Program Expectations

Program Expectations


Duke Biochemistry Research

Minimum Coursework. Maximum Research

The Biochemistry PhD is a year-round, research-intensive degree that’s supplemented with minimal classroom study and is tailored to your interests. Foundational coursework is completed in your first year and electives are taken in your second. Also in your first year you will rotate through three different labs, and at their conclusion, match with a faculty mentor on a mutually agreed upon research project. 

Each biochemistry PhD student must produce an independent body of original, high-quality, scientific work. Though circumstances may vary, typically this means authorship on two peer-reviewed publications, including at least one where you are the first author. Authorship should happen prior to or soon after graduation.


In our collaborative environment, we encourage knowledge sharing, giving you opportunities to continuously learn from other students, our research associates, and faculty through presentations and lively Q&A at intradepartmental seminars and our annual retreat. So if you don’t know how to get the answer to a research question, you can always find someone in the department or school who does!

- Meta Kuehn, Biochemistry DGS


Timeline to Your PhD

Year 1

Attend new student orientation in the department and Duke Community
Travel to the Off-Campus Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR)* Ethics Retreat Weekend
Take recommended coursework in foundational areas of biochemistry (fall semester), elective coursework (spring semester)
Rotate though 3-4 labs in diverse research areas, each 7-8 weeks in duration—before choosing final lab

Year 2

Conduct research
Take elective coursework
Complete required one-semester teaching assistantship during fall, spring, or summer semester
Select supervisory committee and initiate initial “pre-prelim” meeting to discuss research direction

Year 3

Conduct research
Take required preliminary (qualifying) examination for advancement to PhD candidacy during fall semester
Develop Individual Development Plan (IDP) which includes short- and long-term training milestones, initial career objectives and goals, skills assessment, and competencies

Year 4 +

Conduct research and meet annually with dissertation supervisory committee
Report research outcomes in peer-reviewed, scientific journals
Present research at national and/or international conferences (often subsidized by Duke Graduate School and the Biochemistry Department Travel Awards)
Take required RCR training refresher and career planning workshop
Update IDP and participate in career development seminars, round-tables, and activities
Prepare approved PhD dissertation document
Formally present dissertation in public and defend before dissertation supervisory committee

More in-depth timelines and requirements for the PhD Degree in Biochemistry can be found in the Biochemistry Graduate Student Handbook.

*Responsible Conduct of Research (RCR): We expect that every doctoral candidate can address the growing ethical challenges that arise when teaching or conducting research. Therefore, our graduates must attend our initial inter-departmental ethics training retreat and refresher seminars throughout their graduate training period. The completed RCR course will be noted on the student’s transcript.


We are currently accepting applications for the 2020-21 academic year. Please note the deadline to apply is December 1, 2019.

Sign up here if you'd like to learn more about our program and research.

A Note About the GREs
This program does not require applicants to provide GRE (Graduate Record Examination) or other graduate entrance exam scores, but does allow you to upload scores if you feel they enhance your application. If you choose to submit test scores, you may enter them on the Test Scores page. If you choose to enter self-reported test scores, official test scores will become a required component of your application. The Admissions Committee of the Graduate Program in Biochemistry evaluates all candidates holistically, on the basis of academic performance, laboratory research experience, letters of recommendation, and a personal statement.