PhD Programs

Earn your doctorate alongside world-renowned faculty

Duke ECE offers highly motivated doctoral students opportunity to develop research skills in our uniquely interdisciplinary environment.

PhD candidate Wei Wen researches machine learning topics under the mentorship of Clare Booth Luce Associate Professor of Engineering Hai "Helen" Li, co-director of the Duke Center of Computational Intelligence Lab

Highly Ranked

#3 in computer engineering and #6 in electrical engineering in U.S. faculty research productivity (Academic Analytics)

See more of our rankings 

Our PhD students undertake ambitious projects with global impact, in areas including machine learning, cyberphysical systems, smart sensing, metamaterials and quantum computing.

Those considering a PhD in electrical and computer engineering should be individuals interested in specialized research.

We provide amazing opportunities for our students—to publish with their faculty adviser, to present research at professional conferences, and to explore their field in a highly collaborative, cross-disciplinary working environment.

Benefits for PhD students

World-Class Research

Direct admission to a research group allows PhD students to engage immediately with Duke ECE faculty members, working to cultivate the learning, thinking and problem-solving abilities needed to adapt, to develop and to exercise responsible leadership through times of rapid change. PhD research is fully funded, and our students also receive conference and travel support.

Research groups include:

Research centers include:

Day One Mentorship

Advising and early introduction to research and to your research community are hallmarks of the Duke ECE PhD experience. We believe in mentorship from Day One!

The process of finding your research adviser begins before you are admitted. Once you apply, our faculty may contact you. We then invite the best applicants to interview. You'll meet our faculty and see their labs before a formal offer is made.

Once you are admitted, we help you assemble your Advising Team. Your team will include your research adviser, your departmental adviser, the director of graduate studies, a five-member dissertation committee, and the department chair.

Welcoming, Inclusive Community

By choosing Duke, you join an engaged, diverse and welcoming community that values and supports you. You'll notice the importance we place on faculty-doctoral student interaction.

Desirable Outcomes

Duke offers dedicated career development to support our PhD students in their next steps, as well as PhD Plus, which prepares students for careers in research and technology development.

About 75 percent of our recent PhD graduates went to work in the private and public sectors — including working for leading technology firms and important national laboratories.

Around 21 percent went into academia — including taking positions at pre-eminent research universities.

Learn more about where Duke ECE PhD grads go.

A Great Location

Our engineering campus is next to one of the nation's leading academic medical centers (Duke University Hospital is our across-the-street neighbor). Plus, the Duke campus is just miles from Research Triangle Park (RTP), home to more than 200 major tech companies and a global hub for research.

You'll enjoy a mild climate, acclaimed restaurants, a thriving arts scene and an affordable cost of living. Your Duke degree can take you anywhere in the United States and beyond. Some students choose to remain in our Research Triangle region, which is consistently ranked among the best places to live in the United States.

Visit Duke's website dedicated to all things Durham.

Degree Requirements:

The information below is a summary of the formal degree requirements for the PhD in ECE.

Coursework Requirements:

For students matriculating with a bachelor's degree, a minimum of 10 courses are required, as follows: 

  • Six graduate-level courses in ECE (500-level or higher)
  • Two approved graduate-level technical electives (500-level or higher, technical in nature, and chosen to provide a coherent program of study)
  • Two approved electives (chosen to provide a coherent program of study)

For students matriculating with a master's degree from another institution, a minimum of five (5) courses are required, as follows: 

  • Three graduate-level courses in ECE (500-level or higher)
  • One approved graduate-level technical elective (500-level or higher, technical in nature, and chosen to provide a coherent program of study)
  • One approved elective (chosen to provide a coherent program of study)

Access the ECE PhD Program of Study 

Important Coursework Notes

  • Courses must be worth 3 (or more) graduate semester hours 
  • Courses must be graded (Credit/No Credit or audited courses may not count toward the program of study) 
  • ECE 899 Independent Study can be used to satisfy only the Approved Elective requirement 
  • Undergraduate Courses (numbered 499 or lower) require DGS and Graduate School permission for enrollment and may have special restrictions
  • Overall program of study must indicate adequate breadth, including some courses distinctly outside student's main curricular area 
  • Course selection must be formally approved by a student's adviser, one additional faculty member, and the DGS through the submission and approval of a Program of Study
  • Student must maintain a 3.0 GPA in order to remain in good standing and to graduate

Qualifying Examination (QE)

The purpose of the Qualifying Exam is to assess the student’s potential to succeed in the PhD program by having them demonstrate the following:

  • Reading and deeply understanding three selected papers in the field
  • Understanding the strengths and shortcomings of the three papers
  • Understanding why the particular problem space defined by the three papers is important
  • Generating sound research ideas based on the strengths and shortcomings of the three papers
  • Writing and presenting information supporting the points above

Details of the qualifying exam can be found at the links below.

Qualifying Exam Guidelines

QE Student Procedural Guidelines (step-by-step how-to document)

QE Plan Approval Form

Supervising Committee

The committee is formed in preparation for the preliminary examination and must consist of at least five members (including the student’s advisor), at least three of which must be graduate ECE faculty members. In addition, as required by The Graduate School, at least one member of the committee must be from either another department or a clearly separate field of study within the ECE Department. Committees are proposed using the Committee Approval Form. Please note that while the Graduate School's Committee Approval Form lists a  minimum of 4 committee members, the ECE Department requires five committee members.

Teaching Assistantship – Training Provided

All PhD students must complete two semesters of a Teaching Assistantship (TA) prior to graduation. We provide training before you enter an undergraduate classroom for the first time.

It is expected that the student will complete this requirement some time during his/her third through eighth semester. Teaching Assistantships will be assigned by the DGS based on the background and interests of the student and the current department needs.

Teaching Assistantships are expected to require 10 hours per week on average and may involve such activities as organizing and leading discussion sections, grading homework and quizzes, assisting in the development of course materials, supervising laboratory sessions and so forth. More information.

Preliminary Examination

The preliminary examination, which must be completed by the end of academic year three, consists of (1) a written dissertation research proposal and 2) an oral presentation and defense of this proposal to an approved five-member faculty committee.

The written dissertation research proposal should consist of a 10-page (maximum) report plus appendices providing additional supporting information as well as an anticipated timeline for completion of all PhD degree requirements.

The oral presentation, approximately 45 minutes with extra time allotted for questions posed by the committee throughout and after the presentation, should reflect the contents of the report.

Details of the Preliminary Exam can be found at the links below.

Preliminary Exam Description
Preliminary Exam Student Procedural Guidelines
Graduate School PhD Committee Approval Form
Preliminary Exam Details Form
Preliminary Exam Outcome Form
Preliminary Exam Rubric

Final Examination

The student must follow the Graduate School’s guidelines for submitting the dissertation and scheduling the Final Examination, including submitting the departmental defense announcement to the ECE Graduate Office and uploading the dissertation at least two weeks prior to the defense.

Details of the Final Exam can be found at the links below.

Final Exam Student Procedural Guidelines

Graduate School Guide for Electronic Submission of Theses and Dissertations

Graduate School PhD Committee Change Form

Final Exam Details Form

Departmental Defense Announcement

Final Exam Rubric

Note: Details concerning important dates and deadlines, filing of intention to graduate, committee approval, and additional details may be found in the Graduate Bulletin.

Admissions Profile

The Pratt School of Engineering requires a minimum GPA of 3.2 from an undergraduate program in order to gain admission to the PhD degree program. A minimum TOEFL score of 90 on the Internet-based test is also required. Average GRE scores and UGPA of recently admitted applicants were:

  • GRE Quantitative: 164
  • GRE Verbal: 156
  • UGPA: 3.6

How to apply