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Earn your doctorate from highly ranked faculty research leaders

The Duke MEMS PhD program offers highly motivated students an opportunity to develop their research skills in close collaboration with world-renowned engineers and other scientists in Duke's uniquely interdisciplinary environment. 

Our graduates go on to great things. About 45 percent go on to academic careers at some of the world's pre-eminent institutions. About 55 percent go on to leadership roles in research and development in the public and private sectors. Learn more about where Duke MEMS PhD grads go.

Highly Ranked

Top 20 ranking in U.S. mechanical engineering faculty research productivity (Academic Analytics 2017 – published Dec. 2019)

See more of our rankings »

We offer two study tracks:

Degree requirements, detailed below, include:

  • 30 course credits (10 courses)
  • 2 semesters of teaching assistant experience
  • Dissertation and defense

Application deadlines:

How to apply

Degree Details

Those considering a PhD in mechanical engineering and materials science should be individuals interested in specialized research. We provide opportunities for students to publish with their faculty adviser, to present research at professional conferences, and to explore their field in a highly collaborative, cross-disciplinary working environment.

Through programs like PhD Plus, students learn essential skills for their professional careers. Professional interests most often are realized through research and technology development careers.

Benefits for PhD Students

  • Direct admission to a research group
  • Full funding, plus conference & travel support
  • Dedicated career development

Day One Mentorship

Advising and early introduction to research and to your research community are hallmarks of the Duke MEMS PhD experience. We believe in mentorship from Day One!

The process of finding your research adviser begins before you are admitted. Once you apply, our faculty may contact you. We then invite the best applicants to interview. You'll meet our faculty and see their labs before a formal offer is made.

Once you are admitted, we help you assemble your Advising Team. Your team will include your research adviser, your departmental adviser, the director of graduate studies, a five-member dissertation committee, and the department chair.

Welcoming, Inclusive Community

By choosing Duke, you join an engaged, diverse and welcoming community that values and supports you. You'll notice the importance we place on faculty-doctoral student interaction. The MEMS Graduate Student Committee plans seminars and social events — creating a strong community among MEMS doctoral students.

World-Class Research

Duke MEMS faculty members are engaged in a wide range of efforts to cultivate the learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities needed to adapt, to develop and to exercise responsible leadership through times of rapid change.

Research groups include:

Research centers include:

A Great Location

Our engineering campus is next to one of the nation's leading academic medical centers. Plus, the Duke campus is just miles from Research Triangle Park (RTP), home to more than 200 major tech companies and a global hub for research.

Plus, you'll enjoy a mild climate, acclaimed restaurants, a thriving arts scene and an affordable cost of living. Your Duke degree can take you anywhere in the United States and beyond. Some students choose to remain in our Research Triangle region, which is consistently ranked among the best places to live in the United States.

Visit Duke's website dedicated to all things Durham.

Study Tracks

This department offers two specialization areas, which direct the core courses you will take:

Degree Requirements

Duke MEMS provides a customized, flexible educational experience tailored to meet your needs in your chosen sub-discipline. In our program, you will progress from introductory classes to specialized coursework. As you learn, your focus will gradually shift from coursework to learning important leadership and research skills.

  • 30 course credits (10 courses) 
    • 18 credits (6 courses) following the guide of your study track area and 
    • 12 credits (4 courses) approved elective courses
  • Establish and meet with Qualifying Exam Committee (QEC) - Committee approval form
  • Complete Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR) training
  • Complete two semesters of teaching assistantship
  • Pass the preliminary examination - Prelim outcome form
  • Complete and defend a dissertation - Defense forms
  • Pass a final examination

During their training, many students also complete certificates.

Students Entering with a Master of Science (MS) Completed

Students entering the PhD program with a master's degree from another institution should consult the Director of Graduate Students (DGS) and their adviser for possible substitution of other courses and/or waivers of some of these course requirements, depending on the content and extent of prior coursework.

Students are also subject to general Graduate School degree requirements, available on their website for the PhD.

Elective Courses

Choose any four (12 credits) graduate level or approved higher level undergraduate courses. You can find most MEMS course descriptions here, but for the most up to date and accurate information please see the registrar's website.

Note: Although these can be any Duke courses to render the program flexible, preference should be given to MEMS and engineering courses to develop the necessary disciplinary depth.

Teaching Assistantships – Training Provided

All PhD students complete two semesters of Teaching Assistantship (TA) prior to graduation. We provide training before you enter an undergraduate classroom for the first time.

It is expected that you will complete this requirement during your third (3rd) through eighth (8th) semesters. TA assignments will be based on your background and interests, and department needs.

Teaching Assistantships require 10 hours per week on average, and may involve organizing and leading discussion sections, grading homework and quizzes, assisting in the development of course materials and supervising laboratory sessions. More information.


Students can also pursue various graduate certificate programs that offer additional areas of specialization and exploration.

Duke MEMS globally-recognized faculty offers the Aerospace Graduate Certificate program, also known as SOAR.

Certificates generally do not add substantially to the course load. Interested students should meet with the Director of Graduate Studies to work the certificate into their curriculum.

Admissions Profile

The Pratt School of Engineering requires a minimum GPA of 3.2 from an undergraduate program in order to gain admission to a PhD degree program. A minimum TOEFL score of 90 on the Internet-based test is also required. Average GRE scores and UGPA of recent admitted Duke MEMS PhD applicants were:

  • GRE Quantitative: 164
  • GRE Verbal: 157
  • UGPA: 3.7