Ph.D. Advising

Overview and definitions

Ph.D. students in the Department of Statistical Science receive academic advice and guidance from faculty members, postdocs and fellow students. However, official advising is done primarily by the following individuals:

  • The Director of Graduate Studies (DGS)
  • The Departmental Advisor (DA)
  • One or more Primary Research Advisors (PAs)
  • Preliminary Examination and Thesis Defense committee members.

The DGS is the liaison between the graduate students, the department and the graduate school. The DA provides advice and support during the student’s first one or two years, before a PA has been identified. A PA serves as the primary advisor, mentor and supervisor of the student’s dissertation research, and typically is the chair of the student’s Preliminary Examination Committees and Thesis Defense Committees. Other members of the Preliminary Examination and Thesis Defense committees are faculty who are familiar with the student’s research and academic progress.

Often a student receives mentoring and academic advice from an RA supervisor, who may or may not be the PA. Employment responsibilities of the RA to the RA supervisor, and vice-versa, are similar to those between a TA and a TA supervisor: An RA is expected to perform the duties as outlined in the terms of employment. Formally, students do not owe advisors any work outside the formal paid roles of RA or TA. However, students should recognize that, beyond work specific to the RA position, collaborative work with the PA towards the Ph.D. dissertation is being done by the advisor for the benefit of the student, and that lack of collaborative effort could result in termination of the advisor-advisee relationship.

Obtaining and changing advisors

  • The DGS appoints DAs to each student before the start of their first year. The DA provides general advice about the program and acts as a liaison between the student, the department and DGS in the time before the student obtains a PA.
  • During the first and second years, students should talk with a range of faculty members to identify one or more potential PAs. Students should be aware that no faculty member is required to take on any particular graduate student, and that faculty members differ in their research interests and mentoring styles.
  • Students who wish to work with more than one PA should ensure that each potential PA is agreeable to being a co-PA, and that an agreement has been reached regarding research efforts on various projects.
  • Students who wish to change PAs should first discuss any anticipated changes with the DGS, Associate Chair, or Chair, and also ensure that a faculty member is willing to take on the role of PA before ending their relationship with their current PA.  Additional information on changing advisors is available on the


Student responsibilities:

  1. Knowledge of the Statistical Science Ph.D. Program Requirements.
  2. Knowledge of procedures for the Qualifying Exam, Preliminary Exam, and Dissertation Defense.
  3. Knowledge of the Duke Graduate Student Handbook.
  4. Regular contact with the DA.
  5. Selection of a PA, as described above.
  6. Regular contact with the PA according to a mutually agreed upon schedule (typically weekly or biweekly), including providing the PA with regular progress reports and notice of any emerging difficulties.
  7. Obtain written/electronic confirmation from the DGS of any agreement or arrangement that deviates from the ordinary departmental rules.

DGS responsibilities:

  1. Assigns DAs to incoming students.
  2. Communicates and clarifies degree requirements to the students.
  3. Provides course advising to first-year students.
  4. Acts as a liaison between the graduate students, the faculty and the Graduate School.

DA responsibilities:

  1. Introduces the student to the academic culture of the department.
  2. Acts as a liaison between the student, the DGS and the department.
  3. Notifies students of qualifying exam results.

PA responsibilities

  1. Knowledge of the Statistical Science Ph.D. Program Requirements.
  2. Knowledge of basic graduate school policies regarding academic milestones.
  3. Provides regular and predictable communication and contact with the student, typically including weekly or biweekly meetings.
  4. Provides prompt feedback on draft research articles and presentations.
  5. Writes letters of recommendation for post-graduation positions.
  6. Acts as a liaison between the student, the DGS and the department.

Departmental Guidelines for Effective Advising

This linked document provides additional information on departmental procedures and norms around PhD advising.  A Duke netid is required to access the document.

Topics include:

  • characteristics of effective advisors and advisees
  • changing primary advisors
  • what to do when an advisor or advisee is not meeting responsibilities or the advising relationship is not functioning effectively
  • policies and procedures in cases of harassment or related misconduct.