Cell to Society Pathway

The Cell to Society doctoral training pathway will bring rigorous training in biological sciences, biostatics/statistical genomics, and epidemiology together to establish new leaders in biological and quantitative population sciences. We will admit 6 doctoral students per year. A population science perspective will transform graduate training and expedite the move from bench to bedside, bolstered by the resources of the nationally recognized Siteman Cancer Center. These newly trained scientists will be exceptionally well-positioned to apply their expertise to cancer prevention and treatment.

Students who participate in the Cell to Society Pathway will obtain their degrees in one of the current degree-granting programs; however, their education will be enhanced by an emphasis in interdisciplinary coursework and research experiences in population health sciences.

Graduate Cell to Society Pathway Curriculum

To train students in both laboratory and population sciences, we will institute several key elements critical to their success:

  1. ​Students will complete two eight-week rotations each in laboratory science and population science;
  2. In their curriculum, students will take two courses each in laboratory-based and population-based sciences (core), then build on learned concepts with electives and a Cell to Society capstone course (advanced) specifically designed to integrate laboratory-based and population-based concepts;
  3. Students will participate in a Cell to Society-specific journal club that integrates the fields and promotes in-depth discussion of these topics; and
  4. The Cell to Society program will follow a special dual mentor plan, in which all students will be co-mentored by one laboratory science-based and one population science-based researcher. In these ways, we will train these unique students to understand and apply both branches of research.

Possible Mentor Research Projects

  • Disparities in breast cancer, markers of breast density and response to drug therapy, RNA sequencing and carcinogens in relation to premalignant breast lesions
  • In utero exposures and metabolic pathways in prostate cancer, prostate cancer disparities, early life diet, growth and prostate cancer markers
  • Tobacco, nicotine addiction, lung cancer, lung cancer screening and smoking cessation
  • Pancreatic cancer disparities, adiposity energy balance and survival, biomarkers and survival after pancreatic cancer

Faculty Mentors

Pathway Courses

All Cell to Society students will take two courses each in laboratory- and population-based sciences in Year 1.  They can choose from Genomics (Bio 5488), Developmental Biology  (Bio5352), Molecular Mechanisms of Disease (Bio5261), or Genetics and Genomics of Human Disease (Bio5487) for the laboratory-based instruction. They will take Biostatistics (M21-560) and Introductory Clinical Epidemiology (M19-501) for the population-based instruction.  Additionally, students will participate in a unique integrated Cell to Society journal club and complete 2 x 2 laboratory rotations.  At the end of Year 1, students will choose two thesis advisors, one in biological and one in population sciences, who will serve as dual mentors throughout the program.

Advanced courses in Year 2 will expand expertise in the application of basic research to population studies.  Students will choose an elective from applied quantitative courses such as Randomized Controlled Trials (M19-550), Development, Validation, and Application of Risk Prediction Models (M19-527), Intermediate Clinical Epidemiology (M19-502), and Applied Epidemiology (M19-600), as well as take a special Cell to Society capstone course specifically designed to educate students on how these two fields have and will continue to impact each other (course # TBD).  This course will build on our experience in epidemiology courses (M19-501, M19-502, M19-600) developed for the master’s in public health (MPHS) degree.  Students will also take the course Ethics and Research Science, which explores ethical issues research scientists may encounter in their professional activities.  Case study, scenario presentations, and small group discussions provide the focus of the course.

Students will also decide on a thesis project in conjunction with input from the dual mentors and complete their qualifying exams, which will be modified from the existing exam paradigm to include both biological principles and quantitative skills as well as principles of biostatistics and epidemiology as applied to “translation to population” studies.


An annual Cell to Society retreat is central to the Pathway.  Students in the pathway will help in organizing and selecting speakers for the retreat. The main purposes of the retreat are to provide a forum to highlight current work by graduate students and to foster interactions among faculty mentors and students in the Pathway. An outside speaker will be invited each year with input from the students.  The retreat is an excellent opportunity for students to learn about evolving and ongoing research opportunities, while providing an excellent means of exchanging new ideas and methodological information.

Journal Club

For the first two years of graduate school, all Cell to Society students will be required to attend and present at the weekly Cell to Society journal club.  All graduate students will be encouraged to continue participating on a regular and active basis throughout their graduate careers, whether or not they are registered for credit.  The journal club will focus on topics picked by students.  Each topic will have three talks.  The first will be a talk by a laboratory-based researcher; the next week, a talk by a population-based researcher; and the third week, a talk by a student.  Additionally, at least two faculty members, one from each discipline, attend each journal club to help facilitate discussion and demonstrate how the two fields integrate.  The journal club allows students to interact with faculty in an informal environment and to learn valuable presentation skills and how to bring together areas of inquiry at the interface between traditional disciplines.

Seminars and Symposia

Currently, several outstanding seminar series are available to enhance the scientific environment of our students.  We integrate students into these series in two ways.  Students have lunch with speakers to discuss their work and to help them establish contacts with established researchers.  Also, at least once per year, we encourage students to invite a seminar speaker.  Typically, a faculty member hosts a dinner for the speaker and relevant students.  This gives students a unique perspective on seminal research discoveries and the people who made them.  The monthly seminar series for the Cell to Society program complements the outstanding existing collection of seminars by bringing in expert faculty that integrate laboratory- and population-based science in their work.  We will also facilitate participation in disease-specific multidisciplinary seminars in the Siteman Cancer Center and the monthly Prevention and Control seminar series, which features national leaders in cancer and public health.

An annual student-organized Cell to Society Symposium brings nationally recognized experts to Washington University to present talks. Invited speakers also engage in a workshop for mentors and trainees of the Cell to Society program, including those from other Burroughs Wellcome Fund programs, to discuss projects and ongoing challenges in bringing laboratory advances to clinical and population applications.

Application Process

The admissions committee for the Cell to Society pathway will be composed of faculty from PhD programs in Molecular Cell Biology; Molecular Genetics & Genomics; Developmental Biology; Molecular Microbiology; Computational & Systems Biology; Biochemistry; Molecular Biophysics; and Quantitative Human & Statistical Genetics.

Successful applicants have undergraduate science and non-science GPAs of 3.5 or higher and median GRE scores above the 80th percentile. Applicants invited for interviews are evaluated by at least five faculty members, including one admissions committee member. Candidates have opportunities to speak candidly with current students during the interview process.

Applicants will need to complete the DBBS online application, which consists of submitting the following information: 1) Three letters of recommendations 2) Academic history 3) Test Scores – GRE and TOEFL 4) Two essays 5) Research description 6) Listing of major coursework 7) Work history 8) Awards/Honors.

The application deadline is December 1 and interviews of prospective trainees will begin in January . A small number of acceptance offers may be made after interviews, but most decisions will not be made until all interviews are completed. Applicants can expect to be notified by DBBS no later than mid March. Students must accept or decline an offer by April 15. All individuals are eligible to apply to the Cell to Society Pathway.


For questions, please contact Graham Colditz, MD, DrPH, Chief, Division of Public Health Sciences, Associate Director of Prevention and Control at Siteman Cancer Center and deputy director of the Institute of Public Health, at colditzg@wudosis.wustl.edu or Susan Dutcher, PhD, professor of genetics, at dutcher@genetics.wustl.edu.

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