Define your path to a PhD with MSK Engage

The MSK Engage program aims to provide New York City undergraduate students from groups historically underrepresented in biomedical fields with two years of research experience in MSK labs to help them become competitive candidates for graduate school or professional positions as lab technicians.

  • Engage Scholars would join MSK labs during the summer between their ­junior and senior years for a bootcamp in lab basics, followed by a nine- to ten–week immersion in research. Scholars would join a series of lectures and professional development activities alongside participants in other MSK summer internships for college students. They will receive a stipend of $6,500 for the 10-week internship.
  • During the following academic (senior) year, Engage Scholars would continue working in the same MSK lab part-time for up to 12 hours per week as their course schedule allows. They will receive up to $7,500 for this period of the engagement.
  • Upon graduation, Engage Scholars would join their host lab full-time as a research technician for a gap year before entering graduate school. During their year as a technician, they would receive the same program support as Bridge Scholars, including comprehensive skill­ development training along with professional and career guidance. (Continuation into the postbac part of the program is contingent upon maintenance of good standing in undergraduate institution, successful graduation and lab performance.) Scholars will receive a salary of $50,000 + plus health benefits during their year as lab technicians.

MSK Engage is part of the Maximizing Excellence in Research Education and Technology (MERIT) program and is supported by the Gray Foundation. The program directors for Engage are Dr. Iestyn WhitehouseDr. Ushma S. Neill, and Dr. Yaihara Fortis Santiago.  

Program Timeline

  • February 1, 2024: Deadline to receive nominations from NYC based faculty or program directors.
  • April 1, 2024: All decisions will be released to applicants and nominators. 
  • June 3, 2024 - August 9, 2024: Engage Scholars begin the summer internship phase of the program in MSK labs.
  • September 2024 - June 2025: Engage Scholars remain in the same lab where they performed their summer research as part-time interns (up to 12 hours per week).
  • July 2025 - June 2026: Engage Scholars who meet the postbaccalaureate program eligibility criteria will transition into research technicians for a full gap year in the same lab.  

As an Engage Scholar, you will:

  • Be immersed in biomedical research in cutting-edge laboratories for up to 26 months, starting in the summer before graduating college
  • Receive hands on mentoring from PIs, graduate students, and postdocs
  • Receive individualized career guidance by the Office of Scientific Education and Training
  • Attend research seminars and departmental talks
  • Present your research at lab meetings and annual conferences
  • Participate in professional development workshops and skills building classes, as well as a segment of the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School cancer biology core course
  • Give an oral presentation on your research project at the end of each term of the program 

Participating Labs

Accepted candidates to MSK Engage will be matched to a scientific lab from the disciplines listed below. Each lab listed below is led by a principal investigator (PI) who has expressed a commitment to host and provide mentorship to Engage Scholars to build a strong foundation in biomedical wet-lab and/or computational research. Information about the scientific focus of participating labs can be found by visiting their respective webpages below.

Cancer Biology
Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology
Chemistry, Biochemistry, and Structural Biology
Computational Biology

Frequently Asked Questions

Information on how to apply and answers to frequently asked questions can be found below. If you have additional questions, please email us at [email protected].

Eligibility FAQs

Who is eligible to be an Engage Scholar?

The MSK Engage Program is open to current juniors enrolled in a NYC based college or university; and who: 

  • Self-identify as underrepresented in the U.S. biomedical sciences and fields, as defined by the Notice of NIH’s interest in diversity.
  • Are US citizens or legal permanent residents. (We welcome applicants with DACA status but note that many DACA holders have experienced significant wait times to renew their Employment Authorization Document (EAD) and we would need to work together with a long lead time.) Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center cannot sponsor visas for the MSK Engage program.  
  • Are strongly committed to apply to a PhD in biomedical fields.

Do I need lab experience to be accepted into the program?

Lab experience is not required, but ideally prospective Engage Scholars will have had some laboratory exposure through science lab coursework at least.

I am an undergraduate in my last year in college (senior). Can I apply?

Only students enrolled in an accredited college institution based in NYC and in their junior year are eligible to be nominated for MSK Engage.

I am a junior undergraduate in an institution outside NYC. Can I apply to Engage?

Only students enrolled in an accredited college institution based in NYC and in their junior year are eligible to be nominated for MSK Engage. Housing will not be available for Engage Scholars, so accepted applicants must be a commutable distance from the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

If I am interested in an MD-PhD or an MD can I apply to Engage?

MSK Engage is intended for students committed to applying to PhD programs only.

Application Process FAQs

How do I apply?

For the inaugural cohort that will start in June 2024, we welcome nominations from faculty or program directors based at NYC institutions who have worked with or taught the individual they are nominating. The window to receive nominations starts in November 2023 and closes on February 1st, 2024. Faculty interested in nominating individuals from their institution should contact the Engage program directors at [email protected]. There is no fee to apply for the MSK Engage program.  

What needs to be included in the nomination?

  • A candidate statement (no more than 800 words, single spaced) answering the following prompts:
  • How has the student’s background, experience, and academic journey prepared them for a career in science or shaped their aspirations to pursue a scientific career?
  • What does the student expect to get from the MSK Engage program and from the research experience at MSK?
  • How would MSK Engage fit into their career journey?
  • The student’s curriculum vitae (CV) or resume (3 pages maximum). The student should make sure to indicate anything else considered important for a judgment of abilities such as articles, theses, books, other published materials, patented inventions, academic honors, prizes, scholarships and leadership activities, etc. Information about previous work experience is also welcomed on the CV/resume.
  • Unofficial transcripts must be submitted with the application. Upon acceptance, official transcript from each of the student’s college or university(s) will be required. For every college or university listed in the CV, an unofficial transcript will be required. If there are discrepancies between the official and unofficial transcripts, the program will rescind acceptance. 
  • A letter from the faculty member submitting the nomination stating why they endorse the student, enumerating the candidate’s credentials related to laboratory research or relevant work experience, and their potential to be successful as a PhD student. The faculty member should specifically indicate they are aware the candidate would like to go to graduate school but has perhaps lacked enough research experience to qualify. 

Does the nomination require the name of another recommender?

For the inaugural year (2024), only a single nomination letter will be required. In subsequent years, requests for additional recommendation letter(s) may be sent to the recommender after the application is submitted.

I am interested in applying to Engage. How can I notify my mentor/professor to submit a nomination on my behalf?

Please email us at [email protected] and provide the name and email of the professor who you would like us to contact to submit a nomination on your behalf.

Is there a deadline for receipt of my nomination package?

All nominations must be received by February 1st, 2024.

How will I know if my nomination was received?

The person submitting the nomination will receive an email confirming that the nomination is complete and under consideration.

When can I expect to hear about the status of my nomination?

A decision letter will be sent to the student nominee and the faculty or program director who nominated them via e-mail by April 1st, 2024

Admissions and Onboarding FAQs

Where is the MSK Engage program located?

The MSK Engage program will take place in person in the research buildings of Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center on the Upper East Side of New York City.

Is MSK Engage program a paid program?

Yes. MSK Engage Scholars will receive the following:

  • Summer stipend (10 weeks): $6,500
  • One year of part-time internship (up to 12 hours/week), student must be enrolled in their last year in college during this part time year: up to $7,500
  • Gap year as a research technician (after graduating college): $50,000 + full medical, dental, vision benefits

Is housing provided?

No, housing is not provided for Engage Scholars.

Does the MSK Engage program cover relocation expenses?

No, relocation expenses for Engage Scholars are not provided.

Program FAQs

Can I attend only the summer part of the MSK Engage program?

The MSK Engage program is intended to be a 26-month commitment to a lab, starting with 10 weeks in the summer when the student is a rising senior in a NYC based college/ university. While circumstances may arise that may necessitate an early departure, MSK Engage Scholars are expected to commit to the 26-months to the program. Engage Scholars may be dismissed for poor performance or if their academic standing does not allow timely graduation. A third year in the same lab may be possible but will be up to the discretion and funding availability of the Lab’s principal investigator.

Which courses do MSK Engage Scholars typically take?

In the 2nd (last) year of the program, MSK Engage Scholars will take coursework aimed at expanding scientific proficiencies and strengthening interpersonal skills. In addition, Engage Scholars will receive individualized guidance toward PhD applications and interview preparation.

Summer as a rising senior:

  • During the first week of June, after a mandatory orientation together with other summer interns, Engage Scholars will participate in four daily foundational cancer biology lectures as well as a bootcamp in lab basics lead by colleagues at RockEdu. For the rest of the summer, Engage Scholars will join the programming in place for other MSK summer interns, including a variety of professional development, poster sessions, and educational lectures. Scholars will also take required lab safety training (Responsible Conduct of Research, Biosafety and Fire Safety, Radiation Safety, Animal use and care, and C-14 laboratory certification).

Part-time during the senior academic year:

  • Fall: Engage Scholars will be invited to participate in a scientific skills-building workshop in one of the following topics: proteomics, animal models of cancer, imaging handling & analysis, and various computational biology courses. 
  • Winter & Spring: Scholars will be invited to the lectures offered under the HOPP Res-TeP program.

Full time postbaccalaureate year as a lab technician:

  • July: MSK Engage Scholars will start as full time research technicians and will join the Bridge Scholars in their curricula. Scholars will meet once a week to participate in journal club and professional development coursework on communication, networking, presenting at conferences, conflict resolution, and grantsmanship. (Note: Continuation into the gap year part of the program is contingent upon maintenance of good standing in undergraduate institution, successful graduation, and lab performance.)
  • Fall/Winter: Engage Scholars will participate in a skill building class, a 6-part class on the fundamentals of cancer biology (modeled after the Gerstner Sloan Kettering Graduate School Cancer Biology Core Course); and they will also be invited to attend an intensive three-day Demystifying the Graduate School Application Process event, as well as other application submission and interview prep workshops.

Individualized mentoring will be provided related to personal statements, other application materials and interview preparation.

Further coursework will be at the Scholar’s discretion.

How are Engage Scholars matched to a lab?

Once an applicant is accepted into the MSK Engage program, the program leadership will match the accepted Scholar with a potential principal investigator (PI) from among those listed on the program website. The matching will be determined based on applicant’s qualifications and research interests that align with the PI’s. All Engage-specific PIs have pledged a commitment to hosting and providing mentoring to Engage Scholars to build a strong foundation in biomedical wet-lab and/or computational research. Information about the scientific focus of participating labs can be found by visiting their respective web pages as noted above in the program faculty webpages. MSK Engage program leadership will take an active role in working with each accepted applicant to find a scientific home.

Does participating in the MSK Engage program guarantee admission into one of the MSK graduate schools?

Participation in the MSK Engage program does not guarantee admission into MSK’s graduate programs. Engage Scholars will need to apply to program(s) during their second year in the MSK Engage program (usually with early December deadlines). However, during the program, Scholars will have ample opportunities to interact with deans, directors, faculty, and those on admissions committees, which may improve their chances of admission into the graduate program(s).

What kind of support and advising can a MSK Engage Scholar expect to receive?

Scholars will receive extensive individual academic and professional guidance. This will include individual monthly meetings with their PI; oversight by a day-to-day mentor (postdoc, senior grad student and/or other lab member), and quarterly meetings with the Office of Scientific Education & Training (OSET) team and MSK Engage program’s leadership.