3rd Year and Beyond

Once the student has successfully completed the Preliminary Exam in the spring of their second year, s/he is admitted to candidacy for the Ph.D. In year three and beyond the student will engage in independent, original research under the direction of his/her mentor and with the guidance of the Advisory Committee. The student is expected to participate in, and contribute to, the scientific community of the Immunology Department, Duke University and, where appropriate, the scientific community at large.


Fall Semester

  • IMMUNOL 732S Immunology Seminar – Third year and beyond students enroll in this course.  This course consists of two components:
  1. A work-in-progress seminar for students and postdoctoral fellows on Mondays.
  2. An invited speaker series on Tuesdays. Students are required to present one work-in-progress seminar per year after the first academic year.
    3rd Year
  • IMMUNOL 735  Current Topics in Immunology
  • RCR forums
  • Continuation is required each semester

Spring Semester

  • IMMUNOL 732S Immunology Seminar
  • IMMUNOL 736 Current Topics in Immunology
  • Continuation is required each semester

Summer Semester

  • RCR Training (4 hours) - Required School of Medicine workshop for all basic science graduate students. Students should use the AAAS Individual Development Plan template.  The program recommends that students seek the advice of their mentor and/or members of their committees. 
  • Continuation is required each semester

Dissertation Proposal and Annual Progress Report

(a) Dissertation proposal

Typically within six months of admission to candidacy (or more generally in the Fall semester of the third year), the student meets with their Advisory Committee to present an expanded version of their dissertation outline from their pre-prelim meeting. The purpose of the dissertation proposal is to inform the committee about the direction of the student’s research and to enable committee members to guide the student in their areas of expertise. This document should be provided to committee members one week in advance of the scheduled meeting. The format will be the same as for the preliminary exam, but should also include Experimental Progress to Date, including figures, as appropriate, following the Background and Significance:

  • 20-25 pages, text and figures
  • Double-spaced, one-inch every margin , Arial 11-point
  • No page limit for references
  • The document should include:
    • Specific Aim
    • Relevant background
    • Experimental progress to date (with figures as appropriate)
    • Experimental plan to test these aims
    • References

(b) Annual Progress Report

Thereafter, the Committee shall meet yearly, or as frequent as necessary, to review the progress toward the aims and goals of the dissertation proposal. Students should provide a written progress report to committee members for their review 4 days in advance of the yearly committee meeting. Annual Committee Meetings should be scheduled for 1.5 hours to ensure sufficient time to cover both the science and the administrative tasks.

At the beginning of each committee meeting, the student will be excused briefly and the mentor will have the opportunity to discuss the student's progress with the committee.  At the end of the committee meeting, the mentor will be excused early and the student will have an opportunity to privately discuss with the committee any challenges they may be facing.  Alternatively, the student can opt to meet privately at another time with the committee chair or another member of the committee with whom they feel comfortable. 

Later year progress reports should be submitted with the following format:

  • 5-10 pages, text only
  • Double-spaced, one inch margin, Arial 11-point
  • No page limit for figures and references
  • The document should include
    • Specific Aims (revised as appropriate from original)
    • Summary of accomplishments since last meeting
    • Plans for next year

This document should be provided to committee members for review 4 days in advance of the yearly committee meeting.

For the purpose of documentation, the face page of proposal should include the following information:

Project title:
Student name:
Committee chair:
Other Committee members:
Meeting location:
Meeting time:

It is the responsibility of the Advisory Committee to evaluate whether the student is making satisfactory progress towards the degree.  Beginning with the Preliminary examination, the chair of the committee submits an evaluation annually to the Graduate Program (see Annual Committee Meeting Report Form).  Students will receive this feedback, as well as committee scoring on a series of competencies, through Duke T3.  If at any time progress is determined to be unsatisfactory, this conclusion will be forwarded to the DGS who may then convene the Executive Committee in order to determine the appropriate course of action. In extreme situations the Executive Committee can recommend termination from the program.

For Annual Committee Meetings, students should submit 3 documents in Duke T3:

  1. Annual Progress Report
  2. CV updated with publications, conference attendance, presentations/talks, and committee work
  3. Professional Development Summary (1 page in length)


At the completion of the student’s graduate training and as an essential part of the degree requirements, a written dissertation and a pubic dissertation seminar are required. One hour should be scheduled for the public defense, two hours for the private defense. The dissertation should embody the results of significant original research and should be written in a mature and competent style. Basic requirements for preparing and defending the dissertation are as prescribed by The Graduate School (see TGS  Theses and Dissertations page).  See also the Department of Immunology Graduation Checklist on SharePoint for detailed guidance on all facets of graduation and thesis submission. It is the responsibility of the student to ensure that the most current guidelines are followed. Failure to do so can substantially delay the awarding of the degree.



Normally, the dissertation should be presented and accepted within four calendar years after admission to doctoral candidacy.  According to The Graduate School:  

"Should the dissertation not be submitted and accepted within four years after the examination, the candidate, with the approval of the Committee, may petition the Dean of Graduate School for an extension of up to one year. If the extension is granted and the dissertation is not submitted and accepted by the new deadline, the student will be dropped from candidacy. The student must then pass a second preliminary examination to be reinstated as a candidate for the degree. In such cases, the time limit for submitting the dissertation will be determined by the Dean of the Graduate School and the candidate's committee."

A letter of petition is typically prepared by the candidate, providing the rationale for the extension and evidence that the thesis can be completed within the requested extension time-frame (e.g. most recent committee report).  To ensure timely approval by the Associate Dean, the student should obtain supporting signatures on the letter from his/her mentor, Committee chair, and DGS at least three months before the four-year anniversary.

It is the responsibility of the Advisory Committee to evaluate the scientific quality and importance of the student’s work and to decide at what point the student will receive permission to write the dissertation. In general, adequate dissertation work should result in at least two significant bodies of work for which the student is primary contributor. Minimally, one of these must be published or accepted for publication in a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In circumstances where this standard is not or cannot be met, the Advisory Committee retains the authority to approve the dissertation for defense; however, the final Committee report must include a written justification. In this circumstance, the Committee chair will share the report with the DGS, and permission to graduate will require approval of the DGS. In the event that the Committee decides to grant permission without a formal meeting, the Committee chair must still file a final Committee report with this information. Regardless of the circumstance, permission to write must be explicitly communicated on the final Committee report.

Formal permission to write the thesis implies that all of the data to be included in this document have been reviewed by the Advisory Committee and meet with their approval. Upon receiving official permission to write, the candidate must complete the dissertation within six months. Failure to do so will place the student in unsatisfactory standing and will be referred to the Executive Committee for action.

The completed dissertation must be submitted to all members of the Advisory Committee at least two weeks in advance of the scheduled defense to allow time for thorough and scholarly review. It is expected that each member of the committee will complete a substantial review of the dissertation as soon as practical for preparation and completeness and inclusion of all approved data. When their review is complete, should any member of the Advisory Committee find the written dissertation unsuitable for defense, s/he should notify the candidate's mentor in writing at least five days before the defense date. A finding that the dissertation is unsuitable for defense must be accompanied by a thorough, written justification. Should substantive modifications to the dissertation be required, a revised dissertation should be returned to the chair of the Advisory Committee for re-evaluation and approval.

At the time of the University's required format check, the candidate's mentor provides a letter to the Associate Dean of The Graduate School certifying that s/he has reviewed the thesis or dissertation and found it to be complete and acceptable for presentation and defense.