Frequently Asked Questions


Do I need to know C, C++, or another programming language?

Maybe. Your MS thesis may involve sophisticated models and potentially complex algorithms for learning parameter estimates and other quantities of interest. R and Matlab are excellent languages for prototyping algorithms and may be fine for some problems. C, C++ and FORTRAN are among the best (fastest) languages for programming loops and numerical operations, but typically have a higher cost in programming time compared to R or Matlab. C, C++ or FORTRAN can be called from R or Matlab allowing you to eliminate bottlenecks in your programs, and increase the computational efficiency of your code, while providing an easy to use user interface. More efficient code means more time to work on other topics, so more papers and hopefully a better job at the end! If you have the opportunity to learn a language like C or C++, we would encourage you to take advantage of it before coming to Duke, although you can pick it up later if and when you need it.

Should I purchase a laptop or personal computer for use during the program?

A lot of students find it helpful to have their own personal laptop so they can work away from the office. However, purchasing your own personal computer or laptop is NOT required. Each student is provided with a department owned desktop at their desk. Department desktops can be remotely accessed by any computer via Virtual Computing Network (VNC) or secure shell (ssh) on Unix or Linux based platforms.

Is there an orientation for incoming students before Fall semester starts? If so, when is it?

There are three orientations that occur for incoming students. The first is held by the international house, the second is held by the graduate school, and the third is held by the department of statistics. The international house orientation is typically two weeks before the first week of the semester. Both the graduate school and the department orientation are held the week prior to the first week of school. All students (especially international students) are encouraged to attend all orientation events and should plan their arrival in Durham accordingly. Information regarding the graduate school and international house orientation will be mailed to you or can be found on the graduate school orientation website. The graduate consultative committee (GCC) is responsible for holding a department orientation. It is typically held the week before the Fall semester starts (the same week as the graduate school orientation) but after the graduate school orientation. The GCC will contact you via email about when and where this orientation will be held.

How and when do I register for classes?

Sometime during the summer, Duke will send you your NetID in the mail. Although you can register as soon as you have your NetID, you do not need to register until after you come to campus and speak with your first year advisor as well as other students. Many students still add or drop classes during the first week of school. To register, once you have your NetID and password, you can log onto the registrar's website and click on "ACES." Sign in using your NetID and password, then click on the "Registration" tab at the top of the screen. The first time you register you will be required to enter personal information such as official name, address, etc. You will be required to verify this information the first time you register for a new semester. You will also be required to enroll for continuation (CTN) each Fall and Spring semester; this may be done automatically. If you are a research assistant during the summer, you will also be required to manually register for CTN in the summer.  The best way to register is to go to your "Bookbag" which is a tab under the "Registration" tab in ACES. From here click "search", select the appropriate semester, click on the first letter of the department you are searching for (for example, click "S" for Stat classes), and click the green arrow next to the department name. This will list all the classes offered by that department in a given semester. To add a class to your bookbag, click the green arrow next to the class and select "add to bookbag." At this point you still have not registered for the class. You can officially register for all the classes in your bookbag simultaneously or one at a time by clicking the appropriate link. Some classes may require permission numbers. If this is the case you will need to obtain the permission numbers from Karen Whitesell or from the instructor (usually this can be accomplished over email). Once the class has been moved to the "class schedule" section, you are officially registered for the class.

Can I take classes from UNC or NC State if they turn out to be useful to my research? If so, how can I do that?

While it is possible for students at Duke to take classes at UNC or NC State, most students find the selection of courses within Duke to be sufficient for their research interests. If you are interested in taking a class at UNC or NC State, then you will need to get approval from your advisor and the director of graduate studies. Full details can be found on the Duke registrar's website.

When during the summer should I plan on moving to Durham?

The short answer is: whenever is most convenient for you. Many students choose to move to Durham in July or early August in order to get situated before a new semester begins. However, you can move to Durham right up until the day before the first day of school. It is up to you. You are, however, encouraged to attend the various orientations and should probably plan on arriving in Durham prior to the orientation events.

Should I live on-campus or off-campus?

Many international students prefer to live on campus during their first year so that they can become accustomed to life in the U.S. before living off campus. However, it is certainly not a requirement for international students to live on-campus their first year.  Most U.S. students choose to live off-campus. Off-campus housing is easy to come by in Durham as there are many apartment complexes and condominiums near campus. If you have a bicycle or car there are many apartment complexes within a short commute to Duke.  Advantages to on-campus apartments: (1) fully furnished, (2) fast Ethernet connections, (3) close to bus stops, (4) can be paid for via direct deposit from your bursars account, and (5) quiet hours. Disadvantages include expenses as many on-campus housing options are twice as expensive as off-campus counterparts. Also, the number of on-campus apartments available for graduate students is small, making them difficult to come by.  One thing to consider when thinking about on-campus vs. off-campus housing is your mode of transportation. If you do not have a car then you will want to live either on or very close to campus. If you do have a car (make sure to read the section on parking passes) then your commute will be reasonable anywhere in the Durham area.  Regardless of whether you live on-campus or off-campus, use common sense by locking your door, not walking home late at night, and use cabs if necessary. While Durham is generally quite a safe city, there are incidents which occur close to campus and students are encouraged to take the proper precautions.

Where can I find housing information for on-campus and off-campus housing? was established to help graduate students find either on-campus or off-campus housing in the Durham area. Many students start their housing search at the above website. You can also use traditional search engines such as Google, Yahoo, etc. to help you find housing. Many students also suggest using Craig's List to find housing.  If you have sufficient finances to make a trip to Durham to search for housing, it would be a good idea to visit the apartments you are considering before actually moving here. However, if this is not an option you can feel free to ask your student mentor to help you out by answering questions about locations you are considering.  If you are considering off-campus housing, students generally suggest to avoid apartments that have the word "Duke" or "University" in the title of the apartment complex. These particular apartment complexes have been known to have a bad reputation. Another apartment complex to avoid is called "Chapel Tower."

Do I need to get a Duke Parking Pass?

Yes, but only if you have a car and plan on driving to campus every day. However, Duke Parking passes are very expensive and parking lots can be a long walk from the department building. Some students find that living closer to campus and riding a bicycle, taking the bus, or walking is more convenient than driving to campus every day. An alternative to a car is to drive a motorcycle or moped. Motorcycle parking passes are cheap and you can park almost anywhere on campus (including right next to the statistics building). To avoid purchasing a parking permit, some students find it convenient to park their cars along the Duke Commuter bus routes and take a (free) bus to campus. Additionally, if you live with/near other students, you may consider a carpool permit. The carpool permits tend to be much cheaper than individual passes and can often be attained for parking lots that would otherwise be considered full. Access the Duke Parking and Transportation site for more information.

Should I plan on attending the orientation for international students?

Yes. They cover everything that international students need to know to survive in graduate school and will provide a much better orientation than this question and answer document. During the orientation the International House will also cover any legal issues that may arise from being an international student (e.g. visas).

What do international students typically do for housing?

The Graduate School arranges priority on-campus accommodation for all incoming, new overseas students in Central Campus apartments. Some international students stay on campus for a year in order to become accustomed to life in the United States. Other first year students prefer off-campus accommodation; there are lots of options very close to campus.  Although the on-campus housing tends to be more expensive, current students have found that on-campus apartments provide a good chance to meet other graduate students. Feel free to contact some of our current international students (or your student mentor) for insider information. The Graduate School has full details about housing.

What should international students do about social security numbers?

Issues regarding social security numbers (SSNs) will be handled during orientation. Students can also visit the International House to go to the social security office to obtain social security cards if needed. More information about SSNs and other topics can be accessed in the informational handouts provided by the International House.

What should I do when I arrive at the RDU airport?

It is best to arrange with someone beforehand to pick you up from the airport. You can either talk with your student mentor or the GCC to arrange for someone to pick you up. If you find yourself at the airport without a ride to your house, you can take a taxi for about $35-$40.

How do I create a personal webpage?

Everyone with an account in the Department of Statistical Science will have space for a personal website in their home directory with a url of  where "user" is your DSS username. 

How do I learn about the Graphical Environment on our Linux desktops?

Scientific Linux 6 supports several graphical user environments:  Gnome, KDE, XFCE, and ratpoison under Gnome being the default choice.

If you've used Windows or Mac OS X then the basics of these environments will be somewhat familiar.  You have a desktop, a task bar, and menus available to open new windows, run applications, etc.

While not free, the eBook Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 Essentials delivers a good introduction to the graphical environment and can help you get the best out of your desktop!  It only costs $9.99 and you can get both PDF and EPUB versions of the book.  You can also purchase a Kindle version at Amazon for the same price.

Where can I learn about using the Linux command line?

The shell command line is a powerful tool that will help you get your work done faster and more efficiently. You just have to learn how to use it! Several good tutorials are available on line, including:

  • Introduction to the Command Line
    A FLOSS (Free/Libre Open Source Software) book available in HTML, PDF, and EPUB format for free and provides a good basic introduction to the power of the Unix/Linux command line.
  • The C Shell
    Specifics of using and configuration the C shell, the standard command line shell used on Duke Statistics Linux computers.  This is part of Alvin Alexander's excellent Introduction to Unix and Linux.

What type of operating system do computers in the department use?

Most desktops in the department are running Scientific Linux 6 (SL6), a freely available Linux distribution.   Linux offers several Graphical User Interfaces (GUI), such as KDEGnome XFCE that provide customizable desktop environments with toolbars, windows, folders, and icons like in Windows or Mac OS X environments, while providing a command line shell for more traditional Unix based commands.

Do I get a Duke Email account? How do I set it up?

Everyone affiliated with the Department will have two email accounts - one from Duke and the other for StatSci. Your Duke email address will be where netid is your Duke NetID; this will be emailed to you during the summer before you arrive at Duke.  You may access your Duke email using the Duke web client at

I hear Duke is a heavily Bayesian department. What does this mean? Will I still learn classical statistical methods?

Bayesian statistics is probably a bit different from what you learned in Stat 101 as an undergraduate. Bayesians tend to think about problems in different ways, and work on different aspects of these problems, than classical statisticians. Bayesians do more applied science, more computing, and less asymptotic theory than do students at most classical departments. If you are interested in more specific differences between Bayesian and classical statistics you can read more at any of the following places:

While you will still learn classical viewpoints on statistics such as p-values, most powerful tests, interval estimation, etc., these topics will probably not be the focus of your research as the majority of faculty focus on Bayesian solutions to statistical problems.

Is GRE needed? Can I use GMAT instead? Is there a minimum cut-off?

You must submit a GRE score that is no older than 5 years. GMAT cannot be used for application to MSS. We follow the minimum GRE score cut-off set by the Duke Graduate School. Details are available under the right-hand admissions requirements menu at the Graduate School admissions web page.

What do I need to submit as a proof of proficiency in English? Is there a minimum cut-off?

Must submit TOEFL/EILTS scores no older than 2 years. We follow the minimum TOEFL/EILTS score cut-off set by the Duke Graduate School. Details are available under the right-hand admissions requirements menu at the Graduate School admissions web page.

Is TOEFL/EILTS needed for all international students?

To be exempt from the TOEFL exam, applicants must meet the following criteria: They have studied full-time for 2 or more years at a college or university in a country whose primary language is English; AND the primary language of instruction of the college or university is English.

What are the prerequisite courses?

Calculus based probability theory; Calculus based mathematical statistics; Regression analysis; Matrix algebra. A course on computer programming is highly desirable.

May I apply even if my undergraduate major is not statistics?

Of course! Our top students come from diverse backgrounds. Critically, all are very well prepared in operational mathematics (calculus & linear algebra), are computationally oriented, and are problem solvers. Please note the relevance of the prerequisites detailed above.

Can I apply to both MSS and Ph.D. programs? Do I need separate applications?

You can apply to more than one graduate programs at Duke. To guarantee review by each program you want to apply to, you must submit separate application forms to all of them, one for each. It is also possible that you apply only to one program but on the application form check the box to allow any other Duke graduate program to review your application. If the review committee on your primary program perceives your case to be more suited to another, we can recommend that you switch your application- with your consent, that will be effected and the review committee of the other program will be able to access your application materials and consider you as a primary applicant.

What are the RA/TA support options and how to go about receiving them?

All graduate students are eligible to apply for and be appointed as Teaching and/or Research assistants. Every MS students will have a number of TA opportunities, should she/he be interested; we naturally encourage this interest as part of the professional development program for the MSS. These TA opportunities are available on a semester-by-semester basis, and MSS students are paid for acting as TAs.

Many MSS students also take up Research assistantships for one or more semesters, especially including summers. RAs are agreed between mentoring professors and students once students are actively involved in research-connected studies.

Will an undergraduate course count toward M.S. credits?

Courses below the 500 level may not be applied toward the required credits needed for a MS (or PhD) degree. With the approval of their director of graduate studies and the associate dean for academic affairs, graduate students may enroll in lower-level courses, but these courses will not count toward any graduation requirement and will not be included in the student's GPA calculation. 

Are graduate credits given toward summer internship to meet Curricular Practical Training (CPT) requirements?

Yes, students who do internships over the summer and need to meet the requirements for CPT must take a one-credit dedicated internship course, STA 995, which will be counted toward the degree.

Can an international student register for less than 3 courses in the final semester?

Yes, but subject to meeting overall coursework requirement and also subject to approval from the M.S. program director. More details at: