Frequently Asked Questions

While you are selecting a graduate degree program we know that you will have questions. Below are answers to questions we frequently hear from applicants.

If you have a question that is not answered below, please feel free to contact the Director of Graduate Studies.

As a PhD applicant, what do I need to do to be considered for financial support?

No additional action is required on your part. Each application to our PhD program is automatically considered for financial support when it is reviewed.

Applicants are encouraged, however, to pursue external funding opportunities, such as National Science Foundation Fellowships.

Most applicants admitted to our PhD program are offered a fellowship or research assistantship, or a combination of the two.

Fellowships are typically awarded by our academic departments, but some students may also be awarded one of The Graduate School's competitive fellowships for incoming students. The financial support awarded to PhD students generally includes a stipend, tuition payments and payments for most Graduate School fees.

The Graduate School also provides health insurance for PhD students in years 1-6 and to all research assistants regardless of year in the program, as well as child care subsidies to full-time PhD students with dependent children who require child care.

Do I have to have a master’s degree before I apply to the PhD program?

No. A minimum of a bachelor's degree (or equivalent degree) is required to be admitted to the PhD program. While some of our students enter the PhD program after obtaining an master's degree, this is certainly not required. PhD students have the option to earn an Master of Science (MS) degree while on route to their PhD, but it is not a required step in earning a PhD.

Do I need to provide proof of financial ability when I apply to a Duke PhD program?

No. Doctoral (PhD) students are accepted with financial support to sufficiently cover the costs of their education. However, admitted students who are married and those who have dependent children must provide proof of financial ability to support their families.

Child Care Subsidy

The Graduate School at Duke offers subsidies of up to $5,000 per year for admitted PhD students who have children that require child care. Learn more.

How do I choose a PhD adviser?

The process can begin before you are admitted. After you apply, our faculty may contact you to invite you to interview. At that interview, you'll meet our faculty and see their labs before a formal offer is made. We call this "Day One Mentorship."

Once you are admitted, we then 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.

However, we do help PhD students to change advisers if the fit is not good, or if their research takes them in a different direction.

How long will it take to complete a PhD program at Duke?

Each student has an individual experience, but PhDs are typically completed in four to six years.

Average Degree Completion Time

  • Biomedical Engineering - 5.7 years
  • Civil and Environmental Engineering - 4.9 years
  • Electrical and Computer Engineering - 4.5 years
  • Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science - 4.5 years


Is there a teaching assistant (TA) requirement?

Yes. We consider teaching an integral part of the Duke PhD experience. Teaching assistantships prepare future doctoral degree holders by providing important experience in the development of communications skills generally, and of the teaching skills of lecturing, tutoring and grading.

Teaching assistants aide undergraduate courses by:

  • Setting up and conducting laboratory exercises
  • Conducting recitation classes
  • Grading homework
  • Supplementing faculty office hours

Engineering PhD students at Duke are required to fulfill two teaching assistant (TA) assignments as a degree requirement.

Training Provided

Duke provides Teaching Assistant Training to our PhD students before they enter an undergraduate classroom as a TA for the first time. Learn more about our TA training program.

May I take courses in other departments and across Duke?

Yes! We encourage students to build an interdisciplinary educational experience tailor to their future plans. Duke offers a wide range of opportunities, and students are encouraged to work with their advisers to develop plans that take full advantage of course opportunities in the School of Medicine, Sanford School of Public Policy, Nicholas School of the Environment, and the Duke basic science departments.

My first language is not English, but I studied in an English-speaking country before applying to a Duke PhD program. Can the TOEFL requirement be waived?

All our doctoral (PhD) programs require a:

  • TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language), or
  • IETLS (International English Language Testing System) score1, or
  • a TOEFL/IETLS Waiver

1 IELTS is less commonly submitted by applicants.

More Information on Waivers

Please read The Graduate School at Duke minimum scores and TOEFL/IETLS Waiver Policy.

What does it cost to attend Duke for a PhD student in engineering?

The Pratt School of Engineering and The Graduate School at Duke share a strong commitment to financially supporting students admitted into a doctoral (PhD) program.

Generally speaking, The Graduate School covers the tuition and fees for a PhD student’s first five years at Duke. After that, students are responsible for tuition and fees, and most students obtain external or departmental funding that helps cover those costs.

At the Pratt School of Engineering, we offer aggressive incentive packages for outstanding PhD students with external support such as National Science Foundation Fellowships.

The Graduate School also covers health insurance for years 1-6, if students choose the Duke student medical insurance plan.

Students wishing to be considered for financial awards administered by The Graduate School should check the appropriate box of their online application, and make certain that a complete application is received by the deadline date for the fall semester.

Find complete cost of attendance details on The Graduate School website.

What is RCR – Responsible Conduct of Research?

"RCR" stands for "Responsible Conduct of Research."

At Duke, RCR training embodies the full range of ethical responsibilities of those engaged in research and teaching. It encompasses not only the obligation to conduct research and teach with integrity, but also to ensure that the rights and interests of original sources, human subjects, and/or animal subjects are protected.

All PhD students in engineering are required to attend 12 contact hours of RCR training. Learn more about RCR.