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Updated: June 14, 2011 20:42 IST

Studying cancer biology in New York

Rozario Ilaventhan
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Rozario Ilaventhan.
Rozario Ilaventhan.

In 2007, when I told my friends in the USA, that I would be studying in New York City, they said it was an amazing place to live in. I was definitely excited, but at the same time also sceptical as to how the new city would treat me.

Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences is an alliance between the Weill Cornell Medical College (WCMC) and Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center (MSKCC) in New York. WCMC is one of the leading clinical and bio-medical research institutes in the U.S., and MSKCC is a world leader both in cancer research and patient care. A graduate programme offered by both these renowned institutes was very attractive while I was searching for schools abroad, after finishing B. Tech-Biotechnology at Centre for Biotechnology, Anna University.

The graduate school offers several Ph.D programmes including Biochemistry and Structural Biology, Molecular Biology, Neuroscience and Pharmacology, among others. Students admitted into a programme, do three brief stints in different labs of their choice during the first year — referred to as rotations — before choosing their thesis lab. In addition to the rotations, they are required to finish a certain set of coursework during the year.

From the second year onwards, they focus solely on research work in their thesis labs. My thesis lab is in the Cancer Biology and Genetics department at MSKCC, where I study how cells faithfully segregate their chromosomes during each cell division and its implications on cancer.

Both WCMC and MSKCC are located in Manhattan's Upper East Side neighbourhood, which is also home to Rockefeller University. It is therefore a very intellectually stimulating environment and there is no shortage of opportunities, whether you want to discuss about certain aspects of the project with a specialist or want to attend a lecture delivered by a famous speaker at these institutions. After graduating, students may choose to do a post-doctoral fellowship, leading to positions in biotech/pharma companies or academia. Some decide to pursue other careers like consulting, science writing, patent law, etc.

The graduate school provides the students with apartments at subsidised rates, within one or two streets from the labs. One can see all four seasons over the course of the year and the winters are not severe compared to other cities that are further north. I have actually enjoyed the ‘White Christmas' winters in New York, when the city becomes absolutely magical.

Apart from academic aspects, New York City offers a culturally enriching experience to its residents. Whether you are interested in art, museums, theatre, ballet or sports, New York has internationally acclaimed places for all of them. During my stay here, I have seen Andy Roddick play at the U.S. Open, one of The Three Tenors; Placido Domingo perform at The Metropolitan Opera, a couple of musicals on Broadway, games at the Madison Square Garden and Yankee stadium, to name a few.

I still remember the conversations I had with my friends in 2007. Now, after being here for about four years, I have no doubt that New York is truly an amazing city to be in, after ‘namma' Madras of course!

Weill Cornell Graduate School of Medical Sciences, New York

Keywords: cancer biology

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