Frequently Asked Questions

Can I send my application materials directly to the department?

Applicants should NOT send any application material to the department. Follow the detailed Graduate School admission instructions at Any additional material (writing samples, papers, etc.) sent to the department may be ignored.

What background do I need for the program?

Mathematical prerequisites include multivariate calculus, linear algebra, basic real analysis and probability. We also expect our incoming students to have taken a course in statistical inference, as well as have some exposure to applied and/or methodological statistics. Some experience with scientific computing and basic programming is expected. Prior research experience is  a positive factor in admission decisions.

Can I jump into doing research right away?

At Duke, jumping into research right away is definitely possible. Of course, conducting research during your first year is contingent upon your background and interests. In terms of funding, faculty mentoring, and peer support, Duke provides an environment very supportive of research from day one. If you are interested in doing research right away, you should talk with faculty as soon as you arrive (or earlier via email) about projects they are working on. However, doing research requires quite a bit of statistical background and hence, most students start research after their first year exam. Regardless of your statistical background, you are encouraged to begin talking with different professors about research opportunities as soon as you arrive. This will help you identify potential professors you would want to work with during your time at Duke. Students should identify who they would like to work with during their second year, if not before.

I have been assigned a departmental advisor. Are they my research advisor?

No. Your departmental advisor is your advisor only until you have identified a research advisor. The responsibility of the departmental advisor is simply to give you any support you need throughout your first year or two. During your first and second years, you are expected to actively seek another advisor with whom you can begin doing research. This may or may not be your departmental advisor.

What should I do the summer before my first semester to prepare for the Ph.D. Program?

The first year of the Ph.D. program can be intense. However, with adequate preparation you can make the transition from undergraduate to graduate work smoother than it would otherwise be. It will help your first semester (and every semester thereafter) go smoother if you are already familiar with Linux, LaTex, R, and MATLAB before you begin your first semester. As Duke is primarily a Bayesian department, there is a good chance you will need some C or C++ programming at some point during your course of study. However, learning Linux, LaTex, R and MATLAB is of much higher importance than learning low level languages as you will use them immediately upon commencement of the program. As you will most likely be a TA for undergraduate classes during your first year, it would be very helpful to review basic statistical principles such as confidence intervals, hypothesis testing, counting techniques, basic probability, central limit theorem, distributions (e.g. normal, binomial, t, etc.), finding expected values and variances, and other selected topics suitable for an introductory statistics course. In order to prepare for first year course work, you can also spend time studying statistical topics such as simple and multiple linear regression, mathematical statistics, Bayesian inference, and real analysis. Also, reviewing calculus and linear algebra topics as needed is definitely encouraged. Suggested reading and study material include Statistical Inference by Casella and Berger, Applied Linear Regression by Weisberg, Bayesian Data Analysis by Gelman, Carlin, Rubin, and Stern, Matrix Algebra from a Statistician's Perspective by Harville, and other books on the above topics encountered during your undergraduate study or elsewhere. Last, and certainly not least, take time to relax and enjoy the summer. The Ph.D. program is very intense at times, and often summers are needed to catch up on research, attend conferences, etc. After enrolling in the Ph.D. program, your summers will typically be spent either doing an internship or working on your thesis work and/or research projects. Take time the preceding summer to relax because you may not have time to relax once you commence the program.

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.

What classes should I register for in my first semester?

The courses you elect to take for your first semester will depend on your background. However, three of the classes offered in the Fall (STA 601, STA 721, and STA 711) are required for the PhD degree, and cover material that is on the Qualifying Exam, which is typically taken at the end of the first year. Therefore, you should register for these three classes unless you have discussed an alternative plan with your departmental advisor and the DGS. Additionally, all students are expected to register for the Student Seminar, STA 701.

Which courses in the department should PhD students take? 

PhD students can take any 500 level or higher course for credit.  First year PhD students have a required set of courses.   After that, students are encouraged to take electives that suit their interests. Courses at the 700 level and higher include mostly PhD students.  Courses at the 600 level are PhD level courses that also include many of the department’s MS students; PhD students are encouraged to enroll in these courses. Courses at the 500 level are MS level courses, but PhD students can benefit from taking these courses when they cover unfamiliar material.

Can I take classes from UNC or NC State?

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.

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 "DukeHub." 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.

What are the stipend and benefits for PhD Students?

The Department follows the stipend amounts set by the Graduate School.   This page also describes some benefits for PhD students, including health insurance and child care subsidies. 

What do I have to do to receive the financial aid specified in my acceptance letter?

About half of the financial aid specified in your acceptance letter will be given to you without you having to do anything except maintaining good academic standing. The other half is contingent upon you being a teaching assistant (TA) or research assistant (RA) within the department.

How will the financial aid specified in my acceptance letter be paid?

Your tuition, health fee, and continuation fee will be paid for automatically. You are responsible to pay the small recreation and activity fee. Additionally, your financial aid package will cover the cost of your medical insurance. If you are a TA, you will be paid monthly on two separate checks. The first check is for your TA work and will be paid the 25th of every month starting in September and continuing through May. The second check is from you maintaining good academic standing and will be paid on the last working day of each month starting in September and continuing through May. If you are an RA, you will be paid once per month on the 25th from September through May. 

Support is based on good academic standing within the program.  Your tuition, health fee, and continuation fee will be paid for automatically. Additionally, your financial aid package will cover the cost of your medical insurance. 

FIRST YEAR STUDENTS: In general, PhD students in their first year will have one semester of full fellowship and one semester of Teaching Assistantship & Fellowship.  TA salary is paid monthly on the 25th day of the month (or the last business day before the 25th, if it is on a weekend/holiday).  Fellowship payments are made on the last business day of each month.  Salary & fellowship payments for first-year students begin in August. 

STUDENTS IN YEAR TWO AND BEYOND: In general, students have appointments as either a TA (with a fellowship) or a Research Assistant (RA).  TA and RA salary is paid on the 25th day of the month (or the last business day before the 25th, if it is on a weekend/holiday).  Fellowship payments are made on the last business day of each month.  Salary & fellowship payments for 2nd year and beyond students begin in September.   

Because financial support is for the 9 month school year, can I obtain summer funding?

Academic year funding lasts through May.  Opportunities for summer funding include Graduate School Summer Research Fellowships, external internships, Teaching and Research Assistantships. 

Do I have to be a teaching assistant (TA)? What are the responsibilities of a TA?

No. However, if you are not a TA or an RA for the department you will not receive that portion of the financial aid specified in your acceptance letter (this is about half of the aid specified in your acceptance letter).  As a TA your responsibilities include: (1) grading, (2) holding office hours, (3) holding review sessions for exams, (4) doing whatever professors need you to do. Additionally, some courses have a computing lab component that is run by a TA. There is more information regarding TA responsibilities on our website. 

Where can I find information on housing? was established to help graduate students find housing in the Durham area. Some students find housing on DukeList, which allows anyone with a Duke netid to post articles for sale, employment opportunities, and more.  Another useful link is sponsored by the International House.  If you have sufficient finances to make a trip to Durham to search for housing, it is useful to visit the apartments you are considering before actually moving here.  If this is not an option, ask your student mentor about locations that you are considering.

How should I commute to campus?

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 everyday. 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. 

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.

Who do I contact for technical support?

The department maintains a web page with contact information and some answers to frequently asked questions.