Biomedical Graduate Programs

Duke University School of Medicine offers three types of graduate programs. The first enroll only PhD students, the second are those that offer both a PhD and Masters degree and the third are admitting programs that do not offer a degree but admit students to graduate school who then migrate to a PhD-granting program after the first year. The admitting programs often offer a certificate on the way to the PhD.

PhD Programs: There are 12 PhD programs affiliated with School of Medicine. Eight of the 12 PhD programs reside in basic science departments in the medical school. Four are interdisciplinary and reside in more than one school within Duke. Interdisciplinary programs have a substantial number of students in the School of Medicine but also have students whose PhD mentors are in Trinity College, the Pratt School of Engineering and Nicholas School of the Environment.

Master’s degree programs: Two biomedical programs (Biostatistics and Medical Physics) offer master’s degrees which have heavy emphasis on course work and train students to work as biostatisticians or as medical physicists. Many of the core courses are shared with those of the PhD students in those disciplines.

Admitting programs matriculate students who then affiliate with a PhD program after the first year. Admitting programs are interdisciplinary in nature and provide interdisciplinary core courses and engage faculty from multiple departments and schools. Students who are undecided as to a particular discipline often matriculate through the Cell and Molecular Biology program which serves as an umbrella program for biomedical students.

Financial support: Full support (stipend, tuition, fees and health insurance) is guaranteed to all PhD students for at least five years. First and second year students are supported by the institution or by one of twelve (T32) training grants. Students in their 3rd year and above are supported by their thesis mentor, generally from research grants. In the event of a lapse in mentor funding, the institution (department or school) fills the gap in support. Master’s degree students self-pay, but are eligible for financial aid.

Statistics: The PhD programs receive about 1300 applications each year and enroll about 100 students; 20-25% are international and about 14% are underrepresented minorities. Enrollees have Verbal GREs of 81%; Quantitative GREs of 78% and Writing GREs of 60%, with an average GPA of 3.6. Statistics for students admitted to specific programs can be found here.

Admissions: Application to all biomedical PhD programs except the Medical Scientist Training Program is through the Duke Graduate School. MSTP applicants apply through the Duke School of Medicine.

Course of study: Although each PhD program has its own course work and preliminary exam requirements, the first year is generally devoted to course work and laboratory rotations. At the beginning of the second year, students enter their thesis labs, finish course work and assemble thesis committees. At the end of the second year, students complete their preliminary exam, which is generally based on their thesis project. After passing the preliminary exam, the student is fully devoted to research. Some programs have a teaching requirement but all students can act as teaching assistants with the approval of their thesis mentor. The average time to degree is 5.6 years.

Office of Biomedical Graduate Education: This office resides in the School of Medicine and coordinates activities that are not specific to individual programs but impact all graduate students associated with the School of Medicine and its interdisciplinary programs. These activities include the Responsible Conduct in Research retreat held at the Beaufort Marine Laboratory each fall for new students and the RCR retraining session required of students at the end of the third year. It ensures that students create an Individual Development Plan (IDP) and organizes career planning sessions. It administers several fellowships for biomedical students including the Chancellor’s Scholars Fellowship, which awards fellowships to outstanding international and domestic students, and the Biomedical Graduate Fellowship for minority students. It also aids in program assessment and implementation of standardized policies within the biomedical programs. It also serves as the administrative home for the Office of Biomedical Graduate Diversity and several interdisciplinary programs.

The office is directed by the Associate Dean for Biomedical Graduate Education, Dona Chikaraishi, Ph.D. (, under the auspices of the Vice Dean for Basic Research.