Minoring in the Duke Biology PhD program

Minoring in the Duke Biology PhD program

This resources was designed and published by graduate students on the Duke University Biology Department’s Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-racism Graduate Committee. It can also be found as a PDF here.

As part of the Inclusion, Diversity, Equity, and Anti-racism (IDEA) graduate student committee’s Anti-racism in Science Initiative (06/08/20), we aimed to compile and distribute this handbook explaining how PhD students in the Department can minor in interdisciplinary studies. This handbook proposes and emphasizes minors that are “non-traditional” with the goal of normalizing these areas of study and career paths within the Biology Department to create inclusive and equitable scholarship.


(Excerpt from the 2017 BioGrad Handbook)


All graduate students will be required at the time the dissertation committee is formed to declare a minor. At least one member of the dissertation committee must represent the minor field, and will be charged with assessing the student’s knowledge in the minor during the preliminary exam. The goal of the minor is to ensure that each student acquires a breadth of knowledge beyond their immediate specialty, either in a different area of Biology or in an allied field. Given the wide range of research areas represented in the Biology Graduate Program, dissertation committees will have the freedom to determine the specific nature of the minor, so as to tailor it to the needs of the individual student. However, to ensure that the chosen minor truly lies outside of the student’s specialty, minors are subject to the approval by the DGS and the Graduate Affairs Committee.

The minor may:

  1. Lie entirely outside of Biology (e.g. Statistics, Mathematics, Computer Science, Chemistry, Engineering, Atmospheric Sciences, Geology);
  2. Require the student to acquire knowledge about a group of organisms that differs from those on which the student’s dissertation research focuses; or
  3. Represent a biological sub-discipline that is distinct from the student’s own sub-discipline. For example, a student whose advisor is in the Evolution, Ecology, and Organismal Biology group might choose Developmental, Cellular, and Molecular Biology (DCMB) as a minor, with appropriate representation by a DCMB faculty member on the preliminary exam and dissertation committees.


Creating your minor

The Biology Department has no formal requirement for coursework but graduate students take 9-12 credits on average. The flexibility in coursework allows students in the Department to design a minor, take the relevant classes, and find a faculty minor advisor early in their academic career. Duke University Departments’ offer a wide variety of courses to graduate students in and outside of their respective areas of primary work, and have faculty that can serve as minor advisors. Here are some example of minors that are underrepresented in the Department and highlight interdisciplinary studies:

  • Bioethics
  • Education
  • Gender, Sexuality, and Feminst Studies
  • Philosophy of Science
  • Psychology of Science
  • Science & Society
  • Science Communication
  • Science History
  • Science Policy
  • Sociology of Science


Students must have taken or plan on taking at least two courses in the minor subject. Please see the course catalog, or check a Department’s official curriculum webpage to sign-up or plan a course schedule.

Faculty minor Advisor

When you decide on your minor, you must find a faculty member to serve as your minor advisor. The faculty must be a member of the Graduate faculty (database), or, if a person meets the requirements, a Department can add the individual as a “Term Member.” Examples of the latter include (1) emeriti faculty, (2) Professors of the Practice, or (3) a faculty member at another University. 


Confirming your minor

Pre-preliminary Exam (Pre-PhD candidacy)

Students who are forming their preliminary exam committee are required to fill out an official committee formation form with the Biology Department. On the document, students are required to declare their minor and declare a faculty person to represent the minor subject on the committee.

Post-preliminary Exam (PhD candidate)

If you have already declared your minor, you are able to change it. To officially change your minor, you must email the Biology Department DGSA (Anne Lacey) with the minor title and the minor advisor’s name.



Implementing your minor

Besides the stipulations outlined above, students are not required to provide follow-up work in their minors. With that in mind, we highly encourage our peers with a general or career interest in the minors mentioned in the “Creating your minor” section to integrate these studies into their graduate work at Duke.


Students who truly desire to meet the goal of the Department minor and aim to integrate their minor scholarship into their research are encouraged to do so. This can manifest as a chapter in your dissertation, presentations at conferences, or research collaborations.


Certificates are available through select Departments that require students to take specific relevant courses and meet other criteria. Please see the following examples for the details and benefits of receiving a Certificate:

Cohorts and Mentoring

As of Fall 2020, we as the graduate student IDEA committee solicit for an annual cohort of graduate students who are in the Biology Department PhD program to commit to a minor with a goal of creating an inclusive, diverse, equitable, and anti-racist environment within their research, lab environment, discipline and sub-discipline, and science at large. During the Fall of each academic year, we aim to announce at least five individuals in a cohort that have committed to this initiative and a description of their proposed minor. Between cohorts and incoming students to the Department (first-year students and training program students), we also aim for students to pass on their knowledge and experience in their minor to future generations.

Date release: September 1, 2020