The Graduate Environment: An Overview

The primary mission of graduate education at Duke University is to prepare the next generation of professional, scholarly, and educational leaders. In order to fulfill this mission, we seek to instill in each student an understanding of and capacity for scholarship, independent critical judgment, academic rigor, and intellectual honesty. It is the joint responsibility of faculty and graduate students to work together to foster these ends through relationships that encourage freedom of inquiry, demonstrate personal and professional integrity, and foster mutual respect. High quality graduate education depends upon the professional and ethical conduct of both faculty and students. The graduate education to which we are committed, moreover, encompasses at least four separate components: development of an individual research agenda, preparation for and experience in a variety of teaching roles, opportunities for professional career development, and active participation in a disciplinary or professional community. Each party in the graduate process—that is, the faculty, the graduate students, the graduate department or program, and the Graduate School as an administrative unit—has particular responsibilities in ensuring the achievement of these primary goals.

Graduate Faculty Members/Advisory Committees

Members of the graduate faculty serve a variety of critical roles as model teachers and researchers, as well as graduate student advisors and mentors. These faculty and the master’s or doctoral committees on which they serve provide intellectual guidance in support of the scholarly and pedagogical efforts of graduate students and are responsible for ongoing evaluation of graduate students’ performances in academic and research activities. As mentors and advisors, faculty are responsible for helping graduate students discover and participate in appropriate channels of scholarly, professional, and disciplinary exchange and for helping students develop the professional, research, teaching, and networking skills that are required for a variety of career options, both within and outside academia.

Graduate Students

Graduate students are responsible for working toward completion of their degree programs in a timely fashion. It is expected that graduate students in all programs will gain expertise in a particular area of study and, especially in Ph.D. programs, seek to expand the knowledge of that disciplinary field by discovering and pursuing a unique topic of scholarly research. As professionals-in-training, graduate students should learn how to impart disciplinary knowledge through appropriate forms of instruction and publication and how to apply that knowledge to particular business, industrial, and social problems. Where appropriate for their career trajectories, graduate students should seek out and utilize in their own teaching the best pedagogical practices.

The Graduate Department/Degree Program

The graduate degree program bears primary responsibility for publicizing specific and accurate guidelines and procedures governing study in the discipline. It should provide all incoming and enrolled students with a clear structure of the expected stages of progress toward the degree(s); it should offer a curriculum and appropriate forms of instruction necessary to ensure timely completion of that degree; and it should provide specific details regarding likely career opportunities for those seeking the degree. The graduate department/program should also provide students with accurate information about the costs they will incur in graduate study and realistic assessments of future prospects for institutional and other forms of financial support. This information should be included in written guidelines that are given to all students in the program. These guidelines also should spell out normal departmental and university processes for dealing with student grievances, as well as processes for assessing students’ satisfactory progress toward the degree.

The Graduate School

The Graduate School is responsible for general oversight of graduate programs: it must maintain, through periodic review and assessment, the highest standards of quality in all degree programs; it must evaluate graduate curricula to assure that they are equipping students with the knowledge and skills required for a broad array of post¬graduate careers; it must provide resources to attract the very best graduate applicants; and it must provide both financial and other mechanisms to ensure that graduate student life is not one of ongoing struggle, isolation, and penury. In its efforts, moreover, to ensure quality in all aspects of graduate education, the School should provide clear and appropriate avenues of redress wherever particular faculty or student experiences fall short of the expectations articulated in this document.  In the individual sections below, we have tried, in more itemized fashion, to specify particular expectations we believe are appropriate for each component of the graduate community at Duke University. We have organized these expectations loosely under four general categories: graduate research, graduate teaching and/or training, the professional development/ progress towards degree of graduate students, and the academic community.

Expectations of Graduate Faculty

1. Research

  • to provide intellectual guidance and rigor in students’ educational programs and on specific research projects;
  • to provide students with knowledge of the current frontiers and opportunities in disciplinary and inter-or cross-disciplinary research;
  • to provide appropriate guidelines, including expected timetables, for completion of research projects; and
  • to respect students’ research interests/goals and to assist students in pursuing/achieving them.

2. Teaching/Training

  • to encourage and assist students in developing teaching and presentation skills, including course development, lecture preparation, classroom communication, examining, and grading;
  • to provide sound intellectual guidance on disciplinary research methods and the historical knowledge bases of the discipline or the profession;
  • to evaluate student progress and performance in a timely, regular, and constructive fashion; and to serve, when requested, as an informed academic advisor and a nurturing professional mentor to graduate students in training and, where appropriate and desirable, in students’ post-Ph.D. careers.

3.Professional Development/Program Progress

  • to encourage student participation in scholarly activities, including conference presentations, publications, professional networking, grant writing, and applying for copyrights and patents;
  • to prepare students to enter the job market with requisite professional skills, with an appropriate range of professional contacts, and with a realistic view of the current state of that market, both within and outside academy;
  • to assist students, where appropriate, in joining collaborative projects in accordance with the accepted norms of the discipline;
  • to provide TAs and RAs with meaningful professional experiences; and
  • to avoid assignment of any duty or activity that is outside the graduate student’s academic responsibility or harmful to his or her timely completion of the degree.


  • to be fair, impartial, and professional in all dealings with graduate students in accordance with university policies governing nondiscrimination, harassment of all sorts, and normative standards of confidentiality;
  • to create, in the classroom or the laboratory, an ethos of collegiality so that learning takes place within a community of scholars;
  • to create an environment that openly discusses laboratory or departmental authorship policies and that prizes and acknowledges the individual contributions of all members of a research team in the publication or presentation of its research; and
  • to avoid all situations that could put them or their students in positions of any conflicts of interest.

Expectations of Graduate Students

1. Research

  • to work responsibly toward completion of the degree in a timely fashion;
  • to learn the research methods and historical knowledge bases of the discipline;
  • to communicate regularly with faculty mentors and the master’s/doctoral committees, especially in matters relating to research and progress within the degree program;
  • to discover and pursue a unique topic of research in order to participate in the construction of new knowledge in the chosen field and application of that knowledge to new problems/issues; and
  • to exercise the highest integrity in all aspects of their work, especially in the tasks of collecting, analyzing, and presenting research data.


  • to receive appropriate training, compensation, and evaluation for all instructional roles students are asked to assume;
  • to receive an appropriately sequenced variety of teaching opportunities relevant to their career expectations and likelihoods; and
  • to devote the same seriousness to undergraduate or graduate instructional duties that they would expect from their own instructors.

3.Professional Development/Program Progress

  • to develop, to the extent possible, a broad network of professional relations;
  • to contribute, wherever possible, to the discourse of the scholarly discipline through conference presentations, publications, collaborative projects, and other means;
  • to seek out a range of faculty and peer mentors that can help them prepare for a variety of professional and career roles and responsibilities; and
  • to take responsibility for keeping informed of regulations and policies governing their graduate studies and to complete all required paperwork and other degree obligations in a timely fashion.


  • to create, in their own classrooms and laboratories, an ethos of collegiality and collaboration;
  • to realize their responsibilities as individual and professional representatives of both the University as a whole and the department or program in which they are studying; and
  • to assist graduate student peers in their own professional and scholarly development.

Expectations of Graduate Departments and Programs

1. Research

  • to provide appropriate resources, both faculty and facilities, to allow students to complete their education and research in a timely and productive manner;
  • to ensure that faculty committees treat all students fairly and assess their work in thoughtful and informative ways consistent with the practice of the field; and
  • to ensure the highest standards of academic quality in all aspects of the graduate program, from admission of new students to the quality of work accepted as fulfilling the requirements of the master’s or Ph.D. degrees.

2. Teaching/Training

  • to provide pedagogical training appropriate to and regular assessment of the TA assignments given to graduate students;
  • to provide clear expectations to students on their responsibilities as TAs or RAs;
  • to provide all students with a thorough description of the requirements and qualifications necessary for academic employment, training, or financial support at the University;
  • to provide all students with accurate information about the costs they will incur during the course of their graduate study and realistic assessments of future prospects for financial support;
  • to provide a range of teaching opportunities relevant to likely career prospects;
  • to provide, where necessary, appropriate mechanisms to help acculturate international students to academic life in this country and at this university;
  • to ensure that TAs and RAs not doing work directly related to their theses or dissertations are not being asked to perform inappropriate academic chores or to work in service roles more than 19.9 hours per week averaged across the academic year;
  • to ensure that an appropriate range of introductory and advanced courses is offered at the graduate level for students in all disciplinary subspecialties;
  • to ensure that degree regulations and procedures, including those pertaining to required course work; qualifying, preliminary, and final examinations; and thesis/dissertation guidelines, are regularly published and made available to all program students and faculty;
  • to ensure that graduate students receive periodic and constructive assessment of their progress toward degree; and
  • to ensure that all prospective and currently enrolled students are informed of normative time to degree and attrition rates within the program.

3. Professional Development/Program Progress

  • to provide all students with a range of activities—colloquia, seminar and guest lecture series, workshops, conference presentations, internships—that allow for their professional development;
  • to provide constructive annual reports on the satisfactory progress of students toward the degree;
  • to provide all students with realistic and accurate statistics on placement of program graduates; and
  • to encourage students in assessing career options and in preparing for a variety of job markets.

4. Community

  • to ensure a collegial learning environment in which faculty and students work together in mutual respect and collaboration;
  • to ensure appropriate levels of academic support for graduate students and faculty; and
  • to provide specific mechanisms for appeal or complaint when standards of collegiality or fairness may have been violated.

Expectations of the Graduate School

1. Research

  • to facilitate, where possible, promotion and publication of graduate student research through research grants, conference travel grants, and other centrally administered mechanisms;
  • to serve as the institutional site for periodic review of all academic units, particularly of the research they conduct and the knowledge they contribute to the discipline;
  • to facilitate, wherever possible, development of interdisciplinary research and training programs that push the boundaries of current disciplinary fields and agendas; and
  • to develop graduate training programs at both the master’s and the doctoral levels that best serve the interests of Duke faculty and prospective graduate students.

2. Teaching/Training

  • to ensure that individual graduate programs offer a curriculum of graduate instruction that is both broad and deep enough to equip students with the knowledge and skills needed for the broad array of post¬graduate careers they may wish to pursue;
  • to ensure that fair and reasonable guidelines are in place to regularize the assignment of graduate teaching and research assistantships;
  • to ensure that departmental recruitment and admissions policies are consistent with stated university goals of maintaining or improving the quality of graduate programs and increasing student diversity;
  • to ensure that appropriate mechanisms are in place, both centrally and within individual degree programs, to ensure successful acculturation of international students to academic life in this country and at this university;
  • to ensure, by tracking comparative data over time, that all aspects of the graduate programs conform to the highest academic standards and to provide mechanisms of redress when they fall below those standards; and
  • to develop financial support systems that will assist students in their progress toward a degree and to ensure that this support does not involve more than a minimal amount of work that draws them away from their graduate programs, that is irrelevant to their likely career trajectories, or that does not progress to greater levels of responsibility and independence.

3. Professional Development/Program Progress

  • to help develop support services in collaboration with the Duke Career Center; the Center for Instructional Technology; and the English for International Students program to enhance the professional, academic, and scholarly interests of graduate students; and
  • to maintain and publicize comprehensive data on student completion rates, time to degree, placement in at least first professional employment, and attrition. The Graduate School should also
  • conduct exit surveys of graduating master’s and Ph.D. recipients to assess the performance of graduate programs and to modify them as warranted.


  • to maintain a comprehensive description of the goals and expectations of individual graduate programs and to periodically compare these descriptions against graduate program data; and
  • to develop specific avenues for faculty and student appeals of existing policies or regulations, of perceived breaches of institutional standards of fair and reasonable practice, or of violations of honor or ethical codes. These avenues should be published regularly and provided to all graduate students and faculty.


Insofar as the expectations listed here are recognized as core elements of graduate education at Duke University, it is incumbent upon all parties to have access to appropriate mechanisms for appeal when actual practice falls short of expectation. In most instances, such appeals should begin at the level of the department or program: both graduate faculty and graduate students can present specific complaints to the director of graduate studies and the Chair/Director. In cases where appeals cannot be satisfactorily resolved at this level, both faculty and students can direct their concerns to the senior associate dean for academic affairs. As noted in the Standards of Conduct section of the Bulletin of Duke University Graduate School, appeals beyond the senior associate dean can be addressed to the dean of the Graduate School pursuant to existing grievance procedures.

Details are outlined in the “Judicial Code and Procedures” under Standards of Conduct in the Bulletin.