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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. Scientists in academic medicine or in industry are required to have a sound clinical understanding of the diseases they work on. Mutual understanding of clinical medicine and basic science is required for both the development of clinically relevant basic research projects, but also for the translation of discoveries back into clinical practice. This is particularly true for cancer research including Dermato-Oncology.
Therefore, the RTG will continue its well-established and highly successful multi-disciplinary approach to teach cancer biology and Dermato-Oncology. To this end, the RTG will further cultivate its well-developed collaborative bonds with Graduate Schools of the Medical and Life Science Faculties of Heidelberg University and of the DKFZ which provide a broad range of excellent teaching offers in general and tumor biology. Vice versa, the RTG itself will continue to offer additional teaching in a broad range of topics covering the diverse fields of clinical and experimental Dermato-Oncology. With respect to the existing Graduate Schools, Heidelberg University runs the Heidelberg Biosciences International Graduate School (HBIGS) as part of the Excellence Initiative, supplemented by sustainable support of the University of Heidelberg by intramural funds. Similarly, the DKFZ runs the Helmholtz International Graduate School for Cancer Research (HIGS).
As the granted access to the two Graduate Schools was very well received by the students during the first funding period of the RTG, the RTG will continue to integrate the teaching offers of HBIGS and HIGS into its structured teaching program which focuses on clinical and scientific aspects of Dermato-Oncology. HBIGS offers teaching and training for the PhD and MD students in general molecular and cellular biology, whereas HIGS offers teaching and training in cancer biology and general oncology. The RTG teaching program will provide added value for the PhD and MD students through the application of the general principles of cancer biology and oncology, the “Hallmarks of Cancer” to the specific problems and questions of skin cancer biology and Dermato-Oncology, i.e. the “Hallmarks of Skin Cancer”.
In general, the teaching progam of the RTG was positively evaluated by the students at the end of the 3-year period of the first cohort of PhD students. The students, however, suggested that the RTG should support stronger connectivity between the scientific projects in a structured way (1), to enhance the focus on Dermato-Oncology even further (2), and to allow greater flexibility in participating in teaching offers of the RTG in relation to the time for pushing their experimental thesis work forward (3). First, the RTG will guarantee for the next funding period that every student’s project is presented during the annual summer schools (Anglo-French-German Workshops on Skin Cancer Biology) either as a short or full presentation. Furthermore, the RTG will set up a continuous seminar series alternating with the Dermato-Oncology lecture series in which two students each working on similar topics will present their project and preliminary data for information of and discussion with all RTG students. This will also allow even closer interaction of the PhD and MD students of the RTG.
Second, the RTG has already implemented clinical rounds in dermatology and Dermato-Oncology to expose the students to real clinical medicine and improve their understanding for unmet clinical needs. Third, the RTG will reduce the number of mandatory courses without reducing the necessary ECPs to allow for more flexibility and a better fit of the courses with regard to previous training of the students. To enable international exposure of the students within the limited time-to-thesis funded by the RTG, the duration of the lab visits abroad was reduced to a period of 2 weeks to 4 months. To make international exposure even more attractive, the RTG now allows the students to select their foreign collaboration parter for the lab visit more freely. In response to the continuous evaluation of the RTG by the students, some minor adjustments to the RTG teaching program have also been made already which we plan to continue during the next funding period.
Full integration of the MD students into the RTG activities and network is one of the major goals of the RTG. The many publications authored and co-authered by MD students and the scientific quality of their MD thesis work are the best evidence for successful integration. As a considerable percentage of the MD students applied for a prolongation of their funding period of 1 year for another 6-12 months, MD students will be regularly enrolled into the RTG for 2 years in the next funding period. MD students will then go through a preparatory phase, the experimental phase (full time for 1 year) and a finalizing phase to continue experiments and take care of revisions for manuscripts.
Therefore, the re-focused teaching program will comprise regular seminars, courses, workshops, and clinical rounds as well as summer schools that will be offered for PhD students in a structured sequence over a three-year period. In response to the students’ needs, we have slightly reduced the number of lectures per semester and we replaced the one week lab courses by more flexible and individualized 2-day hands on courses.
The seminars will focus on general aspects of oncology (HIGS) and special aspects of Dermato-Oncology (RTG), while the course/workshop program will offer training in general techniques in cell and molecular biology (HBIGS, HIGS) and special techniques in skin cancer research (RTG). The latter courses will include one mandatory and further voluntary 2-day hands on courses each year. The courses and workshops are modular and may be freely chosen by the students according to their interests and educational needs. Soft skill training will be part of the program offered both by HBIGS and HIGS. Courses on the rules of good scientific practice, on research involving animal experiments, and on the collection, storage, editing and long-term provision of research data will also be offered by the RTG during the kick-off meeting for each novel cohort of PhD students.
To allow the students of the RTG to fully exploit the teaching offers of the Graduate Schools and the RTG, each RTG student will be allowed to attend all seminars, courses and workshops of HBIGS and HIGS. Each student will become a member of either HBIGS or HIGS in addition to being a member of the RTG. Participation of all graduate students, associate students, and PIs in the teaching program is considered essential. Facilitating the communication with HBIGS, HIGS, and the RTG, several PIs of the RTG are (affiliated) members of HBIGS or HIGS (Angel, Augustin, Boutros, Cerwenka, Goerdt, Platten, Ruiz de Almodovar Egea, Sleeman, Umansky, Utikal).