Non-traditional PhD Departments

In addition to the traditional biomedical PhD programs, Duke MSTP students may also complete the PhD in non-traditional departments. And, while the thesis research projects for most students are lab-based, there is precedent for non-lab-based theses. The choice of PhD program must be approved by an MSTP faculty committee, and the student must make a convincing case to the committee that the plans for the degree have significant relevance to medical science. With that approval/oversight, any of the university's PhD programs is a possibility for MSTP students. Students have completed PhD degrees, for example, in Psychology, Sociology, and Philosophy; there are also now rich possibilities in several new programs: the new PhD program in the Sanford School of Public Policy, working in conjunction with the Global Health Institute; the PhD in the Fuqua School of Business. (See information and web links below.) Also possible are more obvious choices, such as Physics, Mathematics, Statistics.

In such cases, it is important that the applicant explore the options available at Duke prior to accepting an offer of admission. Duke MSTP would want to be sure in these cases that there is a good match for the student at Duke. If the student is invited for an interview, we would want to talk in detail about the student's plans and the possible matches at Duke. In order to be sure there is a good fit, the applicant should meet during the interview visit with faculty members in the research interest area. We recommend that some of those faculty members be contacted by the applicant prior to the filing of the application.

Information on several new non-traditional choices can be found below.

While the Duke Global Health Institute does not grant PhDs, students interested in work in this area can complete the PhD in conjunction with a related PhD-granting program. Link to full website here:

The PhD in Public Policy at Duke University enables students to collaborate with Duke’s top-rated faculty in public policy and with Duke’s departments of economics, political science, and sociology, among others, all on the beautiful Duke campus. The Sanford School is a national and international leader in the dynamic field of public policy studies, with numerous interdisciplinary centers exploring vital policy questions in the field and in the classroom. Members of our faculty are experts in fields ranging from aging, education, and the environment to international affairs, media and democracy, and welfare reform. Students in the Sanford School pursue doctoral-level public policy research with the goal of working in domestic and international public agencies, research organizations and policy consulting firms. Others seek academic positions in public policy, public administration and policy-oriented schools. They are united by their passion for public policy and their desire to have a positive impact on the world. Duke’s PhD in Public Policy is distinguished by its truly interdisciplinary nature. The program offers a unique balance of depth by offering concentrations in one of four disciplines: Economics Political science Psychology Sociology Students also have the opportunity to focus on a particular policy area such as social policy, global policy, health policy, or environmental policy. Within Sanford and across campus, PhD students interact with leading scholars and numerous interdisciplinary centers such as:

Duke Global Health Institute
Duke Center for Child and Family Policy
Duke Social Science Research Institute
Duke's Nicholas School of the Environment

The relatively low number of students matriculated each year (6-8) enables each public policy PhD student to receive individual faculty attention in courses and in research. In addition to working with Duke’s world-class faculties of public policy, economics, history, political science, psychology, and sociology, PhD students interact with leading scholars from Duke’s Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and Duke’s Law and Medical Schools. For more information about our program, please visit us at the Duke Sanford School of Public Policy. MSTP applicants interested in applying to one of the PhD programs in Public Policy will follow the standard MD/PhD application procedures. No GRE test or PhD application is required.

MSTP applicants interested in applying to the PhD programs in Cultural Anthropology will follow the standard MD/PhD application procedures. No GRE test or PhD application is required. If you have questions about the MD/PhD in Cultural Anthropology, please contact: Harris Solomon, PhD, MPH Associate Professor, Cultural Anthropology and Global Health Department of Cultural Anthropology

The PhD in Population Health Sciences is an applied, interdisciplinary translational science degree. For those also pursuing medical degrees, a PhD in population health sciences can equip students to independently lead and manage major health services research projects and oversee interdisciplinary teams, as part of a research-based academic medical career, or to engage in health services work at foundations, research organizations, and government agencies. The PhD degree requirements include coursework, teaching experience, research engagement, a dissertation, and oral and written comprehensive exams. All PhD students will have an assigned advisor when they begin the program. Students will choose one of three disciplinary concentrations: Measurement Science, Epidemiology, and Health Services Research/Dissemination and Implementation Science. For more information about the Department of Population Health Sciences, please visit

MSTP applicants interested in applying to the PhD programs in Psychology and Neuroscience will follow the standard MD/PhD application procedures. No GRE test or PhD application is required. More information about the PhD program is here:

If you are interested in a non-traditional PhD, please email for more details.