Ph.D. Application Process

We admit students in the fall semester, with the goal of providing a collegial, intimate, and intellectually vibrant learning environment. Your application will be viewed by several professors in our department, including faculty knowledgeable in your area of interest. We use a holistic selection process, valuing your experiences and interests.

Each year we matriculate ten to twelve new candidates to our doctoral program. You can apply to our Ph.D. program through the Duke Graduate School. See the Graduate School website for procedures and deadlines.

Application Fee

The Graduate School provides a limited number of application fee waivers to promote a diverse applicant pool. All fee waiver requests are reviewed by the Assistant Dean for Graduate Student Development in the Office of Graduate Student Affairs. Please contact Dean Alan Kendrick ( for instructions when applying.

In addition, all U.S. applicants from under-represented groups and anyone with a demonstrated financial need are encouraged to contact the Co-Director of Graduate Studies, William Morris ( The Biology Department will help defray the cost of the application fee.

Application Instructions and Tips

To give your application its best shot, we strongly recommend that you reach out to potential mentors and advisors prior to submitting your application. Simply send them an e-mail! Clearly indicate which lab(s) you are interested in in your application and statement of purpose. This helps us ensure that your application will get reviewed by everyone you might be interested in working with.

For some extra tips on how to write the best possible graduate school application, check out this article by Science Magazine.

Before applying to Biology, please be sure it is the department of the labs you are interested in. For example, if you are interested in Dr. Jane Doe’s lab, but she is in Duke’s Department of Neurobiology, and you apply to Duke Biology, your application will get misdirected. If in doubt, please ask us directly:

We recognize that every application is more than just the sum of quantitative measures like GPAs, and have implemented a holistic review process that takes into account not only your academic credentials, but your profile as a whole. Applicants to the Duke Biology Ph.D. program will be evaluated on the basis of the following information provided in your application:

  • Your Statement of Purpose
  • Your research experience
  • Your letters of recommendation
  • The match of your research interests to the expertise of faculty in the department
  • Your performance in the courses you have taken that prepared you for graduate study

Statement of Purpose

Tell us about your previous research experience, work ethic and perseverance toward goals, your preparedness and motivation for graduate study, your academic plans, including some of the research questions you would like to address in your graduate studies, and future career aspirations. In your statement, it is very important to mention which faculty members you are interested in working with, as common interests are considered.

You are encouraged to include examples of educational, cultural, or other life opportunities or challenges you have experienced, and how these are likely to contribute to your overall success in our graduate program and beyond. 


The Duke Graduate School requires that you submit your undergraduate grade point average (UGPA) with your application. Duke does not have a cut-off point for UGPA when considering applicants. The Biology Graduate Admissions Committee will examine how your academic background, including the courses you have taken previously and your performance in those courses, and not your GPA or the institutions at which you have previously studied, have prepared you for graduate study. Every application gets reviewed in a holistic way in which all parts of the application package are considered in making a decision.


Both the general GRE and the GRE Biology subject test are optional for applicants to the Duke Biology Ph.D. program. Not having taken these tests will in no way disadvantage your application.


Applications are due November 30. The Biology Graduate Admissions Committee will contact those applicants who qualify for on-site interviews (applicants already in the US) or Skype interviews (international applicants) by mid-January. We invite select candidates to visit the Duke campus for one of two planned weekends in February to meet our faculty and graduate students. Final decisions are made in March.