Oncology Research Careers | Explore a Career in Cancer Research | Corning

Decades ago, a career in cancer research looked entirely different. Back then, scientists sought cutting-edge cures for what they thought was a single disease.

We know now that cancer refers to a group of more than 100 diseases, and scientists have developed innovative ways to prevent, diagnose, and treat each of them. But science does not stand still, and oncology is rife with opportunities for scientists interested in furthering the revolutionary research.

As this field of research evolves, the researcher's purview does, too—and there are plenty of pathways within the profession.

Why Oncology? Why Now?

Cancer research appeals to scientists across all investigational interests for many reasons. Perhaps the most common: It hits close to home.

According to the American Cancer Society, 40 percent of men and 39 percent of women are at risk of developing cancer in their lifetime. Many researchers appreciate the ability to contribute to a field that has touched so many lives, especially when they can take part in translational research and apply lab learnings to the clinic.

Oncology also caters to a diverse set of research interests—and that's especially true now. As the molecular understanding of cancer advances, new channels for research involvement emerge across such areas as gene therapy and immunotherapy, each of which offers a potential pathway toward personalized medicine, the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute says.

The analysis, imaging, and data sets that come with new frontiers in cancer research have driven demand for scientists with diverse skillsets from every corner of the STEM ecosystem, according to the Institute of Cancer Research. For example, Science highlights the growing need for more computational skills in the field of precision cancer research. But some of the very attributes that make these new areas of cancer research so gratifying can also make them challenging. The new infusion of roles has put pressure on oncology labs to recruit researchers with in-demand skills who might otherwise apply those skills in higher-paying industries. Someone skilled in data science, for example, could earn more in banking or insurance, and that's partly because national funding for cancer initiatives hasn't kept pace with inflation, Science also reports.

That's not to suggest that every cancer research position offers low pay for long, grueling hours. Jobs in big pharma may offer more financial incentives, but they also come with trade-offs, such as the limited ability to explore academic curiosities. So carefully consider your options to find the path that suits you.

How to Get Started

If you're interested in cancer research but aren't quite sure where you'd like to go, start by targeting a National Cancer Institute-designated comprehensive cancer center. Many of these programs support cellular, clinical and epidemiological research opportunities through postdoc awards, specialized training, and pilot initiatives. Competition for NCI programs and grants can be tough, though; one alternative pathway could be to apply for positions at nonprofit organizations, such as the Breast Cancer Research Foundation.

Whatever you do, remain open to opportunities. You might discover a passion you never knew you had, especially when you're working in a field as rewarding as oncology.