C★STAR Program

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Carle Foundation Hospital, through its Cancer Center, and the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign have jointly established the Cancer Scholars for Translational and Applied Research (C★STAR) graduate educational program that fosters translational research and near-term benefits to the patients served in the community.

Each institution offers expertise and strong programs in cancer that are complementary. The university offers strength in basic science, technology, and engineering. Within these areas, there are four distinct, yet interlocking themes of molecular mechanisms, diagnostic technologies and imaging, computational and precision medicine, and social and behavioral sciences.

In a corresponding manner, Carle has intersecting components that highlight pre-cancer or preventative care, cancer diagnosis and treatment, and survivorship (i.e., organ function, emotional and psychological well-being, and length and quality of life).

Five cancer-based sites have been identified for focus and research. These areas include (1) breast (area of emphasis with the greatest potential), (2) prostate, (3) gastrointestinal issues, (4) gynecological issues, and (5) lung.

Long-Term Program Goals

Blue Team Solid

Foster connections between Carle physician-scientists and Illinois faculty that lead to innovative research projects.

Blue Unit Solid

Develop the foundation for tangible translational outcomes.

Blue Document Solid

Develop a graduate education program that is supported by an NIH T-32 grant.

Blue Partners Solid

More effectively include Carle physicians, resources, and facilities into multi-PI efforts.

Blue Research Solid

Employ the program to attract high-quality clinician-scientists to Carle and translation-focused faculty to the university.

C★STAR Program Guidelines


To be eligible for the C★STAR program, you must:

  • Be enrolled in an eligible program on the Urbana-Champaign campus that includes the physical, biological, or medical sciences; engineering; social sciences; education; social work; humanities; or other related areas.
  • Intend to pursue a research-based Master’s and/or Ph.D. program at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign.
  • Be willing to work with an Illinois faculty member and Carle physician on a clinically relevant project.

The following categories are always ineligible for the C★STAR program:

  • Those who have earned their terminal graduate or professional degree by May 15, 2020, and are no longer graduate students.
  • Those who are part-time students.

Program Activities

Awardees will be expected to fully participate in all C★STAR-related activities. Awardees are expected to participate in events sponsored the C★STAR program, including a possible poster presentation or symposium. Awardees are encouraged to communicate with one another and collaborate as appropriate toward their common goals.

Eligible Fields of Study

The C★STAR program supports a broad range of fields. These include but are not meant to be restrictive in any way:

  • Practice-oriented, professional degree programs (i.e., MSW, MPH)
  • Joint science-professional degree programs (i.e., MD/PhD)
  • Engineering, basic sciences, or bioinformatics
  • Social work
  • Public health programs
  • Medical programs
  • Counseling programs
  • Research including the etiology, diagnosis, or treatment of cancer
  • Clinical areas of study (including patient-oriented research; epidemiological and behavioral studies; outcomes research; health services research; pharmacologic, non-pharmacologic, and behavioral interventions for disease prevention, diagnosis, or therapy; and community- and other population-based interventions.

Application Requirements

  • 1 page research statement
  • Updated curriculum vitae
  • A letter of commitment and support to participate in the program

Need a Physician Collaborator?

If you don’t have an established relationship with a physician collaborator for the project you are proposing and are interested in sharing/developing your idea, you will complete a Physician Collaborator Intake Form provided by CCIL. You do not need to contact the Carle Cancer Center physicians directly. The information you provide on the form will be routed accordingly to facilitate potential matches.


I am an international student. Am I eligible to apply?

Yes, international students can and are encouraged to apply.

How many years is the money typically awarded for?

If selected, funds are awarded annually on a competitive basis for up to three (3) years.

How many awards are given out each year?

The program is highly competitive. Up to six (6) awards are given per year.

The website lists several areas of emphasis, but the flier highlights a targeted area of emphasis for this year? What does this mean for applicants working on organ sites listed on the website?

All applications will be considered based on their potential for success. The areas listed on the flier are in addition to the areas/organ-sites listed on the website.

Are late materials accepted?

No, all application materials should be submitted by the deadline noted for consideration. This includes letters of support and/or recommendation letters.

Do I need to send a research statement by email?

No, you are encouraged to use the online application portal to submit your research statement and other application material.

I don’t have a Carle physician collaborator, can I still apply?

Yes, applications should still be submitted even though a “match” has not been formally made. All complete applications will be reviewed. Matches can be made during the review process (for projects not having a collaborator).

Is there any financial support for the recipient of the award?

Yes, students selected to participate in the program may receive up to a 9-month graduate research assistantship appointment.

Can the letter of recommendation also serve as a letter of support?

Yes, the letter of recommendation from your faculty advisor/department head can also serve as a letter of support. The letter must be signed by the appropriate person and state that the faculty advisor and/or department head agrees to provide half of the program funding for the student if awarded.

Do recommenders need to be affiliated with a university?

No, letters of recommendation can be provided by individuals outside of the University of Illinois system. The recommender MUST be knowledgeable of your research skills and/or potential.

How much would the time commitment be per week?

The program is equivalent to a graduate research assistantship.

What should the research statement include?

The research statement should include a description of the project with specific goals/aims listed. It should state what is being tested or explored and what the student/research team hopes to learn and accomplish.

Is the project we are planning to work on a project we come up with on our own or one we are placed with based on our interests?

Projects are developed with the assistance of a faculty mentor. Leeway should be left in the project design to integrate ongoing feedback from a physician collaborator (if awarded). This program does not conduct project design and placement.

Is this program meant for students who are just starting out in research, or should we have prior research experience?

Both—this program is a team-based research and mentoring program. Students are mentored by a University of Illinois faculty mentor and a Carle physician.

In a previous round, I participated in an open forum where I presented before members of the Carle medical staff. Will I be doing this again?

No, presentations to the Carle Cancer Center medical staff will not be made this round.

I have a project, but I am not sure if it would be right for the program. What should I do?

If your topic is an area of emphasis listed in the announcement, we encourage you to apply. More information about the program is available here.

Questions? Email cancerscholars@illinois.edu.

C★STAR Cohorts