Skip to main content

Immunology Graduate Training Program

The Graduate Program in Immunology is a stand-alone, department-based program offering a Ph.D. degree in immunology.  The Department of Immunology provides a physical home within the School of Medicine, which facilitates interactions and builds cohesiveness among faculty, students, postdoctoral fellows, and staff.  Students acquire independent thinking and problem solving skills through a combination of formal coursework and thesis research.  Our alumni have gone on to outstanding careers working in major research universities, biotechnology companies and teaching colleges.


Students receive training through formal coursework in immunology as well as through elective courses in other areas such as molecular biology, biochemistry, genetics, pharmacology and cell biology. Students become acquainted with program laboratories through a series of laboratory rotations before choosing a laboratory for dissertation work by the end of the first year.  Throughout their graduate careers, students are exposed to a broad range of contemporary immunological research through:

  • Weekly seminars delivered by speakers from around the world and from within Duke Medical Center
  • Weekly “work in progress” seminars delivered by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows
  • Departmental journal clubs

Students are also encouraged to attend national/international conferences where they can present their discoveries and interact with leading scientists in the field. The program also provides students with invaluable teaching experience through participation in one semester of supervised teaching.

Research Opportunities

The Graduate Program in Immunology provides students with an interactive and collaborative environment that spans basic and clinical sciences at Duke.   Many program faculty hold primary appointments in other departments, including Medicine, Pediatrics, Surgery, Pathology, Ophthalmology, and Molecular Genetics and Microbiology.  The faculty provides trainees with opportunities for study in a range of areas of contemporary immunological research, for example:

  • mechanisms of lymphocyte development and function, including lymphoid lineage commitment, V(D)J recombination, lymphocyte signaling, effector cell development, homeostasis and tolerance
  • mechanisms of innate immunity and inflammation, including macrophage, dendritic cell, mast cell and complement function
  • mechanisms of host defense against bacterial and viral pathogens
  • the development of autoimmune and immunodeficiency diseases
  • anti-tumor immunity

Thesis Research

The major emphasis is on research. Each student selects a thesis mentor at the end of the first year and begins research in the second year. By the end of the second year, students must take a preliminary exam whereby they submit an off-topic proposal that serves as the exam for advancement to degree candidacy. The average time to complete a Ph.D. thesis in the Graduate Program in Immunology is 5.6 years.   

Affiliation with a Thesis Laboratory

Selection of a dissertation supervisor is normally made no later than August 1 following the first year. Students are required to notify the DGS and DGSA of their choice of laboratory and should fill out the Laboratory Affiliation Form. Final approval of affiliation with primary faculty laboratories requires that the mentor can demonstrate to their grant manager and the Immunology Chair that they will be able to fund the student at least through Year 3. Final approval of affiliation with secondary faculty laboratories requires a Financial Backstop Agreement signed by the mentor’s chair.  This process is initiated by the DGSA.   

Student Outcomes

The Graduate Program in Immunology was founded in 1992 and matriculates on average 6 students per year.  Among our more recent graduates (2010-2016), 64% have gone on to postdoctoral or advanced medical training positions; 36% have moved directly into other positions (biotechnology companies, consulting, clinical research coordinator, etc.).  Among those students receiving the PhD between 1995 and 2011, 33% now have tenure-track academic positions in the US and abroad.

Interested in joining our Graduate Program?