Shooting for a career in cancer research

2/5/2018 5:19:47 PM

This week kicked off with World Cancer Day, an initiative of the Union for International Cancer Control, to raise awareness of the global-health impact of cancer and the push for a united effort in the fight against cancer. Additionally, February is National Cancer Prevention Month, underscoring the need for research focused on both prevention and treatment strategies.  

The ASBMB is continuing the momentum by hosting a webinar on the National Institutes of Health’s Cancer Moonshot initiative this Thursday, Feb. 8, at 3 p.m. Eastern. The webinar will feature Dinah Singer, acting deputy director of the NIH’s National Cancer Institute, who will provide an overview of the initiative and highlight ways that basic researchers can get engaged.  

The Cancer Moonshot initiative, a major research effort to advance cancer therapies and improve cancer prevention and detection methods, was authorized by the federal government in 2016 with enactment of the 21st Century Cures Act, which provides $1.8 billion in funding for the initiative over 7 years. I have signed up for the webinar and plan on asking questions related to research and training opportunities for early-career researchers. If you are interested in a biomedical career in cancer research, I’d suggest registering for this webinar, too. (Note: A recording of the webinar also will be posted on the ASBMB Policy Blotter blog.)  

In line with this event, this week I want to highlight some resources on how to find career and training opportunities in cancer research. As is a general theme of this careers blog, my focus is on helping you develop a comprehensive job-search strategy, so this post will focus more on resources instead of straight-up job listings. But to note, in researching for this post, I found lots of open positions in the field of cancer research, from basic and clinical research to advocacy and health communications. Jobs also can be found across academia, nonprofit research institutions, cancer-research foundations, professional societies and biomedical/pharmaceutical industries.  

A number of federal government agencies are actively involved in cancer research, host training programs and fund research and training at other institutions. To get started, I looked more into cancer research at the NCI, especially considering its role in leading the Cancer Moonshot initiative. I’ll delve more into other agencies in future posts. The NCI has a lot of work going on with much information to filter through, so I suggest spending some time understanding the structure of the NCI extramural and intramural research programs and what opportunities there are. Here are a few NCI-related resources that may be helpful for you.  

  • The NCI maintains a list of NCI-designated cancer centers that form the core of its ongoing extramural cancer-research efforts. Most of these centers are affiliated with a university medical center but also include nonprofit research institutions. You can use this list to research job openings with each center from the respective career sites.  
  • The NCI also keeps a master list of cancer-training opportunities available and separated out by discipline and career stage. As stated on this webpage, you can submit a resume to be kept on file for six months, in case there’s a fellowship or internship opening that matches your qualifications. This page also includes links to division-specific websites with information on training programs.  
  • One of the NCI intramural research divisions linked to on the aforementioned page is the NCI Center for Cancer Research, which is composed of nearly 250 research and clinical labs at two campuses in the Washington, D.C., metro area. The CCR careers page lists current training and job openings, including postdoctoral fellowships, research faculty and research/clinical support positions.   
  • The Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research in Frederick, Md., is a federally funded research and development center sponsored by the NCI that is dedicated to biomedical research. It is operated by Leidos Biomedical Research, Inc., and this contractor also provides research support for other programs within the NCI’s Center for Cancer Research. Thus, these NCI-associated job openings are posted on the Leidos careers website (this link is filtered for NCI results only). Check out the website for a number of recently posted positions for scientists with degrees from bachelor’s to Ph.D. levels. (Note: some of these positions may be cross-posted on the CCR careers page mentioned above.)  
  • Based on the Leidos careers website, I noticed several open positions associated with the Accelerating Therapeutics for Opportunities in Medicine consortium, a public-private partnership to accelerate drug discovery and created as part of the Cancer Moonshot.  It was founded by pharmaceutical company GSK, Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Frederick National Laboratory for Cancer Research and the University of California-San Francisco. Thus, positions are hired through any of these organizations. A full listing of open positions with ATOM are directly posted on its website’s homepage.  
  • One example of a training program at the Frederick National Lab is the Cancer Systems Biology Consortium and Physical Sciences in Oncology Network’s Cancer Summer Research Program for rising junior and senior undergraduate students to perform research with faculty mentors across a choice of 14 different institutions. Applications are due Feb. 16. (And check out the recent ASBMB careers blog post on summertime lab fun with more details on how to find summer undergrad research opportunities through NIH centers and other institutions.)
  • Like other NIH centers, the NCI provides funding to institutions for training programs. One such program is the Ruth L. Kirschstein NRSA Institutional Research Training Grant (T32) that supports pre- and postdoctoral researchers. For example, the Cancer Biology and Therapeutics program at the University of California-Irvine is funded by an NCI T32 training grant. Currently, the program has several postdoctoral research positions open. Check out the website for more details. FYI, you also can search the NIH RePORTER tool to find institutions that have been awarded institutional training grants and may be recruiting. (H/t to Minority Postdoc for sharing the UCI postdoc opportunities in a recent newsletter.)  

I also want to point out the large number of professional societies and cancer-research foundations that significantly contribute to the research landscape, by providing career resources (e.g., job boards), research grants and fellowships. I have been searching for a database that lists out these organizations, but still looking for a comprehensive one. I did run across a site called Cancer Index that has a list of U.S.-based cancer organizations, which may be useful for locating potential employers and other career resources. There also is a listing of cancer-related nonprofits and charities on the Great Nonprofits website. (Note: Always be sure to check the validity of organizations from such listings.)  

Here are a few job boards associated with these organizations to add to your search list, plus a few fellowships and awards with upcoming deadlines. Also, be sure to check out other recent ASBMB careers blog posts for a listing of academic job boards and also finding faculty jobs outside academia, such as with the NIH and nonprofit research centers.  

Job Boards

Upcoming fellowship and award opportunities

  • The Society for Immunotherapy of Cancer is accepting applications from early-career and postdoctoral researchers for several sponsored research fellowships that provide $100,000 of support for one or two years, depending on the fellowship. An applicant must be a society member, have an appointment at an academic cancer center and be within four years of having received their degree (see eligibility requirements for types of degrees). The application deadline is Feb. 20.  
  • The Damon Runyon Cancer Research Foundation is accepting applications for its postdoctoral research fellowship program that supports fellows in any area of cancer research for up to four years. Be sure to review the website for eligibility requirements. The application deadline is March 15.
  • The Michelson Medical Research Foundation and Human Vaccines Project are accepting applications for the Michelson Prizes for Human Immunology and Vaccine Research. Two monetary prizes will be awarded to early-career researchers under the age of 35 for innovative work toward advancing the development of vaccines and immunotherapies. The pre-application deadline is Feb. 12.  (H/t to Rachel Evans who posted this on ASBMB ENGAGE.)

Donna Kridelbaugh is the ASBMB careers blogger. Connect with her on Twitter (@science_mentor) or at her website (