commonwealth Shared Scholarship
Deadline: Check website
2. Erasmus Mundus
3. Chevening Scholarship
4. Koc University Turkey MSc and PhD Scholarship
5. Government of Ireland International Education Scholarship
6. Gates Cambridge Scholarship: https://www.gatescambridge.org/
7. Clarendon Fund Scholarships for International Students at University of Oxford
Deadline: Dependent on the course of study (Usually between December & January)
8. Standard Bank Africa Chairman’s Scholarship at Oxford University: https://www.ox.ac.uk/admissions/graduate/fees-and-funding/fees-funding-and-scholarship-search/scholarships-a-z-listing?wssl=1#sbdca
9. Westminster International Postgraduate Full Scholarship: https://www.westminster.ac.uk/study/fees-and-funding/scholarships/westminster-international-postgraduate-full-scholarship
10. Tetley and Lupton Masters Scholarships at University of Leeds
11. Maastricht University Holland-High Potential scholarship: https://www.maastrichtuniversity.nl/support/your-studies-begin/coming-maastricht-university-abroad/scholarships/maastricht-university
12. Justus & Louise van Effen Excellence Scholarships at Delft University Netherlands: https://www.tudelft.nl/en/education/practical-matters/scholarships/justus-louise-van-effen-excellence-scholarships/
13. Eric Bleumink Scholarships at University of Groningen for Master’s
Deadline: December 1
14. Amsterdam Excellence Scholarships (AES) for Master’s
15. Excellence Scholarship & Opportunity Programme / ETH-D Scholarship at ETH Zurich (for Master’s) https://ethz.ch/students/en/studies/financial/scholarships/excellencescholarship.html
Deadline: December 15, 2020
1. Adelaide Scholarships International (ASI): https://scholarships.adelaide.edu.au/Scholarships/postgraduate-research/all-faculties/adelaide-scholarships-international
2. University of Sydney International Strategic Scholarship
Deadline: Awarded all year round
1. Japan MEXT scholarship
Deadline: July 31 2020.
2. University of Science and Technology Chinese Government Scholarship for MSc & PhD
3. Zhejiang University Chinese Government Scholarship for MSc & PhD