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MPhil in Medical Science (Oncology)

Course Description

The MPhil degree offered by the Department of Oncology is a 12 month full time programme and involves minimal formal teaching; students are integrated into the research culture of the Department and the Institute in which they are based.

Each student conducts their MPhil project under the direction of their Principal Supervisor, with additional teaching and guidance provided by a Second Supervisor and often a Practical Supervisor. The role of each Supervisor is:

- Principal Supervisor: takes responsibility for experimental oversight of the student's research project and provides day-to-day supervision.
- Second Supervisor: acts as a mentor to the student and is someone who can who can offer impartial advice. The Second Supervisor is a Group Leader or equivalent who is independent from the student's research group and is appointed by the Principal Supervisor before the student arrives.
- Practical Supervisor: provides day-to-day experimental supervision when the Principal Supervisor is unavailable, i.e. during very busy periods. The Practical Supervisor is a senior member of the student's research team and is appointed by the Principal Supervisor before the student arrives. For those Principal Supervisors who are unable to monitor their students on a daily basis, we would expect that they meet semi-formally with their student at least once a month.

The subject of the research project is determined during the application process and is influenced by the research interests of the student’s Principal Supervisor, i.e. students should apply to study with a Group Leader whose area of research most appeals to them. The Department of Oncology’s research interests focus on the prevention, diagnosis and treatments of cancer. This involves using a wide variety of research methods and techniques, encompassing basic laboratory science, translational research and clinical trials. Our students therefore have the opportunity to choose from an extensive range of cancer related research projects. In addition, being based on the Cambridge Biomedical Research Campus, our students also have access world leading scientists and state-of-the-art equipment.

To broaden their knowledge of their chosen field, students are strongly encouraged to attend relevant seminars, lectures and training courses. The Cambridge Cancer Cluster, of which we are a member department, provides the 'Lectures in Cancer Biology' seminar series, which is specifically designed to equip graduate students with a solid background in all major aspects of cancer biology. Students may also attend undergraduate lectures in their chosen field of research, if their Principal Supervisor considers this to be appropriate. We also require our students to attend their research group’s ‘research in progress/laboratory meetings’, at which they are expected to regularly present their ongoing work.

At the end of the course, examination for the MPhil degree involves submission of a written dissertation (of 20,000 words or less), followed by an oral examination based on both the dissertation and a broader knowledge of the chosen area of research.

Course objectives

The structure of the MPhil course is designed to produce graduates with rigorous research and analytical skills, who are exceptionally well-equipped to go onto doctoral research, or employment in industry and the public service.

The MPhil course provides:

- a period of sustained in-depth study of a specific topic;
- an environment that encourages the student’s originality and creativity in their research;
- skills to enable the student to critically examine the background literature relevant to their specific research area;
- the opportunity to develop skills in making and testing hypotheses, in developing new theories, and in planning and conducting experiments;
- the opportunity to expand the student’s knowledge of their research area, including its theoretical foundations and the specific techniques used to study it;
- the opportunity to gain knowledge of the broader field of cancer research;
- an environment in which to develop skills in written work, oral presentation and publishing the results of their research in high-profile scientific journals, through constructive feedback of written work and oral presentations.

See the website http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/courses/directory/cvocmpmsc


The MPhil course is a full time research course. Most research training provided within the structure of the student’s research group and is overseen by their Principal Supervisor. However, informal opportunities to develop research skills also exist through mentoring by fellow students and members of staff. To enhance their research, students are expected to attend seminars and graduate courses relevant to their area of interest. Students are also encouraged to undertake transferable skills training provided by the Graduate School of Life Sciences. At the end of the course, examination for the MPhil degree involves submission of a written dissertation, followed by an oral examination based on both the dissertation and a broader knowledge of the chosen area of research.

Learning Outcomes

At the end of their MPhil course, students should:

- have a thorough knowledge of the literature and a comprehensive understanding of scientific methods and techniques applicable to their own research;
- be able to demonstrate originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in their field;
- the ability to critically evaluate current research and research techniques and methodologies;
- demonstrate self-direction and originality in tackling and solving problems;
- be able to act autonomously in the planning and implementation of research; and
- have developed skills in oral presentation, scientific writing and publishing the results of their research.


Examination for the MPhil degree involves submission of a written dissertation of not more than 20,000 words in length, excluding figures, tables, footnotes, appendices and bibliography, on a subject approved by the Degree Committee for the Faculties of Clinical Medicine and Veterinary Medicine. This is followed by an oral examination based on both the dissertation and a broader knowledge of the chosen area of research.


The MPhil Medical Sciences degree is designed to accommodate the needs of those students who have only one year available to them or, who have only managed to obtain funding for one year, i.e. it is not intended to be a probationary year for a three-year PhD degree. However, it is possible to continue from the MPhil to the PhD in Oncology (Basic Science) course via the following 2 options:

(i) Complete the MPhil then continue to the three-year PhD course:

If the student has time and funding for a further THREE years, after completion of their MPhil they may apply to be admitted to the PhD course as a continuing student. The student would be formally examined for the MPhil and if successful, they would then continue onto the three year PhD course as a probationary PhD student, i.e. the MPhil is not counted as the first year of the PhD degree; or

(ii) Transfer from the MPhil to the PhD course:

If the student has time and funding for only TWO more years, they can apply for permission to change their registration from the MPhil to probationary PhD; note, transfer must be approved before completion of the MPhil. If granted permission to change registration, the student will undergo a formal probationary PhD assessment (submission of a written report and an oral examination) towards the end of their first year and if successful, will then be registered for the PhD, i.e. the first year would count as the first year of the PhD degree.

Please note that continuation from the MPhil to the PhD, or changing registration is not automatic; all cases are judged on their own merits based on a number of factors including: evidence of progress and research potential; a sound research proposal; the availability of a suitable supervisor and of resources required for the research; acceptance by the Head of Department and Degree Committee.

How to apply: http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/applying

Funding Opportunities

The Department of Oncology does not have specific funds for MPhil courses. However, applicants are encouraged to apply to University funding competitions: http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/finance/funding and the Cambridge Cancer Centre: http://www.cambridgecancercentre.org.uk/education-and-training

General Funding Opportunities http://www.graduate.study.cam.ac.uk/finance/funding

Visit the MPhil in Medical Science (Oncology) page on the University of Cambridge website for more details!

Entry Requirements

Applicants for this course should have achieved a UK II.i Honours Degree. The undergraduate degree must be in a subject relevant to the topic of the proposed MPhil research project.

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