Doctoral Degree Regulations


The formal requirements for the PhD are as follows: (1) payment of six semesters of full-time tuition (or five if credit for a previous graduate degree has been approved), (2) major and related courses as determined by the degree program, (3) the fulfillment of foreign language(s) requirements in certain departments, (4) required training in the Responsible Conduct of Research and any English language proficiency courses into which the student has placed, (5) a dissertation advisor and supervisory committee for the student’s program of study, (6) residence of at least one year, (7) passing the preliminary examination, (8) completing the dissertation, (9) passing the final examination, and (10) final dissertation submission to ProQuest and DukeSpace for eventual public access.

Major and Related Work

The student’s plan of study normally demands substantial concentration on courses in the major degree program, plus coursework in related minor fields as determined by individual programs. The programs may specify courses that are required for the degree in that particular program. If there are deficiencies in a student’s undergraduate preparation, degree programs may also require certain prerequisite courses to be taken. In all cases, the student’s DGS, in consultation with the student’s advisory committee, will determine if the student must meet requirements above the minimum.

Foreign Languages

The Graduate School has no foreign language requirement for the PhD, but individual departments may have such requirements. For specific departmental language requirements, see their program pages in this bulletin or contact the appropriate DGS.

The Graduate School requires that all dissertations and theses be written in English. The sole exception is when there are compelling scholarly or professional reasons to write the research portions of a doctoral dissertation in another language, if that language is recognized by the student’s examination committee as the primary language of the student’s research within a foreign language studies PhD program in which the student is a degree candidate. To write a dissertation in a language other than English, the student must submit a request for an exception at the time the prospectus is submitted. The request must be approved by the student’s examination committee and by The Graduate School’s academic dean. If granted an exception, the student may write the dissertation’s research chapters, introduction, and conclusion in another language. In all cases, the title, abstract, copyright notice, committee signature pages, and table of contents of dissertations must be written in English. The entirety of master’s theses must be in English, except short quotations as judged appropriate by the thesis examination committee.

English Language Proficiency

All international PhD students are subject to the requirement described in the section English Proficiency for International Students.

Responsible Conduct of Research

All PhD students at Duke University are required to complete a series of training sessions in the Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR). These sessions consist of two components: the first is an orientation workshop given at the beginning of each academic year for all new incoming students. All students in the biomedical sciences will attend a general introductory workshop provided by the School of Medicine; students in the humanities and social sciences will attend a similar introductory workshop provided by The Graduate School, as will students in nonmedical biological sciences, physical sciences, and engineering programs. All PhD students will subsequently attend a mandatory minimum number of RCR forums or other approved training experiences (including workshops and courses) scheduled throughout the academic year on individual topics related to responsible conduct of research. The number and content, as well as the semester’s schedule of such forums, courses, or workshops will be published at the beginning of each semester on The Graduate School website.

Milestone Examination Committee

The obligatory milestone examinations for PhD students are the preliminary and dissertation examinations. Membership for service on a student milestone committee requires a degree that is at least the same level for which the student is a degree candidate (e.g., a doctoral degree for a doctoral committee). Any request for an exception by the academic dean must be based on the research expertise and necessity of adding another member without such a degree. The requirements for the composition of the committee are the same, regardless of the examination, though its individual members may change over time. This committee also typically serves as an advisory committee to the student during their studies, and should be appointed to reflect research expertise that is helpful in guiding and evaluating the student’s research project.

As early in a student’s course of study as is practicable, and not later than one month (thirty days) before the preliminary examination, the DGS in the degree program will nominate for the approval of the academic dean a milestone committee consisting of at least four members of the Graduate Faculty, with one member designated as chair. The chair must be a full member of the Graduate Faculty and hold a faculty appointment in the degree-sponsoring program. Individual programs may specify whether the chair can or cannot be the primary research advisor. In all cases, this committee must include at least three Graduate Faculty members from the major field of study, and at least one from a minor area, being from outside the degree program or from a clearly differentiated subfield within the degree program. At least two members of the committee, including the chair, must be faculty in the degree-sponsoring department or program. A majority of the committee must be Duke University faculty members, except in the case of joint PhD programs with other universities. This committee, with all members participating, will determine a program of study and administer the preliminary examination. The student’s milestone committee, either the same or with some or all members replaced as needed, will also examine the dissertation and administer the final examination.

Progress toward Degree

Beginning with their second year of study, all PhD students must file an annual progress report, prepared in consultation with their research advisor, to their DGS summarizing their progress toward the degree. For students who have passed the preliminary examination and are working on their dissertations, this progress summary is also to be given to their doctoral committees, who will evaluate the student’s status. Departments determine whether the progress report is a written report only or also requires a live presentation to the committee. The DGS in turn prepares an annual summary report on all the program’s students for the academic dean’s review, reporting any student who has failed to demonstrate satisfactory progress. Failure on the part of a student to submit an annual progress report will preclude The Graduate School’s ability to certify satisfactory progress toward the degree and thus will jeopardize both the student’s academic standing and eligibility for continued financial support. For federal financial aid eligibility, doctoral students must complete at least two thirds of the course credits they attempt in any given term.


The minimum residence requirement is one academic year of full-time physical presence at Duke’s campus in Durham, concurrent with one year of continuous registration in The Graduate School (that is, two consecutive semesters of full-time tuition). The only exceptions to this are for joint degree programs with other universities, for which residency requirements will be made known to each such program’s students.

Time Limits

A student registered for full-time study must pass the preliminary examination by the end of the third academic year, unless granted permission to delay the examination by the academic dean. Endorsed requests for a delay must be made by the DGS in the major department, explaining the justification for the delay and setting a specific date for the examination in the following term of registration. Except under highly unusual circumstances (e.g., severe illness), extensions will not be granted beyond the middle of the fourth year. Note that leaves of absence do not delay this timetable. Students who have not passed their preliminary examination by the deadline, whether original or extended, will be withdrawn. The preliminary examination milestone expires after five years and may not be renewed.

Credit is not allowed for graduate courses (including transfers) or foreign language examinations that are more than six years old at the date of the preliminary examination. In cases of exceptional merit, however, the academic dean may extend a specific time limit. Should this limit be exceeded, the student’s department must submit to the academic dean specific requirements for revalidating credits or examinations.

The dissertation is expected to have been submitted, examined and accepted within four calendar years after the preliminary examination, or seven years after entry to the PhD program. In the event that this timeline is not met, the candidate may, with the approval of the advisory committee and the DGS, petition the academic dean for an extension of up to one year. If this extension is granted and the dissertation is not submitted and successfully examined by the new deadline, the student will be withdrawn from candidacy. Credit will not be allowed for a preliminary examination that is more than five years old at the date of the final examination. Only in extraordinary cases, such as severe and prolonged illness or military deployment, will the academic dean consider any extension to this maximum timetable of eight years.

Preliminary Examination

A student is not accepted as a candidate for the PhD until the preliminary examination has been passed. The examination ordinarily covers both the major field and related work, although some degree programs cover such field expertise in a separate qualifying examination. Please consult the program page in this bulletin or the degree program website for individual department or program procedures. The preliminary examination must be scheduled, with an approved committee, at least thirty days in advance. A student must be registered in the term during which they take the preliminary examination. The examination may occur during the break between terms if the student is registered for the terms before and after the break.

Successful completion of the preliminary examination requires at least four affirmative votes and no more than one negative vote. The sole exception to this policy is that a negative vote cast by the chair or co-chair of the examining committee will mean a failure on the examination. A student who fails the preliminary examination may apply, with the unanimous consent of the examination committee and the DGS, for the privilege of a second examination to be taken between three and six months after the date of the first. Successful completion of the second examination requires the affirmative vote of all original committee members. Failure on the second examination makes a student ineligible to continue a program for the PhD at Duke University.

The qualifying and/or preliminary examination may also be used as the completion exercise for awarding a master’s degree for a terminal master’s or, where appropriate, for awarding a master’s degree en route to the PhD.

The Dissertation

The dissertation is expected to be a mature and competent piece of the student’s own writing, embodying the results of significant and original research conducted under the supervision of a dissertation advisor in the student’s major field. The dissertation must include a scholarly introduction that sets the context and importance of the research questions addressed in the study, separate chapter(s) presenting the research itself, and a final overview chapter summarizing the findings, conclusions, and significance of the dissertation project. Though the writing is expected to be the student’s own, many dissertation projects involve collaborative work; the contributions made by other researchers must be identified fully and specifically for each chapter in a preface to the relevant chapter. One month before the dissertation is presented and no later than February 1 for a May commencement, June 15 for a September degree, and October 15 for a December degree, students must apply for graduation electronically by following the appropriate procedure in their student account on DukeHub. This application indicates the title of the dissertation, which must be approved by both the DGS of the student’s degree program and the professor who directs the dissertation.

The basic requirements for preparing the dissertation are prescribed in the "Guide for Electronic Submission of Theses and Dissertations," which is available on The Graduate School Theses and Dissertations website. The dissertation must be completed to the satisfaction of the professor who directs the dissertation (dissertation advisor), members of the student’s milestone committee, and the academic dean of The Graduate School. The dissertation advisor must examine and approve that the dissertation is ready for defense prior to submission to The Graduate School, as indicated by a letter to The Graduate School stating this approval. An electronic copy of the approved dissertation must be uploaded to ProQuest for review and approval by The Graduate School at least two weeks prior to the defense. Deadlines for dissertation submission are posted on The Graduate School website and must be respected if the student wishes to receive the degree in the semester when the intention to graduate has been formally declared; if the deadlines are missed, the student must register and reapply to graduate in a subsequent term, and pay continuation tuition accordingly. Final doctoral dissertations are scholarly products of Duke University, and must become publicly available for reading, though they may be embargoed for a specified period, of no more than five years since graduation, before becoming publicly accessible. Dissertations must be submitted electronically to ProQuest in Ann Arbor, Michigan, and to DukeSpace in the Duke Libraries, where they are openly accessible online after any embargo. See The Graduate School Theses and Dissertations website for information about electronic submission and about procedures for obtaining a copyright, and the possibility of a temporary embargo before public accessibility. Abstracts are published in "Dissertation Abstracts International."

Final Examination (Dissertation Defense)

The final examination is administered by a milestone examination committee of at least four qualified members of the graduate faculty, who must have at least two weeks to read and review the completed dissertation before the final examination (the dissertation defense). Many programs require a public seminar to present the dissertation’s content, in addition to the formal examination itself. An oral examination by the committee, of at least 90 minutes in duration, shall be focused primarily on the dissertation; however, any question may be asked in the candidate’s major field.

Successful completion of the final examination, taking into account the dissertation itself and its oral defense, requires at least four affirmative votes and no more than one negative vote. The sole exception to this policy is that a negative vote cast by the chair or co-chair of the examining committee will mean a failure on the examination. A student who fails the final examination may be allowed to take it a second time, but no earlier than six months from the date of the first examination. Permission to take the second examination must be obtained from the professor who directed the dissertation and the other examining committee members, as well as from the DGS and academic dean. The second examination must be administered by the same committee that conducted the first examination, and all votes must be positive to pass. A second failure renders the student ineligible to continue work for the PhD at Duke University.

A student must be registered during the term when they take the final examination. The examination may occur during the break between terms if the student is registered for the terms before and after the break.

Deposit of the Dissertation

After passing the examination and making any minor changes requested by the committee, candidates must upload the final electronic version of the dissertation to ProQuest and thus DukeSpace prior to the relevant deadline for public access. A student who misses the deadline must apply to graduate in the next term and pay corresponding tuition. A student must be registered during the term when they submit the final version of the dissertation and graduates.