The operations management curriculum is designed to develop a strong foundation in operations management, operations research, economics, and mathematics.

Coursework

Coursework is tailored to each student's background and interests and typically extends over 2 to 2.5 years. Some of the courses may be offered by different departments at Duke University and even neighboring universities, such as the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC) and North Carolina State University (NCSU). Travel is required when taking courses on other campuses; the other campuses are about 30 minutes from Duke.

In the first year, students often take graduate-level courses in operations research, economics, and mathematics. Every first year student must audit the Operations Management core course taught in the daytime MBA program in the spring semester. Students are required to choose one of the sections of the core to sit in, inform the corresponding instructor, and attend all class sessions.

In the second year, the coursework often extends to advanced courses in operations research and economics, doctoral seminars, and elective courses offered by other areas in the school. Coursework may extend to the first semester of the third year, depending on the relevance of the work to the student’s intended dissertation topic(s).

Students are expected to maintain a cumulative grade point average of 3.0 throughout their PhD. A student who receives an “F” or does not attain a 3.0 average by the end of the first year may be subject to dismissal.

Fuqua OM Course: There is typically one PhD course offered by Fuqua OM faculty each semester. The faculty teaching this course and the content vary from year to year. In the first and second years of the PhD program, students should take all Fuqua OM courses that are offered.

Required Courses: In the first year of the doctoral program, it is important to build a strong background in the tools and research methodologies commonly used in the field of operations management. As such, in addition to the offered Fuqua OM courses, students are required to take at least one course in each of the following categories:

  • Linear Programming (e.g., STOR614 Linear Programming at UNC)
  • Advanced Optimization (e.g., BA911 Convex Optimization or BA912 Dynamic Programming)
  • Microeconomics (e.g., ECON701 Microeconomic Analysis I)
  • Stochastic Models (e.g., BA915 Stochastic Models)

These requirements are flexible and could be filled by many different courses; the course numbers listed above are merely examples of satisfactory options. Students should consult with the doctoral coordinator to discuss whether a particular course satisfies the requirement. If a course or topic is not offered in a given year, the doctoral coordinator may change the requirements. If a first year student has achieved an A in a master’s level or higher course in a particular topic, they may take a more advanced course or be exempted from the requirement at the doctoral coordinator’s discretion.

Elective Courses: Students in the OM doctoral program frequently take electives in decision sciences, economics, econometrics, marketing, and statistics. Electives should be tailored to the student’s research interests in consultation with the student’s advisor.

In addition, students who do not have a strong undergraduate background in probability and statistics are encouraged to take such courses as a part of their doctoral coursework.

Qualifying Exam

The qualifying examination in operations management consists of two components: a written examination and a summer literature review project.

In the second year, a written examination covering the topics in the required courses will be administered. Students who achieve excellent performance in required courses may, at the discretion of the doctoral committee, be exempted from the exam. To be considered for exemption a student must:

  • Achieve a combined GPA of 3.5 or higher in required courses.
  • Receive no more than one B grade (or equivalent to a 3.0 grade point score), and no grade lower than a B (3.0 grade point), in required courses.

Students who do not meet the above criteria will be automatically required to take a written qualifying exam; however, even students who meet the above criteria may be asked to take an exam if the committee concludes that there is not sufficient evidence of exemplary technical ability. Specifically, the doctoral committee will review the performance of students eligible for exemption at the end of the first academic year, and will decide whether to exempt each student, have them take the written exam, or defer the decision until a future term after additional coursework has been completed. Students who are not exempted will, in most cases, take the exam in the spring semester of their second year.

The exam will cover some subset of the topics covered in the required courses, possibly including material from linear programming, advanced optimization, microeconomics, stochastic models, and the Fuqua OM course material; the precise topics are determined by the OM faculty in response to the needs of each particular student, and the students taking the exam will be notified in advance of the subjects to be covered. Satisfactory performance on the written exam is required; poor performance may lead the faculty to require additional coursework, to retake the exam, or to depart the program.

In addition, at the end of the first summer, the student will submit a detailed literature review of a proposed research topic. The review must be at least 10 pages in length (double spaced, 12 point font), and should include the history of developments in the proposed area of study, recent advances on the topic, and a preliminary proposal of interesting research opportunities on the topic. The literature review will be completed under the supervision of a faculty member chosen by the student at the start of the summer.

A brief proposal (no more than two pages) for this literature review is submitted to the doctoral coordinator at the end of the spring semester of the first year; see the Expectations section for more information on this proposal. The literature review itself will be read by the doctoral committee, who will offer comments on the quality of the review as well as the potential of the research opportunities identified in the review. The doctoral committee will also review the student’s first year course grades, paying particular attention to essential courses in operations management, and the student’s performance on the written examination (if applicable), to assess the student’s overall performance in the doctoral program.

Teaching Assistantships

The program aims to provide students with teaching experience. This is done mainly by assigning students as teaching assistants to the operations faculty. All students serve as teaching assistants regularly beginning in their second year in the program, typically for 1-2 courses per year. Throughout this process, students learn how to design a course, write a syllabus, prepare homework and exam questions and grade them, give lectures, conduct class discussions and assign grades. Each summer, the doctoral coordinator, in consultation with the OM faculty, will assign TA positions to each student.

Preliminary Examination

The official preliminary examination in the OM doctoral program takes place at the start of the third year. At this time, the student will submit a completed research paper that is, at minimum, 25 pages in length (double spaced, 12 point font). This paper should be written in a style suitable for submission to a journal (i.e., with an introduction, literature review, model and analysis, and conclusion). The paper should be completed under the supervision of a faculty member chosen by the student, and need not be a continuation of the literature review submitted the previous year (although we expect that most students will continue with the same topic).

A brief proposal (no more than two pages) for this research paper is submitted to the doctoral coordinator at the end of the spring semester of the second year; see the Expectations section for more information on this proposal. The student will present the completed paper in front of a committee of four faculty members, consisting of the OM doctoral coordinator, the student’s advisor, one additional OM faculty member, and one faculty member from outside the OM area. The committee will offer comments on the quality of the work as well as the potential of the research to be published in a top journal. In addition, they will review the student’s second year course grades, paying particular attention to essential courses in operations management, and assess the student’s overall performance in the doctoral program, taking all of this information into account when determining whether the student passes the preliminary examination.

If the committee determines that the student has not shown sufficient potential to succeed in research based on the student’s grades and the research project, they may give the student a failing grade on the preliminary examination, ask the student to take additional courses, or ask the student to repeat the requirement by the end of the student’s third year in the doctoral program (i.e., to submit a revised paper and make a second presentation). To proceed to the dissertation phase of the doctoral program, the student must successfully pass this preliminary examination once.

Dissertation Proposal

The dissertation proposal is a comprehensive presentation of the student’s existing work toward his or her dissertation, as well as a proposal of the remaining steps to complete the dissertation, and is typically made in the student’s fourth year. At this stage, faculty assess whether the student has shown satisfactory progress toward completing the dissertation and whether the topic of the dissertation shows sufficient promise. Faculty may make suggestions for improvement in the dissertation topic or methods during this stage.

Dissertation Defense

The dissertation defense (also known as the “final examination”) is a comprehensive presentation of the student’s dissertation, typically made in the spring of the student’s fifth year. At this stage, faculty assess whether the student has shown sufficient mastery of methodology and research to submit their dissertation and be granted a PhD from Duke University. The final examination and subsequent submission of the dissertation are the final stages in the doctoral program.

Sample Program Schedule

The Operations Management program typically follows this structure:

Year 1

Fall

Spring

Summer

Coursework

Coursework

Research
  • First-Year Summer Literature Review

 

Year 2

Fall

Spring

Summer

Coursework

Research Exploration

Teaching Assistantship

Qualifying Exam*

  • Literature Review Project
  • Possible Written Exam (May Be Exempted)

Coursework

Research Exploration

Teaching Assistantship

Research
  • Second-Year Summer Paper

 

Year 3

Fall

Spring

Summer

Coursework (Optional)

Research

Teaching Assistantship

Preliminary Exam*

  • Original Research Paper
  • Oral Presentation

Coursework (Optional)

Research

Teaching Assistantship

Research

 

Year 4

Fall

Spring

Summer

Research

Teaching Assistantship

Dissertation Proposal*

Research

Teaching Assistantship

Research

 

Year 5

Fall

Spring

Summer

Research

Teaching Assistantship

Research

Teaching Assistantship

Dissertation Defense*

 

Asterisks indicate key milestones (qualifying and preliminary exams, dissertation proposal and defense).