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Clinical researchers have to combine clinical expertise with a thorough understanding of the underlying molecular mechanisms that are altered in disease. Basic scientists with a future career in academic medicine (or affiliated research institutes) or in industry are more competitive if they have a sound clinical understanding of the diseases they work on.

Synergy between the RTG Hallmarks of Skin Cancer, the Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling International Graduate School of Molecular and Cellular Biology (HBIGS), and the Helmholtz International Graduate School for Cancer Research (HIGS)

This is particularly true for cancer research and especially for the specialized field of dermato-oncology. The RTG will therefore establish a multi-disciplinary approach to teach cancer biology and dermato-oncology. To this end, the RTG will on the one hand build on the existing academic and teaching strengths of the Rhein-Neckar Region with several Graduate Schools of the Medical and Life Science Faculties of Heidelberg University and of the DKFZ, and on the other hand will offer additional teaching in a broad range of topics covering the diverse fields of clinical and experimental dermatooncology. With respect to existing Graduate Schools, Heidelberg University runs the Hartmut Hoffmann-Berling International Graduate School of Molecular and Cellular Biology (HBIGS) as part of the Excellence Initiative.

The DKFZ runs the Helmholtz International Graduate School for Cancer Research (HIGS). Students in the RTG will be granted access to the two Graduate Schools, and the teaching offered by these schools will be integrated into the structured program of the RTG, which will focus on clinical and scientific aspects of dermatooncology. HBIGS will be responsible for teaching and training the PhD/MD students in general molecular and cellular biology and in “soft skills”, whereas HIGS will be responsible for the teaching program in cancer biology and general oncology. The added value the RTG will provide for the PhD/MD students will be the application of the general principles and approaches of cancer biology and oncology (the hallmarks of cancer) to the specific problems and questions of skin cancer biology and dermato-oncology (the hallmarks of skin cancer) as shown in the figure.

The teaching program for the RTG students will comprise regular seminars, courses, workshops, and scientific meetings that will be offered for PhD students in a structured sequence over a three-year period. MD students will be enrolled into the RTG for 1 year and will participate in all teaching activities offered to the PhD students. Limitation of their term to one year will make careful selection of the available training opportunities necessary. This will be supported by mentoring and advice given by the responsible PIs and MD supervisors.

The seminars will focus on general aspects of oncology (HIGS) and special aspects of dermatooncology (RTG), while the course/workshop program will offer methodological training in general techniques in cell and molecular biology (HBIGS, HIGS) and special techniques in dermatooncological research (RTG). The latter courses will include a mandatory 1-week laboratory teaching course per year. Soft skill training will be part of the program offered both by HBIGS and HIGS (Table1-3, see below). While the seminar series and the annual 1-week lab teaching courses will follow a given structured program, the courses and workshops may be freely chosen by the students according to their interests and educational needs.

To allow the students of the RTG to fully exploit the teaching on offer, each RTG student will be allowed to attend all seminars, courses and workshops of both HBIGS and HIGS. Formally, each student will therefore become a member of either HBIGS or HIGS in addition to being a member of the RTG. The teaching program of the RTG reflects the basic idea that each area of the graduate school and their partners at the DKFZ (HIGS) and Heidelberg University (HBIGS) should equally contribute to the progress of the respective student/scientific group. Therefore, participation of all graduate students, associate students, and PIs in the teaching program is considered essential.