Skip to main

Expansions to Ph.D. Student Support and Benefits

The Graduate School has announced several enhancements to its support and benefits for Ph.D. students, including expanded coverage of recreation fees, longer accommodation periods for childbirth and adoption, and higher allowances for stipend supplementation.

The email from Dean Paula D. McClain announcing the changes:

Dear students,

I hope you are doing well as the end of the academic year approaches. This can be a hectic time, so please take care of yourself and each other, and do not hesitate to reach out for support from your fellow students, faculty, the Graduate School staff, or other campus services.

I am writing to let you know about a few changes to Ph.D. student support and benefits. For the past several months, The Graduate School has been working with the Graduate and Professional Student Council and administrators across Duke to make various enhancements in this area. While those discussions are still ongoing, I am pleased to announce some of the fruits of our efforts today (see the end of this email for details):

  • Recreation fee/gym access: Ph.D. students will have free access to the university's recreational facilities during their first five years at Duke.
  • Longer accommodation period for Ph.D. students for childbirth or adoption: 9 weeks for primary caregivers, 2 weeks for non-primary caregivers.
  • Higher allowances of stipend supplementation: Ph.D. students will be able to receive up to $3,000 per section and $5,000 in a calendar year for supplemental TA or RA assignments; and up to $5,000 in one calendar year for other supplemental work from their home departments.

I would like to thank Marcus Benning, who recently completed his term as GPSC president, for his collaboration and steadfast advocacy on behalf of graduate students throughout this process. I also want to acknowledge people at all levels of the university for working with us to make these changes possible. Building and maintaining the community of support for Duke graduate students is a complex endeavor requiring people and resources from across campus, and we are thankful for their commitment to our students.

Finally, I want to thank the students who reach out to us with concerns and suggestions. Your constructive feedback and ideas play an important role in our work. As I have mentioned before, many of our existing resources germinated from conversations and collaborations with students. If you have an idea for how we can make your experience at Duke better, I encourage you to contact our Office of Graduate Student Affairs (, 919-684-2056). We will continue to collaborate with our students and the Duke community to provide the support you need to succeed at Duke and beyond.

Have a great summer!


Paula D. McClain, Ph.D.
Dean of The Graduate School and
Vice Provost for Graduate Education


Details on Changes in Ph.D. Student Support and Benefits

Recreation Fee

Starting in fall semester 2017, Ph.D. students in their first five years at Duke will get year-round access to the university's recreational facilities without having to pay the recreation fee. Currently, The Graduate School pays this fee for Ph.D. students' first three years, after which the fee becomes optional and becomes the responsibility of the student.

With this change, Ph.D. students entering years 4 and 5 will no longer receive an email from The Graduate School each June asking them to indicate whether they plan to use the rec facilities in the coming year.

Why the change: Duke students (undergraduate, graduate, and professional) are charged a fee for access to the university's rec facilities, and Duke employees who want to use the facilities also must pay this fee. As part of our commitment to supporting our students' health and wellness, The Graduate School pays this fee for our Ph.D. students. Until fall 2015, The Graduate School had paid this fee for Ph.D. students for their first five years. In 2015, an unexpectedly large increase in the cost of student health insurance premiums (which The Graduate School also pays for Ph.D. students) forced the school to scale back its recreation-fee coverage to the first three years of Ph.D. students' time at Duke (after which the fee becomes optional). The money saved was then used to help maintain full coverage of Ph.D students' health insurance premiums.

We recognized then that this was not an ideal solution, but it was the least disruptive option available at the time, in part because usage data showed that 40 percent of Ph.D. students were not using the rec facilities. Since that change, we have heard from some students about how important free access to the facilities is for them, and we wanted to find a way to return to our prior commitment. In fall 2016, we began discussions with the GPSC and the Duke administration about a new arrangement, and we were able to finalize the change in the past month, allowing us to once again cover the rec fee for Ph.D. students in their first five years.


Longer Childbirth and Adoption Accommodation Period

Since 2009, Duke Ph.D. students have been guaranteed a certain amount of time off from full-time graduate studies and duties after the birth or adoption of a child. During this accommodation period, students who are receiving stipends continue to get that financial support.

Effective immediately, students will be guaranteed an accommodation period of 9 weeks if they are the primary caregiver, or 2 weeks if they are the non-primary caregiver. Previously, primary caregivers were guaranteed 7 weeks of accommodation while non-primary caregivers received 1 week.

Why the change: We recognize the important family and health benefits of giving students the time they need to bond with their new child and transition to parenthood, which is why The Graduate School implemented the accommodation policy in 2009. By extending the length of the accommodation period, we are now giving new student parents even more time to focus on their family and their own wellbeing.

More information about childbirth and adoption accommodation


Higher Allowance of Stipend Supplementation

Ph.D. students can supplement their standard stipend award through avenues such as Graduate School or external fellowships, prizes and awards, additional teaching or research assistantships, and other work not related to their program of study. The Graduate School sets limits on the amount of stipend supplementation students can receive so as to ensure that the school's resources are distributed equitably and that students' studies remain their primary focus.

Effective immediately, students can receive up to $3,000 per section and up to $5,000 total in one calendar year for supplemental TA or RA assignments. The previous limits were $2,000 per section and $3,000 for the calendar year.

Students who supplement their stipend through other work can receive up to $5,000 in a calendar year for work from their home department, up from the previous limit of $3,000. The Graduate School does not limit the level of compensation from other work outside the graduate support system. University policy, however, states that full-time students may not work more than 19.9 hours per week. Many external funding agencies also limit how many hours students can work outside the grants from those agencies. Students must abide by those requirements.

Why the change: As stipend support has increased, it made sense to increase the stipend supplementation allowance as well so that students can better take advantage of all potential sources of support.

More information about stipend supplementation