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Pandemic-Related Information for Graduate School Students

Page updated November 2, 2021

This page provides information for Duke Graduate School students and will be updated as Duke's operations evolve with the coronavirus pandemic situation. Graduate School students who have questions about Duke’s COVID-related plans should first check this page and If the answer is not on either site, please send your question to We will try to answer questions as quickly and fully as we can, but please understand that plans could change on short notice depending on how the pandemic develops. 

Click each header below to expand that section.

Latest Important Updates

[12/7/21] Information on surveillance and entry testing for winter break and spring 2022 has been sent to Graduate School students who are in the active fall 2021 surveillance testing pool.

[9/14/21] Masks are still required in all indoor locations at Duke, but no longer required outdoors in most circumstances on campus due to declining COVID cases in recent weeks. Masks are, however, still strongly recommended in outdoor settings with a gathering of people. Masks will continue to be required for large outdoor events on campus. (See Duke's latest public-health guidelines)

See the university's September 15 email for details on which guidelines have been modified and which remain in place.

Fall 2021
  • Important policies on fall semester entry testing, vaccination, surveillance testing, and DukeCard [sent 7/30/21 to all active Graduate School students]
International Students

[Updated 4/16/21]

Health and Safety
COVID-19 testing
COVID-19 vaccine information
  • All Duke staff, faculty and students can receive the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost, either by scheduling an appointment at the clinic at the Karsh Alumni and Visitors Center or by going to the walk-in clinic (no appointment needed) at the Duke Medicine Pavilion (Room 2 West 91) from 7:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. Monday to Friday. | Details
Public health measures

See the Duke United website for current public-health measures.

  • [11/2/21] Masks are no longer required in outdoor congregate settings, including athletic events. Individuals are encouraged to carry a mask to wear when social distancing cannot be effectively maintained in outdoor settings. Masks are still required indoors in all buildings owned or leased by Duke, as well as on all buses and at bus stops.
Health insurance / Duke Student Medical Insurance Plan (SMIP)

[Updated 5/20/21]

  • Incoming and continuing Ph.D. students who remain outside the U.S. can ask for coverage through the Duke SMIP, but it is important to note that the SMIP only covers emergency care if you are outside the U.S.
  • If you have specific questions regarding your health insurance scholarship provided by The Graduate School, please email
Campus Access, Facilities, and Services

[Updated 7/30/21]

Campus access
  • See the July 30, 2021, email to all active Graduate School students for information on setting up your mobile DukeCard.
  • For the fall 2021 semester, Duke announced that it plans to require all new and returning Duke students to present proof of vaccination to Student Health before they can enroll. This policy will cover all undergraduate, graduate, and professional students—in all degree programs—who intend to be on the Duke campus for any period of time starting with the fall 2021 semester. Documented medical and religious exemptions will be accommodated.
Graduate School offices

The Graduate School is back at 2127 Campus Drive. Please see the updated visitor protocol before you come to our offices.

Campus facilities/services

[Updated 7/6/21]

  • Effective August 9, 2021, faculty, staff, and students who are fully vaccinated will be allowed to travel with Duke support to U.S. states, territories, and territorial waters. Travel to international destinations that do not appear on Duke’s Restricted Regions List can also once again proceed for individuals who are fully vaccinated with the usual budgetary and departmental/school approvals. See the university's July 2 announcement and the latest policy for more details and guidance.
  • Students participating in exchange programs funded by Duke should not plan to travel until the current Duke travel suspension is lifted or modified.
  • See the Finances section of this page for information on Graduate School conference travel awards and other Graduate School fellowships that support travel.

[8/20/21] The university has posted FAQs about teaching, addressing topics such as safety and health guideline compliance in the classroom, questions about online teaching, and accommodations for instructors with children who might be quarantined.


[Updated 7/6/21]

Prepaid expenses for a conference or research travel awards from The Graduate School

New applications for conference travel awards from The Graduate School will resume in fall 2021 for travel starting on or after October 1, 2021. Until October 1, TGS will award funds for web-based conference registration with the same guidelines regarding the expense and application process. 

Students who have received the following research travel fellowships from The Graduate School for the 2021-2022 academic year must follow current Duke travel restrictions. If travel restrictions prevent planned travel, fellows will not be asked to return fellowship awards to TGS.

Fully funded academic year fellowships that include a travel component, such as the James B. Duke International and the Julian Price, as well as the Domestic and International Dissertation Research Travel Awards, will be disbursed as originally awarded. However, recipients cannot use fellowship funds to facilitate travel while restrictions on Duke-sponsored travel are active. If travel restrictions prevent planned travel, fellows will not be asked to return fellowship awards to TGS.

The Dean’s Research Award for Master’s Student is currently available for non-travel research applications and will be available in fall 2021 for travel starting on or after October 1, 2021. Until October 1, qualifying applications may propose support for items such as equipment and software purchases, licensing, and materials acquisition. 

Fellowship questions can be sent to

Summer Research Fellowships for summer 2021

Both competitive and guaranteed Summer Research Fellowships for summer 2021 have been awarded as planned. However, recipients must follow current restrictions on university-funded travel, per the Duke travel policy.

To provide students with greater flexibility in seeking funding opportunities during the COVID-19 disruption, we have lifted caps on stipend supplementation for recipients of the Summer Research Fellowship.

How do I get my stipend check if I am not participating in direct deposit?

Payroll services is mailing all live checks generated in the regular biweekly and monthly payrolls to home addresses. If you have elected not to participate in direct deposit, please make sure your home addresses are updated using Duke@Work for compensatory payments and through your graduate program for non-compensatory payments. (Details)

Financial support during COVID-19 disruptions
  • Duke has created a mechanism for Ph.D. students whose progress to degree has been significantly delayed by the pandemic to apply for funding extensions as they approach the end of their guaranteed funding period.
  • Duke provided funding and employment opportunities during summer 2020 for any enrolled and continuing Ph.D. student who needs it and does not have 12-month funding. As part of that commitment, Duke created more than 100 experiential fellowships with external organizations and RAships of various kinds with internal Duke units. For summer 2021, a robust slate of summer funding opportunities were developed for Ph.D. students through experiential fellowships with external organizations and internships with Duke units.
  • The GPSG Community Pantry is open for in-person shopping on Thursdays from 5:00 to 7:00 p.m. and Saturdays from noon to 2:00 p.m. Volunteer opportunities are also available. See the pantry website for more information, signups, and COVID-19 policies.
Academic calendar

[Updated 5/20/21]

The Graduate School follows the Duke University academic calendar. Here are some key dates for fall 2021:

  • July 7, 7:00 a.m.: Fall registration begins
  • August 23: Graduate and undergraduate classes begin
  • November 23: Graduate classes end
  • December 3: Undergraduate classes end
  • November 24-December 7: Graduate reading period
  • December 8-13: Final examinations
Course formats

Per the university's FAQs for graduate and professional students:

  • All students who can travel to Durham should plan to study in-person in fall 2021.
  • Duke expects that in-person will be the dominant form of teaching. Graduate/professional students who cannot attend in-person should consult with their academic program directors/advisors about fall 2021 options.  
Milestone examinations (prelims, dissertations/thesis defenses)

Please see the published schedule. For students planning to graduate in May 2021, thesis and dissertations exams must take place by April 1, and Non-thesis master’s examinations must be held by April 15.

Preliminary exams, as well as qualifying exams, must occur by May 1, 2021.

Here are The Graduate School's updated guidelines regarding defenses and examinations in summer and fall 2020:

  • See published deadlines for summer and fall 2020 Ph.D. dissertation and master’s thesis submissions and defenses, as well as submission of non-thesis master’s documentation.
  • For preliminary examinations, those already planned and scheduled should occur when feasible. The deadline for third-year students to complete their prelims by the end of the spring 2020 semester is extended to the end of fall 2020 semester.
  • For fall 2020 and spring 2021, all parties may participate in milestone exams (prelims, master’s thesis, master’s non-thesis and dissertation defense) remotely as needed. The student and committee members may participate in-person if they desire, but they must follow university social distancing guidelines in effect at the time of the exam.
  • There is no need to submit a formal email request to hold a remote milestone exam.
  • If there is a public component to a defense, such as a seminar, university social-distancing guidelines must be followed. Guests can participate remotely, and we recommend using Zoom meetings.
  • For all dissertation and thesis defenses, students no longer need to schedule exam certificate appointments with the Graduate School administrator who conducted the format check of their dissertation or thesis. 
  • The hard-copy exam card has been replaced by an Electronic Milestone Exam Certificate that will be pre-populated for each graduating student by Graduate School staff and emailed directly from The Graduate School to each dissertation or thesis committee Chair and DGSA.        
  • No physical signatures are required. Instructions for chairs and DGSs will be in the electronic exam card. 
  • Students will not submit signed title pages or abstract title pages.
  • Students will receive instructions regarding electronic submission of the advisor-approved embargo document in the email they receive from ProQuest after their initial submission has been reviewed by a TGS administrator.
  • The Graduate School’s Office of Academic Affairs is working on a separate electronic examination certificate form for non-thesis master’s examinations. 
  • Students should direct inquiries about qualifying exams to their Ph.D. program or department DGS.

If you have any questions about defenses and exams that not addressed by the guidelines above, please contact The Graduate School's Office of Academic Affairs (

When holding a remote defense, please follow these security and privacy tips for Zoom.

See a compilation of guidelines and tips on holding a remote defense.

Graduate School Communications to Students