2nd Year

The second year of the program usually marks the beginning of thesis research. In addition, there are course requirements, teaching experience, and an important qualifying exam during the spring semester.  By the end of the second year, students must accumulate at least 24 semester hours of graded coursework.


Fall Semester

  • IMMUNOL 601 Immunology of Human Disease
  • IMMUNOL 731S Immunology Seminar - First and second year students enroll in this course. This course consists of two components: 1) a work-in-progress seminar for students and postdoctoral fellows on Mondays and 2) an invited speaker series on Tuesdays. Students are evaluated on attendance and a required presentation of at least one work-in-progress seminar per year. 
  • IMMUNOL 735 Current Topics in Immunology – Journal Club format, required each fall semester beginning in 2nd year.
  • Grant Writing Workshop – Facilitated by immunology faculty.
  • Electives or mini-courses may be chosen to complement the student's dissertation studies.
  • RCR forums 
  • Continuation is required each semester

Spring Semester

  • IMMUNOL 731S Immunology Seminar 
  • IMMUNOL 736 Current Topics in Immunology
  • Electives or mini-courses may be chosen to complement the student's dissertation studies
  • RCR forums
  • Continuation is required each semester

Summer Semester

  • Continuation is required each semester

Teaching Requirement

2nd Year

All students are required to participate in one semester of supervised teaching. The Program in Immunology believes doctoral students should be prepared to teach at the university level. Thus, the Program requires one semester of supervised teaching to undergraduate and graduate students in IMM 544 (Principles of Immunology) or to graduate students in IMM 701D (Pillars of Immunology). In IMM 544, trainees lead discussions and make didactic presentations within the framework of faculty-led classes. In IMM 701D, trainees take primary responsibility for all aspects of the course, with faculty oversight. The teaching requirement will normally be completed by the third year of doctoral training.

Student Advisory Committees

During the Fall semester of the second year, students and their Ph.D. supervisors shall propose an advisory and examinations committee. Approval must be obtained from the DGS by the end of October.  Students shall submit a Committee Approval Form to the DGS for initial approval. The DGSA must then submit to The Graduate School for final approval, at least 30 days prior to the Preliminary Examination.

This committee will consist of at least five graduate faculty members (including the student's dissertation mentor) who are considered best able to advise the student. At least three members of the committee should come from the primary departmental faculty; at least three members of the committee should hold a senior academic rank (tenured). One member of the committee, the “outside member,” must hold an appointment in the graduate faculty through a department other than the Department of Immunology. The chair of the Advisory Committee cannot be the dissertation mentor. The chair must hold a primary appointment in the Department of Immunology and may hold a junior or senior academic rank, but must have ample experience serving on advisory committees as judged by the DGS. Committee chairs may be nominated by the candidate but his/her appointment will be determined by the DGS. 

Advisory committees are formed prior to the preliminary examination and most committees retain the same membership throughout the student’s academic tenure. However, after a student passes the preliminary examination, the committee composition requirement changes to two primary faculty members other than the mentor.  This allows any student whose thesis advisor holds a secondary appointment in Immunology to replace one of the three primary faculty with another member of the graduate faculty who may be able to offer expertise that will be valuable for progress on thesis research. For a committee member change – for this or any other reason - a student must obtain approval from the DGS. For approval, the DGS requires an email from the student's advisor and the incoming committee member acknowledging the change. The student can then submit a revised Committee Approval Form (check the box Change in student's previously approved committee) to the DGSA. This form will be sent to the DGS and then to The Graduate School for final approval.

It is the responsibility of the Advisory Committee to evaluate whether the student is making satisfactory progress towards the degree. The chair of the committee submits a Annual Committee Meeting Report Form annually to the Graduate Program. If at any time progress is determined to be unsatisfactory, this conclusion and a written description of all issues involved will be forwarded to the DGS who may then convene the Executive Committee in order to determine the appropriate course of action. When conditions merit it, the Executive Committee can recommend termination from the Program.




Qualifying Preliminary Exam (PRELIM) 

Students must hold a pre-prelim meeting with their committee 2 months prior to prelim. Although there is no strict format for pre-prelim, the following format is strongly suggested.

  • Written document: NIH Specific Aim section (One page)
  • PowerPoint presentation
  • Schedule for an hour
  • Either meeting form of In-person or on-line is fine
  • Send a written document 3 days before the meeting 


Students can use the on-topic format for prelim. Using the off-topic format is now optional.

  • Schedule for 2~2.5 hours.
  • Format: The written research proposal for the preliminary exams should follow the NIH F30/31 formatting guidelines. The Components to be submitted are:
    • Specific Aims (1 page)
    • Research Strategy (6 pages)
    • Citations (no page limit)
  • The written and oral prelim examination must be completed by March 31st of the 2nd year.
  • The Duke grant writing course (BIOTRAIN720) is a prerequisite for the preliminary examination.
  • Although faculty advisors are encouraged to discuss ongoing research activities including content of their own grants with their students, they should not assist the student in the preparation of the prelim documents. The student is expected to present and defend their ideas with little input or coaching from their advisor.
    • Exception: If the student fails their preliminary examination and a re-take is required, the committee should provide general comments on the document to help guide the student
  • Students are encouraged to obtain critiques from others on the written exam and the oral presentation, but the final document must represent the student’s original work.
  • Exemptions from any of these guidelines should be discussed with the committee and the DGS.



Written proposals based on topics outside the scope of the student’s proposed dissertation project are allowed but require endorsement by the PhD Advisor and approval by the DGS.



Use the T3 format for the thesis research document and schedule the committee meeting one year after prelim completion.