Program Details

General Overview

In general, the Ph.D. in Biostatistics includes the following components:

Distinguishing Features

The Duke program offers several novel features that extend the training of our students beyond that found in a traditional biostatistics program. The core curriculum contains the following novel courses:

  1. A course sequence (BIOSTAT 703 and BIOSTAT 706) emphasizing biomedical concepts and communication
  2. A survey course of modern inferential techniques and theory (BIOSTAT 901) targeted specifically to advanced graduate students
  3. A student-led seminar, Current Problems in Biostatistics (BIOSTAT 900). Students explore topics in blocks that involve student presentations and invited talks from faculty and other experts in the field

Research Rotations

Students are required to complete three research rotations before making a decision on a dissertation advisor. Each research rotation will have a predefined beginning and end, typically starting at the beginning of a semester and lasting until the semester’s end. During each rotation, the student will work with a faculty member on a methodological problem that is of interest to both the student and the faculty and that can be completed within the rotation period. The primary goal of the rotations is to provide students with exposure to different research areas and the ability to evaluate fit with potential dissertation advisors. The student’s initial advisor will assist the student in identifying faculty for research rotations. To balance between having sufficient theoretical knowledge to make the rotations productive and informative and the need to be able to affiliate with a dissertation advisor around the beginning of the third year, students are strongly encouraged to start the research rotations at the end of their first year. Students coming into the program with an appropriate theoretical background may be able to begin research rotations earlier with the approval of the DGS.

PhD Qualifying Examination

Typically at the end of the second year, students will take an examination with two components.

  • First, a theory examination. This exam covers topics spanning the second year theory core courses and must be passed at a level sufficient to confirm the ability of the student’s preparedness for conducting independent methodological research. The exam is typically given in early August. It is a closed-book, closed-note, closed-technology exam.
  • Second, an applied examination. This exam covers topics spanning the applied courses taken in the first and second year. The exam will consist of a substantial data analysis which will require the student to research the appropriate analytic approach, implement that approach, and prepare a write up describing their analysis and results for researchers with limited statistical knowledge. It is a take-home exam that students are expected to complete without input from anyone. This exam is typically given in August after the theory exam.

PhD Dissertation Advisor and Dissertation Committee

Students, with counsel of the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), are expected to decide on the dissertation advisor around the beginning of the third year only after they have completed the three research rotations and have passed the PhD qualifying examination. This timing would allow students sufficient time to develop their dissertation proposal and to pass the oral preliminary examination of their dissertation proposal by the end of the third academic year.

Once the dissertation advisor is selected, the student should work with the advisor to form dissertation committee as soon as the dissertation topic is decided. The dissertation committee must be appointed and approved by the associate dean at least one month (30 days) before the preliminary examination can take place. The committee consists of at least four members with one member, usually the dissertation advisor, designated as chair and majority of members from the student's major research area. At least two members of the committee, including the chair, must have primary or secondary faculty appointments in the Biostatistics & Bioinformatics department. One member of the committee must be from outside the student's main area of research. This designated "minor area representative" could be from another department or program, or from a different research subfield within the degree-sponsoring department or program. The minor area representative should not be directly involved in the student’s area of research focus. A majority of the committee members must be Duke faculty, while all committee members must have a current appointment on the Duke Graduate Faculty (whether employed by Duke or not). This committee, with all members participating, will determine a program of study and administer the preliminary examination.

Preliminary Examination

Before the end of the third year (the end of the third spring term if you enter the program in the fall), PhD candidates will submit a short written proposal on their anticipated area of thesis research to be presented and discussed at the oral preliminary exam. The proposal usually consists of literature review, research questions, and proposed research methods on how the PhD candidates plan to complete the research. It is recommended that the candidate meets with the dissertation committee regularly and has the committee’s approval for the presentation of the preliminary exam. Successful completion of the preliminary exam qualifies the student as a PhD candidate in Biostatistics.  All committee members are required to sign the form on the result of the doctoral preliminary examination. A candidate who fails the preliminary examination may be granted a single re-examination upon recommendation of the dissertation committee and approval of the Associate Dean no sooner than three months and no later than six months after the date of the first examination. The detailed procedures for the preliminary examination can be found here.

Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)

All matriculating PhD students in the Biostatistics & Bioinformatics Department are required to complete 18 contact hours of RCR training in the first four years of their study. To fulfill this requirement, you must attend ONE of three fall RCR orientation sessions (GS 710A) during Orientation Week with 12 contact hours. Beyond the RCR orientation, you must fulfill the remaining six hours of training during the first four years of your study by attending general Graduate School RCR Forum events (GS 711) or Departmental RCR Forum events (GS 712) and a mandatory follow-up RCR training (GS 713) for basic medical science students. The forum events are generally two hours each and the mandatory follow-up RCR training is generally 4 hours. Thus, you need to attend one forum event and one mandatory follow-up RCR training in addition to the fall RCR orientation session.


It is recommended that the candidate meets with the dissertation committee regularly to keep the committee up-to-date of the dissertation research progress. It is expected that the final dissertation contains new methodology with contents roughly equivalent to three or more publishable research papers.  Because of the review time (up to two years) involved for some statistical journals, the student will not be required to have the dissertation published prior to being approved. However, it is strongly encouraged that the student will have at least one draft statistical manuscript ready for submission by this time. Additionally, students are strongly encouraged to have one or more collaborative publications published or in press. Specific deadlines are indicated in the table below:

Graduation Time

Application for Graduation

Initial Dissertation submission by 5:00pm

Committee-Approved Dissertation Submitted by 3:00pm


January 25

March 17

April 3


June 15

July 11

July 25


October 15

November 7

November 21

Preparation of Dissertation: Basic requirements for preparing and submitting the dissertation are prescribed in the “Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertation”.

Application for Graduation: Candidate must apply to graduate in the DukeHub student center at least one month before the dissertation is presented and no later than the dates listed in the table above. This application should indicate the approved title of the dissertation and be approved by both the DGS and the dissertation advisor.

Initial Dissertation Submission: Initial submission of electronic doctoral dissertation must submitted via UMI/ProQuest. This submission must take place at least two weeks before your oral final defense and no later than 5:00pm on the deadline dates indicated in the table above. Before initial submission, the dissertation advisor must receive a complete draft of your dissertation. The candidate must request the advisor to send an Advisor Letter (see sample letter in Guide for Electronic Submission of Thesis and Dissertation) and the DGS to submit a Defense Announcement to be emailed to the Graduate School, with the student name as part of the subject line, to:

The doctoral dissertation should normally be submitted and accepted within two calendar years after the preliminary examination is passed. 

Final Oral Defense:  It is recommended that the candidate has the committee’s approval for the presentation of the final oral defense. At the end of the fourth (or fifth year), the student will present his/her dissertation work at a departmental seminar that will serve as the oral final defense of the dissertation, after which the student’s committee will vote to pass the student or to require additional work. 

The DGS will send a notice of the time, place, date, student's name, title of dissertation, and names of the committee members to the Graduate School at least two weeks before the scheduled oral dissertation defense. The student must go to the Graduate School to pick up Final Examination Card (certificate) before the defense. Members of the doctoral committee must have at least two weeks to read the dissertation prior to the defense. A committee finding that the candidate has passed or passed with minor revisions should sign the doctoral examination card and title and abstract pages, with the understanding that the dissertation advisor sees and approves the revisions before the dissertation is submitted. The student has up to one month after the examination to make changes in the dissertation requested by the committee. If revisions are beyond what are considered “minor” by the committee, then the committee must withhold signature of the required documents until the dissertation advisor has approved the revisions. The DGS should also sign the doctoral examination card.  A candidate who has failed the final doctoral examination may be granted a re-examination on the recommendation of the supervising professor no sooner than six months after the date of the failure.

After the defense, the Final Examination Card, one title Signature page, One Abstract Title Signature Page, signed Non-Exclusive Distribution License and Dissertation Availability Agreement, and Survey of Earned doctorates, must be submitted to the graduate school.

Final Submission of Dissertation: All defended, completed PhD dissertations must be submitted to UMI/ProQuest by 3:00pm on the deadline dates indicated in the table above.

Additional Information may be found at the Graduate School website: