heh- we're mostly new grads who'll be working at duke! I worked for the last year on 4200 neuro icu, and i'll be starting in the PICU in June.
I've lived in this area for 15 years, in chapel hill, durham and raleigh. I just got divorced and moved from my safe suburban house in southeast durham (right on the wake county line, in fact- it's just north of the brier creek area, which is super nice and REALLY pricey) to an apartment in what I *thought* was a similar area of the city- I now live in parkside at woodlake, which is about a mile from the Streets at Southpoint mall. The good thing about this complex is that Duke is considered a preferred employer, so if you work there, they'll back-load your rent. My montly rate for a 2 br 2 bath, 1100 sf is 625; however, they let me do 480 for four months, then 720 for the remainder of the year. that helps a LOT when you're starting out in an area, and going through a divorce while finishing nursing school, that was a tremendous benefit.
This neighborhood is pretty okay- lots of families, but also lots of young singles and couples (plenty of duke nurses live here, actually). On the weekends, I see people in the parking lot that I know don't live here- and I have a feeling one of my upstairs neighbors is involved in something criminal (he has people coming and going alot, and keeps pit bulls on his deck 24/7)...except for that, I feel pretty safe here as a woman living alone. I would *not*, however, walk around ANYWHERE in durham alone at night. actually, I wouldn't walk around anywhere in the whole triangle alone at night- i didn't even do it in my old neighborhood, where i owned a house. There are some clubs and interesting night spots in downtown durham, but raleigh certainly has more. I'm not interested in those things much anymore, but if you are, there are some great places in raleigh that are pretty hip and within walking distance- try the Five Points area of Raleigh, for instance. Buildings built in the 1940's and 50's with huge trees, cute (small) apartments, and coffee shops and restaurants. Really, you need to check out the area before you decide.
I heard on tv recently about a place called Durham Residence Hall that's fully furnished for $100 a week- it's female-only. That might be an option if you don't know where you want to live when you move here. i haven't seen the place, but it might be a good place to crash for a week or two while you look for apartments.
Personally, I've lived both very far and very near my place of employment in this area, and my advice is to avoid anything more than a 1/2 hour commute. our traffic sucks, big time. and you really have to get on one of the interstates to go from one city to another, so be forwarned. also, the secondary roads are rarely plowed after ice or snowstorms, so take that into consideration if you don't have all-wheel drive. it doesn't happen a lot, but usually at least twice a winter, sometimes a lot more frequently.
All that being said, it's not a bad place to live. If you're into night life, go for downtown raleigh and commute to duke. I wouldn't do chapel hill, mostly because of expense, and the UNC students (I was one at one time, but I don't want to hear them outside at 4 am!). Wouldn't live in cary because it's pricey, generic, and traffic to and fro is a b**ch. Durham- especially, as one poster said, far northern durham- is quite pretty, and parts of it are nice to live in. If you choose durham, I'd advise a trip to visit before you settle on a place. It's *very* possible to find a really cute apartment and discover there's horrid crime there. (I'm paranoid about crime, but I'm a cop's kid, so hey!)
Actually, the durham police website has a crime mapper that's really helpful. just put in the address of the place you're considering, and you can see stats on arrests by criminal activity (burglary, rape, auto theft, etc.) within a certain radius. The website is http://www.durhampolice.com/
Hope that wasn't too wordy....if anyone wants to pm me with specific questions about places, please do. and if you come here to apartment-hunt, let me know and we'll have lunch.