The plan of study required for the strategy Ph.D. is designed to be completed in four or five years.  Students will undertake a broad curriculum designed to expose students to the diverse intellectual traditions upon which strategy scholarship references.  The curriculum delivers the rigor of underlying disciplines while granting flexibility to pursue multi-disciplinary studies.  At the end of their second year of coursework, students are required to pass a comprehensive examination.  In addition, students undertake a demanding apprenticeship, preparing and completing a second year paper as well as a doctoral dissertation.

The 1st Year

The first year is focused on exposing students to the foundations of theoretical and empirical research in strategy. The curriculum is structured around three domains of competency: strategy literature & research methods, foundational theory, and quantitative empirical skills. Most students will take the following course load in the first year (Please click on the name to learn more about a course):

Fall (1st Year)
Spring (1st Year)
Strategy I Strategy II
Microeconomic Theory Organization Theory
Econometrics I Econometrics II
Strategy Research Workshop Strategy Research Workshop

All of these courses or their equivalents are required by the Area.  Students may place out of these courses with the approval of the Strategy PhD Coordinator.  Students have the option to take courses offered in other departments of Duke as well as at UNC-Chapel Hill to satisfy these requirements.  Courses should be scheduled in consultation with the student’s advisor and the approval of the Strategy PhD Coordinator.

The first year courses are demanding and we strive to make sure students are prepared for their coursework.  Upon arriving at Duke, students will be given an entrance exam to determine their competency in mathematics in the areas of probability and statistics and linear algebra.  The week prior to the entrance exam, students will have the opportunity to attend a math “boot-camp” to serve as a refresher and to prepare students for the first year coursework.  It is recommended that students who have not taken a probability and statistics and/or linear algebra course in their previous academic coursework, arrange to take such a course before arriving.  Students who fail the exam will have the opportunity to take a remedial curriculum to get them up to speed.

A key component of the first year is the apprenticeship process.  Students begin working with faculty in their first year.  Upon arrival, each student is assigned a faculty advisor.  The faculty advisor aids in the selection of courses and serve as a general resource for the student.  The first year is an opportune time to meet with faculty more generally and learn about their research interests.  Typically, students attend the core strategy MBA course in the fall and work on research with their advisors in the spring.  The research conducted in the first year usually contributes to the student’s second year paper (see below).  Finally, students are expected to attend all seminars in the Strategy Seminar Series.  This requirement continues for the duration of time the student is in the program.  These seminars are a central element of intellectual life here and provide an important opportunity for students to be exposed to the research process.

The 2nd Year

The second year is spent on focusing one’s course of study while preparing for the general examination and completing the 2nd year paper. Students have more flexibility during the second year to tailor their coursework to their interests. Once again, the curriculum is structured around three domains of competency: strategy literature & research methods, foundational theory, and quantitative empirical skills. A typical course load for a second year student will be structured as follows (Please click on the name to learn more about a course):

Fall (2nd Year)
Spring (2nd Year)
(Advanced Strategy Seminar) (Advanced Strategy Seminar)
Strategy Research Workshop Strategy Research W orkshop
Elective (e.g., Industrial Organization or other) Elective (e.g., Organization Behavior, Behavioral Decision Theory, or other)
(Advanced Methods Course) (Advanced Methods Course)


Students should structure their curriculum under the guidance of the faculty advisor and with the approval of the Strategy PhD Coordinator. Potential advanced strategy seminars include:

Economics of Innovation (Instructor: Wes Cohen, Ashish Arora)
Business Dynamics and Strategy (Instructor: Will Mitchell)
Computationally Modeling of Organizations and Strategy (Instructor: Rich Burton)

At the end of the second year, students are required to take and pass a general examination.  This is a field examination designed to certify a student’s competence in each of the three domains of competency: strategy literature and research methods, foundational theory, and quantitative empirical skills.  Typically, this exam will take place the second week in May.  The exam period will take approximately three days and consist of (1) general essay questions requiring both a synthesis of extant literature and demonstration of the ability to identify researchable advances to the literature, and (2) specific essays in the student’s core area of competence. The exam will be evaluated by a group of faculty called on by the Strategy Ph.D. Coordinator. Graders will determine whether further actions are required depending on the level of performance on the exam. Such actions might include retaking some or all of the exam or a recommendation for exit from the program with or without a terminal master’s degree.

Students are also required to complete a second year paper.  The paper is an opportunity for students to conduct research in collaboration with a faculty member. Throughout the second year, students will have the opportunity to serve as research assistants.   The 2nd year paper should grow out of collaboration with strategy faculty, most likely the student’s advisor.  Students along with their faculty collaborator choose a project that allows them to experience as many aspects of the research process as possible: generating hypotheses, modeling, collecting and analyzing data, reporting results, etc.  This paper should be suitable for both presentation at a professional conference and eventual submission (following some revision) to an academic journal.  During the fall of their second year, students are required to briefly (~10 minutes) propose the topic and methodology for their second year paper in a session with faculty members of the Strategy Area..  During the spring of the second year, students are required to submit a detailed outline of the paper.  The second year paper is due by August 15th the summer following completion of the second year.  All students will be required to present their second year paper to the Strategy Faculty in the Fall of their 3rd year.  If the second year paper does not meet minimal standards, the Ph.D. committee may require the student to rewrite the paper or recommend exit from the program with or without a terminal master’s degree.

The 3rd Year

The third year is a critical time where students transition from coursework and begin to focus on the preparation of their dissertation.  Students will have the opportunity to continue to take courses to deepen their intellectual development.  However, most of their time should be spent in the preparation of a dissertation proposal.  Students should select a topic and a dissertation advisor as early as possible in their graduate program.  Once the student and the advisor are in agreement about the topic and the proposed methodology, additional faculty members should be asked by the student’s advisor to form a committee to review and evaluate the student’s work.  This committee must consist of at least four members, at least one of whom is from a non-business school department (e.g., economics, sociology, political science). The student will designate a chair for the dissertation from this committee (most likely their advisor).  From this point forward, the dissertation committee monitors progress and provides feedback. The student must notify the Strategy Ph.D. Coordinator, in writing no later than January 1st of the third year, of the membership of this committee.

By the last day of graduate classes in the spring semester of the third year, the student should successfully present a dissertation thesis proposal to his or her advisory committee.  During the presentation, the committee will examine the student orally on the proposal and any related material pertinent to successful completion of the project. The dissertation chairperson shall notify the Strategy Ph.D. Coordinator of approval or failure of the proposed study and make additional recommendations regarding deficiencies.

Upon successful defense of the dissertation proposal, the student officially becomes a Ph.D. candidate.  Such designation indicates the completion of three steps: satisfactory performance on general examinations, successful completion and defense of a second year paper, and the successful defense of a dissertation proposal.

The 4th and 5th Years

The fourth and fifth years are spent completing one’s dissertation.  Students are expected to remain active members of the intellectual community.  This includes continuing to participating in the Strategy Seminar Series.  All students are required to present at least once during the academic year in the Strategy Seminar Series for every year they are a student.  As part of their stipend, students will continue to serve as research assistants and teaching assistants to faculty.
Critical to success at this stage is continuous and active engagement of the student’s dissertation advisory committee.  Students in consultation with the Chairman of the committee are expected to provide frequent updates to committee members about progress.  At the end of each year, students are required to submit a progress report to the Strategy PhD Coordinator.  This report will be shared with the faculty of the strategy area.

Opportunities are available to students to develop their teaching skills.  Students have the option of serving as teaching assistants in MBA classes and as the lead instructor in undergraduate courses.

By the end of the fourth year, we expect that students will be prepared to participate on the academic job market.  In the fall of their fifth year, students typically interview at major academic conferences and submit their “job packet” to specific academic institutions.  This job packet will likely include the dissertation proposal, a completed paper, as well as any other research papers the student may have completed.

When the dissertation is completed, it must be submitted to the Graduate School for a format check a minimum of one week before the scheduled defense examination.  The Chairman of the student’s advisory committee should schedule a defense of the dissertation.  The dissertation defense usually lasts two hours and is open to the entire graduate faculty of the Fuqua School of Business.

By the end of the fifth year, we expect students to have successfully defended their dissertation and graduated – prepared to begin as a tenure-track faculty member of a leading business school.