NCI Cancer Prevention Fellowship Seeks Passionate Applicants to Drive the Field Forward


Date Posted, by Susan Jenks

Preventing cancer today and in the future lies at the heart of the National Cancer Institute’s competitive postdoctoral fellowship program, which is accepting candidate applications for the 2022 class until August 16, 2021.

Fellowship Program Application

The CPFP application period is now CLOSED.

Application Season Opens
Saturday, May 1, 2021

Application Season Closes
Monday, August 16, 2021

Supporting Documentation Due
Monday, August 23, 2021

The multidisciplinary Cancer Prevention Fellowship Program (CPFP) selects 10 to 15 new fellows each year and provides up to 4 years of support for mentored research and professional development at the NCI. It additionally offers the opportunity for fellows to earn a master’s degree in public health depending on their previous academic training.

CPFP fellows share the conviction “that the best cancer is the one that never happens,” according to Philip Castle, Ph.D., M.P.H., director of NCI’s Division of Cancer Prevention, and an alumnus of the program. Although “how and where they approach that problem differs,” he said, that philosophy and a passion for cancer prevention often fuels their research interests.

In a recent interview with the fellowship’s newsletter, CPFP Chronicles, Dr. Castle credited his own fellowship experience with transforming his scientific career from a focus on laboratory work with the human papillomavirus (HPV) and cervical cancer to HPV epidemiology and its impact on public health. “I took a leap of faith,” he said, “and I never looked back.”

The fellowship also helped him develop the skills necessary to formulate the right research questions for the problems at hand. Not only is this ability vital to all scientific inquiry, it ultimately can distinguish “the great scientists from the average, and the average from the good,” he said.

During its 34-year history, the CPFP has prepared many future leaders in the field of cancer prevention and control, including Dr. Castle, who undertook the division director position at NCI amidst the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020. Of that privilege, he said, he never envisioned such a role in his “wildest dreams.” However, he tells all new fellows to think about where they want to be in 5 to 10 years and then work back from there. “Make these choices because you love them and then they will love you back,” he advised.

In a series of online testimonials, other former fellows likewise praised the program as transformative in their lives.

Ernest Hawk, M.D., M.P.H., vice president and division head for cancer prevention and population sciences at the University of Texas, MD Anderson Cancer Center, said that his training as a medical oncologist had given him limited exposure to science except as an observer, or as part of an investigative team. Significantly, the fellowship program introduced him to the ideas of cancer chemoprevention and to the leading scientists working in this area of research, he said. This allowed him to take prevention from a conceptual theory into one that played a greater part in clinical practice.

Minal Patel, Ph.D., M.P.H., director at the Truth Initiative, Schroeder Institute, noted that the CPFP allowed her to work with renowned mentors and build on her transdisciplinary training to connect multiple health behaviors related to cancer. She said the CPFP helped to “not only prepare me for the next step in my career, but to propel me to heights greater than I would have achieved through any other postdoctoral training program.”

2019 Group photo of the CPFP Fellows.

Cancer Prevention Fellows and CPFP Staff attending the 2019 Fellows' Scientific Symposium. The annual symposium is held each fall and provides for a day of scientific exchange in the area of cancer prevention, offering the opportunity for fellows to discuss their projects, ideas, and potential future collaborations.

New and Expanded Opportunities Announced

The scientific disciplines represented by current and past Cancer Prevention Fellows encompass a broad sweep. They range from toxicology, basic science, epidemiology and nutrition to data science, nursing, behavioral science and health communication.

Because the prevention of cancer in the general population and in high-risk groups is such a complex and multi-faceted issue, everyone is welcome at the table, said CPFP Director Lisa Signorello, Sc.D. She describes the common denominator for all fellowship applicants as a passion for cancer prevention. “We’re looking for people who can drive the field forward,” she said.

Over the decades, the fellowship has retained the successful core features of its training program, including formal instruction in public health, cutting edge research, and intensive professional skill-building such as writing, presenting, publishing, and serving on professional committees. In addition, there are several new opportunities to highlight. One of them, Dr. Signorello said, is an avenue for clinical oncology fellows at NCI to engage in cancer prevention research with the CPFP. In fact, the Hematology/Oncology Clinical Fellowship at NIH has a new cancer prevention track just for this purpose.

Expanded opportunities for international fellows also are on the horizon. The first two Cancer Prevention Fellows from Costa Rica will start their fellowships in June 2021 through a new training partnership developed in 2020. Although it is the only such program currently available, Dr. Signorello said, “we hope to extend more fellowship opportunities to candidates in low- and middle-income countries in the future.”

The application period for the next cohort of Cancer Prevention Fellows, to start in June 2022, officially opened May 1 and will close on August 16, 2021.

The CPFP website describes the necessary documentation for online applications, which are reviewed in August and September. Interviews for short-listed candidates take place in October. Members of the CPFP staff are available throughout the summer to answer questions about the application process, and can be reached by email at:

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