Application Process

Before you apply

A successful PhD requires a good match between the student, the advisor, and the program, so before you apply you should determine if the UPE is the right program for you and whether the you can find a mentor who will be an effective partner in your efforts.

We strongly recommend that you contact individual Ecology faculty to discuss mutual research interests prior to applying. This will give you, the faculty, and UPE an opportunity to assess fit and research opportunities from the beginning. Most of our faculty have lab webpages filled with more detailed information about their research and openings in the lab. To set up a call with a faculty member, it is recommended that you send them a short email introducing yourself and your research interests, and attaching transcripts and a resume or CV.

Questions you might consider asking potential advisors include:

  • Are they currently accepting students and what type of funding is available?
  • Do their students typically work on funded projects or do they work on independent projects?
  • What is their mentoring philosophy and do they have a lab mentoring document you can see?
  • What types of careers have their former students moved onto?
  • Can they provide contact information for current and former students who you could speak with?

You can find more information on graduate life at Duke by visiting: or

Application Information

Formal applications to the Ecology Program are entirely through Duke’s Graduate School. Please follow the detailed instructions below.

Important to Note:

  • The GRE is optional for the University Program in Ecology
  • Applications are assessed based on 5 criteria: Academic preparation, quality of the statement of purpose, letters of reference, research experience, and contribution to the Duke Community. In addition we have a strong preference for applicants where there is a clear fit with a potential advisor.
  • Your statement of purpose should be designed to provide a portrait of the type of ecologist you aspire to become by pursuing a PhD at Duke.  We are particularly looking for applicants who are able to clearly describe their motivation for pursuing a PhD; how their previous research experience has helped them develop skills and knowledge of the field; what questions they are interested in addressing during their PhD and how they might approach those questions; and why the University Program in Ecology at Duke is particularly good place to conduct their PhD. In your statement, be sure to mention which faculty members you are interested in working with, as common interests are considered. You are encouraged to include examples of educational, cultural, or other life opportunities or challenges you have experienced, and how these are likely to contribute to your overall success in our graduate program and beyond.
  • After the application is closed for the year (usually in early December), the admissions committee will review all applications and select a short list of prospective students to invite for an in-person interview. These interviews usually take place during the last week of January or the first few weeks of February, from Thursday to Saturday, and are funded by the department with reimbursement for any travel expenses made by the prospective student. We ask that you keep these weekends in mind when planning your personal schedules. If there are any scheduling issues, please reach out to your prospective advisor to alter your planned interview weekend.

If you have any questions, please contact the Director of Graduate Studies (DGS), Dr. Zackary Johnson (

Application Instructions


Before you apply:

  1. Determine the primary department of the faculty member who is most likely to serve as your dissertation advisor. This information is on the “Faculty” page of the website (or you can ask the faculty member directly).
  2. Go to the application portal and follow the general instructions:

When completing your application through the application portal:

  1. Select “Ecology-PhD” as your program of choice in the Program Information section of the application. A new section will open where you will select the program affiliation of your potential dissertation advisor.
  2. VERY IMPORTANT: Choose your primary affiliation from the drop-down menu. Your primary affiliation is the primary department/school of your potential advisor (See faculty webpage).  Even if you are interested in more than one faculty member, choose one primary affiliation; you can mention your interest in other faculty in your application statement.

How to choose your primary affiliation:  If your potential dissertation advisor’s primary appointment is the Biology Department, choose “Biology”; if his/her primary appointment is in the Evolutionary Anthropology Department, choose “Evolutionary Anthropology”; if his/her primary appointment is in the Nicholas School of the Environment or any other department, choose “NSOE and all others”.

For students applying to work with faculty in Biology or Evolutionary Anthropology, your application will be reviewed by those departments’ PhD programs and, if accepted, your admission letter will reflect your advisor’s primary department, although your PhD degree will be in Ecology.  During your first year of study, you will apply to be transfer into the Ecology program through an established departmental transfer process. For students applying to work with faculty in the NSOE, your application will be reviewed directly by the UPE admissions committee and you will be admitted directly into the program. We have worked hard to ensure that the application review processes are as similar as possible across the three programs

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