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Here you'll find some resources that may help you navigate your PhD journey. This list is not exhaustive, so please reach out to CBSO if there's any additional information you'd like to see here.


Recently Updated (starting Aug 7, 2023)

  • For all students, the total annual stipend is $35,000 USD before taxes

(for Aug 2022- Aug 2023)

Direct compensation

  • For all students, the total annual stipend is $33,638 USD before taxes

  • Taxes can consume about $5,000 USD of the stipend depending on individual circumstances (country of visa, other household income, etc)

  • First year student receive their stipends as a $3,000 enrollment bonus to assist with relocation expenses followed by $30,638 dispersed in biweekly payments throughout the year (~$29 USD per hour, accounting for 20 hours of work)

  • Second-year students and beyond receive $33,638 dispersed in biweekly payments throughout the year (~$32 USD per hour, accounting for 20 hours of work per week)

  • Even though the stipend pays for 20 hours a week of work, expect to spend at least 40 hours a week on combined research and classes in order to make productive progression to graduation

Other Benefits

  • Full tuition and fee waivers (you don't have to pay for classes out of your stipend)

  • The program covers student health insurance premiums (co-pays are still your responsibility)

  • Students may choose to be a teaching assistant at USF and receive additional compensation, however this route is rarely taken due to the workload of classes and research

  • Parental leave benefits are in place for birth and adoptive parents, however there are additional requirements that must be met to receive these benefits (2 completed semesters in the program and good academic standing)

  • In the case of your PI leaving for any reason or needing to find another lab 'home,' the Cancer Biology PhD program will support your full stipend and visa

Outside employment for students receiving stipends is prohibited by the program

PhD processes

PhD processes

Choosing a mentor & lab

One of the first major decisions you'll make in grad school is which lab to join, and it's not a decision to be made lightly. In your first year you're expected to complete at least two lab rotations, while these allow the PI's to gauge whether you're a good fit in their lab, it's also the perfect time for you to gauge whether the lab environment and PI's mentoring style is a good fit for your needs.

The following may assist in making your decision:

  • Identify the type of environment and mentoring style you need to thrive.

    • Do you prefer a PI that checks in once a month, or a more hands-on approach with weekly meetings? 

    • Do you need a collaborative lab environment, or one with more of a competitive culture? 

    • Would a large lab with a structured hierarchy suit you best, or a smaller lab in which all members have similar authority?

  • Does the lab have a good track record with retaining members? Why, why not? Note: the pandemic might affect this, as people may have decided to move closer to family. 

  • How well are grad students prepared for life post-PhD? Does the PI encourage gaining skills you are interested in, such as teaching or mentoring?

Additional information, and advice, can be found here. While it is mandatory to rotate in two labs, students often have complete three, whether it's to learn a new technique, or to find the perfect fit. However, as of 2022, the deadline for first year students to choose their thesis labs is August 1st. 

Qualifying exams (updated May 2022)

The qualifying exam consists of two portions: a written project proposal in the format of an F31 grant, and an oral defense of the proposal. The qualifying exam committee includes two standing members specific to each major and two ad-hoc members selected for their expertise on the content of the project proposal. A non-scoring Moderator is also involved, conveying feedback from the committee to the student regarding the complete proposal, and acting as Chair during the oral defense.

Students can receive one of three scores for their project proposal (unsatisfactory, conditional pass, and pass). If a student's proposal is deemed unsatisfactory the student will not proceed to the oral defense. Oral defenses consist of a 20 minutes presentation, and a 90 minute question and answer session. Here, students can receive one of four scores (unsatisfactory, insufficient with option to repeat, conditional pass, and pass). The final outcome is determined based on the scores of both the written and oral portions. The details are below. 










The qualifying exam process deadlines are below.

August 1st: Identify a primary mentor. 

September 1st: Submission of the Specific Aims page, ensuring selection of appropriate ad-hoc members for the QE committee.

November 7th: Final submission of complete proposal. 

December: Oral defense.

IMPORTANT NOTE: While mentor input is expected, students are highly encouraged to reach out to 1) faculty members other than their primary mentor, 2) their peers, and 3) members of Moffitt cores for advice on the written proposal. Additionally, CBSO will be organizing mock oral exams for interested students. We encourage you to take part in these, as both the presenter and potentially a member of the audience, in order to familiarize yourself with the process and the stress that is inherent in oral defenses. More information regarding CBSO hosted QE preparation sessions will be sent in August. 

Putting together your PhD committee

Your PhD committee is a panel of experts that should advise and guide you through your PhD. It's best to choose members with complementary experience, to cover any ‘gaps’ in expertise that your PI has with regards to your specific project. For instance, if your research combines tumor biology and immunology and your PI is primarily a tumor biologist, you may want to have at least one immunologist on your committee. However, they are also there to protect students against unfair treatment from their PI, such as a PI refusing to let their student defend despite having completely all the requirements. The Cancer Biology PhD program has certain requirements for committee members, which should be communicated to you following your qualifying exam. 

Preparing for PhD committee meetings

Scheduling: Discuss prospective dates with your PI and aim to e-mail your committee members at least a month in advance to coordinate a date and time. Doodle polls with multiple options available, as well as the option to zoom, are highly recommended. 


Time: Schedule the meeting for 2 hours and book the venue accordingly. However, limit your presentation to 40-45 minutes. The meeting should be a discussion, with your committee asking questions. Often, you’re asked to step out while the committee talks amongst themselves, and with your PI. Following this you may be called back in while your PI steps out, and you’ll be given an opportunity to raise ANY concerns you have regarding your PI. Remember the committee is there to protect you during the PhD process.


Meeting Day: Arrive early to set up and ensure you have no technology issues. Remember your laptop charger, and a notebook in which to write down notes, comments or ideas that may come from the discussion.


Other: Before your meeting, request the PhD committee meeting form from the Cancer Biology Program Administrator. This will need to be completed by your committee members after the meeting and submitted.



Although we are provided a stipend, securing your own funding can be beneficial in multiple ways: proving you're fundable (scientists who have been funded in the past are more likely to receive funding in the future), and it grants you a level of independence in your research. 

Keep an eye on the RET newsletter, which includes funding calls!

Spreadsheet of Funding Opportunities through USF

Link to other funding opportunities

Life in Tampa

Life in Tampa

Things to do

Tampa has great weather almost year round, beautiful beaches, and a variety of sports teams. It's also known for a wide variety of breweries, festivals (such as Gasparilla), public parks, museums, and natural attractions. Explore Ybor's nightlife and cultural attractions, Busch Gardens, Zoo Tampa, or the Sunken Gardens. 

Health & wellbeing

A growing body of literature underlines the significant mental health struggles that many graduate students encounter during their PhD years and beyond. The complex, stressful and demanding experience of graduate school and the associated mental health challenges it may pose can limit the ability of graduate students to establish a healthy work/life balance, to maintain quality of life and to complete their degree. Findings reported by Nature demonstrate that 36% of current PhD students report seeking treatment for anxiety or depression that arose due to the stress of their PhD work. Additionally, 20% of students report discrimination or harassment during their PhD career. Among gender or racial minority students, 39% experienced gender and 31% encountered race based discrimination.The personally and academically crippling impact of mental health challenged during a student's PhD career can not be understated and should be a priority for all students and mentors. If you or a fellow student are struggling please reach out to any of the CBSO officers. Additionally, as USF students we have access to the USF counseling center which is free and confidential. Services include individual and group counseling, as well as various skills workshops. If you are experiencing a personal or emotional crises please call the USF counseling center at (813) 974-2831, or the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at (800) 273-8255. 

Additional resources can be found here​ and at Crisis Center of Tampa Bay.


Rent in Tampa increased by approximately 30% in Tampa over the last year, and finding safe and affordable housing in Tampa can be a struggle, so we've put together a list of apartment complexes that may help you. We've included apartments that are either furnished or unfurnished, with a variety of distances from campus, and some that offer roommate matching services (you're only liable for your rent and don't need to find your own roommate). However, if you do need to find your own roommate please contact CBSO, and we will try to assist.

International students

Transport from Tampa International Airport

Finding transport from TPA to your accommodation can be tricky, but luckily Friends of Internationals at USF offer such a service! It's on a volunteer basis, so please reach out to them ahead of time in order to secure a spot. Their website can be found here

Get in touch with other international students!

If you're a prospective or incoming international student wanting to contact current international students, or a current student who would be happy chat with our incoming international students, please contact us!

Pursuing your PhD at Moffitt makes you a student at USF. This means we get both sets of amenities 

USF Amenities

USF Counseling Center

  • Free for all USF/Moffitt students whether in psychological crisis, mental health maintenance, and/or medication management. All matters are completely confidential. Make an appointment here.

Shimberg Library

  • Quiet and group study spaces are open 7 days a week.

  • Located in the WELL building complex.

The WELL (MDA) Building

  • Located just across the parking lot after the parking garage

  • Features a gym, student lounge, study spaces, lactation room, and food court

  • In addition to traditional gym equipment, WELL Recreation Center offers locker rooms, showers, and group fitness classes including barre, zumba, and meditation and classes. Learn more about the WELL here or register for class here.


  • Located in USF's Village Residential Complex, the recreation center features an outdoor pool as well as indoor fitness equipment.

  • The wellness center upstairs includes massage chairs and nap pods.

USF Campus Recreation Center

  • The recreation center features an indoor pool, basketball courts, racquetball/squash courts, indoor cardio and strength equipment, and group fitness spaces.

Moffitt Amenities

Moffitt Biomedical Library

  • Located in the Moffitt Business Center (MBC) at the Intellicenter Building on USF campus. Open Mon-Fri, 8AM - 4PM at 12902 USF Magnolia Dr MBC-LIB, Tampa, FL, US, 33612

  • provides online resources and services such as article requests, online journals, and assistance with writing editing, and publishing

Lactation Rooms

  • 13 New Mother's Lactation Rooms available for use with 29 pumping stations. To gain access to these rooms please contact:

HR Answer Center at 745-4000 or

Andrea Mathews, HR Program Administrator

(813) 745‐3470

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