Degree Requirements

Graduate students Alec Rose and Da Huang

The information below is a summary of the formal degree requirements for the PhD in ECE.

Coursework Requirements 

For students matriculating with a bachelor's degree, a minimum of 10 courses are required, as follows: 

  • Six graduate-level courses in ECE
  • Two approved graduate-level techinical electives chosen to provide a coherent program of study
  • Two approved electives chosen to provide a coherent program of study

For students matriculating with a master's degree from another institution, a minimum of 5 courses are required, as follows: 

  • Three graduate-level courses in ECE
  • One approved graduate-level technical elective chosen to provide a coherent program of study
  • One approved elective chosen to provide a coherent program of study


  • Program of study must show adequate breadth with courses outside student's main curricular area
  • No more than two ECE 899: Independent Study and/or 300 to 400-level (upper-level undergraduate) courses may be used to satisfy PhD coursework requirements
  • Courses numbered between 0 and 299 may not be used for credit toward the PhD degree
  • In order to count for the PhD degree, a grade of B- or better must be earned in upper-level undergraduate courses
  • Courses must be worth 3 (or more) graduate semester hours (or 1 equivalent undergraduate course credit)
  • Courses must be graded (Credit/No Credit or audited courses may not count toward the program of study)
  • English for International Students (EIS) courses do not count toward the required coursework
  • Students must maintain a 3.0 cumulative GPA to remain in good standing and to graduate
  • Course selection is formally approved by a student's adviser, one additional faculty member, and the DGS through the submission and approval of a Program of Study

Qualifying Examination

The PhD Qualifying Examination consists of completion of a first-year research project with a written report and oral presentation. The project is intended to demonstrate the student's ability to assemble and analyze the relevant literature for a given research problem and to make preliminary steps towards his/her own contribution.

Selection of an appropriate first-year research topic should be made with the approval of the student's advisor. The project may be started at any time after matriculation. Completion of the project must be accompanied by a written report of approximately 20 pages in length, roughly half of which reviews the field (with appropriate references) and half of which describes the student's own progress to date. Both the report and the oral presentation are expected to be predominantly the student’s own work (without extensive editing assistance, for example), although students are encouraged to practice their presentation before a technical audience of their peers. The written project report must be completed and submitted to the examination committee at least fourteen (14) calendar days prior to the date of the oral examination.  The oral examination will normally be held before the 14th month from matriculation.

The examination committee will consist of four ECE faculty members, including the student's advisor. The three other members of the exam committee will be nominated by the student and approved by the student's advisor and the Director of Graduate Studies. All committee members must be on the faculty of the Graduate School. Normally, two faculty members will be from the student's curricular group and one will be from a different curricular group. For the purposes of these assignments, either a faculty member's primary or secondary group affiliation will apply. The exam details should be submitted to the DGS for approval via the Qualifying Exam Form at least 4 weeks prior to the exam date.

The oral exam will consist of a 30 minute presentation by the student of his/her research project followed by up to 30 minutes of questions about the work, its context, and relevant literature. In addition, as part of the oral exam, the committee will also question the student to assess general preparation to undertake work in the chosen sub-discipline for a minimum of 30 minutes. The examiners will be mindful of graduate courses already taken, research directions pursued to date, and any specific tentative plans the student may have for future research. The entire oral exam will be limited to 90 minutes. The intent is to assess the student's preparation and potential for graduate level research work in his/her chosen field.

The possible outcomes of the first year exam are "Pass" – the student is qualified to begin work towards the preliminary exam; "Partial Pass"– the student is qualified to begin work towards a preliminary exam but additional coursework or actions are required; and "Fail." A "Pass" or "Partial Pass" outcome requires at least three affirmative votes. Any student failing the qualifying exam on the initial attempt will have one additional attempt by the end of the semester immediately following. Failure of the exam on the second attempt will disqualify the student from further doctoral studies in the Duke ECE program.

Supervising Committee

The committee must consist of at least five members (including the student's adviser), at least three of which must be graduate ECE faculty members. In addition, as required by the Graduate School, at least one member of the committee must be from either another department or a clearly separate field of study within the ECE Department. Committees are proposed using the Committee Approval Form. Please note that while the Graduate School's Committee Approval Form lists a  minimum of 4 committee members, the ECE Department requires five committee members.

Teaching Assistantship Requirement

All PhD students must complete two semesters of a Teaching Assistantship (TA) prior to graduation. It is expected that the student will complete this requirement some time during his/her third through eighth semester. Teaching Assistantships will be assigned by the DGS based on the background and interests of the student and the current department needs. Teaching Assistantships are expected to require 10 hours per week on average and may involve such activities as organizing and leading discussion sections, grading homework and quizzes, assisting in the development of course materials, supervising laboratory sessions and so forth. Training for engineering TAs is available online and offered in a course one a year.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination is normally scheduled after a student has completed most of his/her course work, but prior to the main research of the dissertation, and must be completed by the end of academic year 3. The examination consists of (1) a written dissertation research proposal, presentation, and defense and (2) an oral examination of fundamentals in the major field and related work.

The length of the examination is at least 90 minutes but no more than 2 hours. The committee that administers this exam is nominated by the student's advisor and is approved by the Director of Graduate Studies and the Dean of the Graduate School at least one month before the exam takes place. The committee must consist of at least five members (including the student's advisor, who normally serves as committee chair), at least three of whom must be ECE graduate faculty members. In addition, the Graduate School requires that at least one member of the committee be from outside the students’ curricular area. In order to successfully complete the preliminary exam, at least four of the five committee members (including the chair) must vote in favor of a pass.

Final Examination

The final examination is normally administered by the same committee as the preliminary exam, and successful defense of the dissertation requires at least four affirmative votes, including the affirmative vote of the dissertation advisor. A negative vote by the dissertation advisor means that the student fails.

Note: Details concerning important dates and deadlines, filing of intention to graduate, committee approval, and additional details may be found in the Graduate Bulletin or at