DGS and Advising

DGS Responsibilities

The following summarizes the chief responsibilities of the DGS:

  • To serve as chair of departmental graduate recruiting, admissions, and fellowship committees or to delegate such authority where appropriate
  • To recommend to the department chair and the Associate Dean graduate course offerings and instructors
  • To oversee all matters relating to the departmental review of applications, ensuring equal, fair, and timely consideration of all applicants
  • To sign off on all departmental recommendations for admission/rejection
  • To nominate students for Graduate School fellowships
  • To prepare the annual Graduate School awards request and to allocate such funds as allotted
  • To report student funding administered by the department of or received directly by the student from an external funding agency
  • To serve as initial adviser and continuing advocate for all graduate students
  • To oversee all registration procedures and verify student enrollments
  • To recommend to the Graduate School:
    • All A.M., M.S., or Ph.D. committee assignments
    • All additions to or deletions from the department's graduate faculty
    • Any changes in departmental course offering
    • Any modifications of program requirements
    • All requests for transfers of graduate credit, leaves of absence, or time extensions
    • Probationary conditions for any student in academic difficulty
  • To recommend to divisional representatives of the Executive Committee desired modifications of Graduate School rules, regulations, or procedures
  • To notify the Graduate School of all final degree examinations
  • To forward to all graduate students such announcements as are periodically sent from the Graduate School  

TA Assignments

As soon as the faculty teaching schedule for the following year has been organized, the DGS sends out to the students a request for their preferences as TA. Scheduling is complicated by many different concerns, and it is not always possible to offer students their most preferred assignments. Being a teaching assistant is partly a matter of employment and partly a matter of training. Be prepared to assist in areas that are outside of your specialization or interests, with the understanding that flexibility like this may well be expected of you when you enter the profession.

MUS 190S Proposals

MUS 190S courses are designed and taught by graduate students, who serve as the Instructor of Record (IOR).  These courses are usually geared for first-year undergraduate students, consequently, the topics should have broad appeal and not require prior technical knowledge of music. One 190S award in the Music Department is funded by the School of Arts & Sciences each year. The deadline for proposals is usually in the middle of the spring semester. Students are encouraged to discuss proposal ideas with the DGS and members of the graduate faculty. Students may also ask the DGSA for samples of successful proposals in the past. Any graduate student in Year 3 or 4 who has not yet taught a 190S Writing course in the Music Department is eligible to submit a proposal.

Duke University Graduate School Fellowships Applications

Near the beginning of the fall semester the DGS announces an internal departmental deadline for dissertation fellowship applications (Bass, Stern, Price, Green, International, Summer Research, and others are listed on the Graduate School website). These are competitive university-wide fellowships for students who have completed (or will complete during the application year) the Preliminary Exam. 

Fellowship nominations are made by the Graduate Faculty. Once nominated, students must complete the application by the given deadline. Students are responsible for requesting letters of recommendation from individual faculty members.  Students should consult their dissertation advisers as they draft their fellowship proposals. 

Exam Preparation

For examples of prior Diagnostic, Qualifying, and Preliminary Exams, please email the DGSA.


The DGS informs students of the date of the recruitment weekend as soon as it is set.

He or she lets the current students know who the recruits are before their arrival (names, interests, where they're coming from, and so forth) and what the schedule for the visit is. He or she requests student participation in a timely fashion.

Incoming Students

Early in the summer, incoming students are sent information on the procedures for the exams, an orientation schedule, and contact information for the graduate representative.

Pre-Prelim Advising and Registration

Before registration begins, the DGS circulates to all grad students and posts online synopses of seminars to be offered. The DGS meets individually with first-year students to discuss their course selections. Students further along in their program are invited to meet with the DGS to discuss their course selections if they feel they need it. Students should be sure to review the requirements in course work before taking qualifying and prelim exams.

Online Information

The DGS updates program information, paying special attention to changes in alumni placements, new grants and fellowships awarded, and seminars offered.

Annual Reports

The DGS notifies students of the deadline for their annual reports and makes all reports available to the Graduate Faculty.

Annual Schedule of Key Events


  • Incoming student Orientation Events (including reception)
  • Meetings: Individual meetings with new students, seminar selection, permission number distribution


  • Meeting: Qualifying Exam participants (before 9/15)
  • Internal Deadline Announcement: Duke Graduate School Fellowships


  • AwardSpring portal opens: Duke Graduate School Fellowship Applications


  • AwardSpring Deadline: Duke Graduate School Fellowship Applications
  • Award Spring Deadline: DGS and Recommenders Letters for Duke Graduate School Fellowships


  • Recruitment weekend date announcement
  • Recruitment: application review and selection


  • Deadline: 190S proposals
  • Announcement: 190S assignments (two weeks after deadline)
  • Organization: Recruitment weekend(s) events


  • Request for TA preferences for next year
  • Deadline Announcement: Annual reports


  • Meetings: Individual meetings with students regarding seminar selection
  • Election: Grad rep (between 4/15 and 4/30)
  • Deadline: Annual reports (before the end of the spring semester)


  • Distribution: next year’s award letters


  • Mailing: departmental information to incoming students


  • Organization of Orientation Events


  • Organization of upcoming prelims and defenses

What to Expect from Your Ph.D. Adviser

Your Ph.D. Adviser will be your mentor, advocate, and a reliable source of reality checks as you work on the dissertation.  A productive working relationship with your adviser depends on transparent communication, consistency, and continual engagement with your research.  There will be periods of smooth sailing as well as challenges that may slow down your dissertation work, but again, communication with your adviser is crucial.

What should you expect?  

Successful prelims are sometimes followed with a letter from the committee congratulating you on completing the exam and offering suggestions for the work to come. If additional academic work beyond the prelim is required (e.g., an additional language), you and your adviser should determine this immediately following the prelim and write to the DGS, stating why this is important and requesting Dean’s approval. As you build your research agenda in consultation with your adviser, please also remember to keep members of your Doctoral Committee informed about your project, giving them updates on a regular basis.  Within the department, the required annual chapter review will keep the DGS and graduate faculty informed of your progress, but you should be in more frequent touch your adviser and committee.

You and your adviser should reach a mutual understanding about the frequency and nature of communication.  Some advisers prefer to see rough drafts of your work.  Others are willing to discuss ideas, methods, and broader conceptual problems. Still others may prefer to see drafts of entire chapters. Work this out with your adviser ahead of time.  In all cases, you should seek and expect regular critique from your adviser. A monthly update is a good rule of thumb, though some students and advisers prefer more frequent meetings. Again, transparent communication throughout this process is important!

An atmosphere of mutual respect and open communication should prevail. Advisees can expect a timely response to emails and phone calls, and that personal interactions with their mentor will be open and professionally appropriate, whether on campus or at professional meetings. If you ever feel communication has become unprofessional, please be in touch with the DGS, who will listen. If you feel the DGS is unable to help you, you can go to the Chair, who may refer your concerns elsewhere in the university as appropriate. You have the right to be heard without fear of consequences. As of this writing the Graduate School has just launched a new interactive guide to help our Ph.D. and master’s students better understand the options, resources, and processes for addressing concerns of harassment, discrimination, and related problems. You can find the guide at https://gradschool.duke.edu/reporting

Your adviser helps promote your career appropriately by offering guidance and professional advice on, for example, the submission of conference papers or proposals for grants or performances of your music, depending on your subfield.  Your adviser may be able to counsel you about funding for advanced studies and for the summer.[1]  This is normal and expected. If you receive a job interview, ask your adviser and the DGS to help you set up a mock interview prior to your campus visit. 

What are your responsibilities?  

You should understand that at this stage, we are invested in you and your work and very much want you to succeed.  That said, the dissertation is your project, and you are responsible for your work. Your adviser will help you prioritize and focus your inquiry, but it’s up to you to schedule and set the agenda for meetings with your adviser.

Your responsibilities also entail requesting letters of recommendation in a timely manner when needed (ideally with three weeks’ notice) and recognizing that your dissertation work and consultations with your adviser take priority over other professional opportunities. Of course, it goes without saying that you should act professionally towards your adviser and Doctoral Committee.  As an egregious example, failure to be in contact with the members of your committee until a month before the Final Exam demonstrates a lack of professionalism and may be risky. After all, these colleagues may be asked to provide references, and if they have not seen you or been able to follow your work, this becomes a tenuous proposition. Some committee members do not wish to read a chapter or an article until it is quite advanced; you should ask what they prefer. 

In sum, your engagement with your Ph.D. adviser is a close one, intellectually and often personally as well. Advisers see their work with Ph.D. advisees as professionally stimulating; mentoring an advanced student about to enter the field is one of the most satisfying parts of academic life. Optimally used, the relationship between you and your adviser can be the bridge to a career characterized by curiosity and intellectual freedom.  Your adviser becomes your colleague!  A moment’s reflection on the nature of the relationship, and what can be expected can be extremely rewarding.

[1] Please also seek advice from your committee and the DGS if research or study abroad is contemplated. Normally, students and faculty mentors discuss fellowship possibilities in the fall for the following summer and academic year. You may wish to be considered for a particular fellowship, and if so, make your wishes known to the DGS.