PhD in International Relations
The PhD program at American University's School of International Service (SIS) trains students to produce new knowledge of the highest scholarly caliber. The program prepares students for careers as teachers and scholars at universities and research institutes in both the private and public sectors.
The School of International Service is committed to a broad, interdisciplinary approach to the study of international relations. The School of International Service does not embrace or promote any particular theoretical school or method of analysis. Its tradition is one that values theoretical diversity, intellectual breadth, analytical rigor, and scholarly excellence. SIS is committed to maintaining among its faculty and within its doctoral program the expertise needed for the full range of rigorous analysis of cross-national phenomena.
Find about more about the PhD in International Relations.
The Doctor of Philosophy in International Relations is designed to prepare graduates for careers in university teaching and research. The curriculum combines core offerings in international relations, comparative social theory, comparative and regional studies, and methodology within a structure that allows students considerable flexibility. Major emphasis is placed on research. In addition to completing the dissertation, students are encouraged to present conference papers, engage in collaborative work with faculty members, and submit articles to refereed journals.
Applicants for the Ph.D. degree must hold an accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree or its equivalent in a field related to international relations. Applicants should present a prior cumulative grade point average that is substantially above B (3.50 or higher on a 4.00 scale) in a field relevant to international relations.
The Ph.D is designed for study on a full-time basis. Applicants for the Ph.D. degree are considered and admitted only for the fall semester each year. The school does not permit students to begin their doctoral work in the spring. Deferral of matriculation in the Ph.D. is not permitted. In order to be considered for fall admission, applications and all supporting materials must reach the SIS Graduate Admissions Office no later than December 15.
All applicants are required to submit results of the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). International applicants whose first language is not English are required to submit results of the Test of English as a Foreign Language (TOEFL), or the International English Language Testing System (IELTS) unless they hold a degree from a U.S.-accredited institution (before enrollment at SIS). The minimum TOEFL score for full admissions consideration is 100 on the Internet-based test (IBT), 250 on the computer-based test, or 600 on the paper-based test. The minimum IELTS score is 7.0. Applicants should plan to take the appropriate test no later than November to ensure consideration of their applications by the December 15 deadline.
All applicants must submit at least three letters of reference which evaluate their academic performance and their suitability for undertaking doctoral study in international relations. Cultural factors are considered in making admissions decisions and in evaluating transcripts and examination results.
Doctoral students may transfer up to 30 credit hours of previous graduate course work earned at accredited institutions with a minimum grade of B in each course. Previously earned graduate credits are applied to Ph.D. requirements if they are relevant to students’ programs and dissertation topics. Requests for transfer of graduate credit are considered at the time of advancement to candidacy. Transfer courses must have been completed within seven years of admission.
- 72 credit hours of approved graduate course work, including at least 12 credit hours of dissertation supervision. A minimum grade point average of 3.25 in all course work is required to remain in good standing and to earn the degree. Ph.D. students may take SIS-790 Doctoral Independent Study in conjunction with their course work with permission of instructor and the director of the Ph.D. program.
- Proficiency in a modern foreign language: Research competence in English and another language relevant to the student’s career objectives must be certified.
- Proficiency in social science research methodologies appropriate to the student’s field of study and dissertation topic. Normally this requirement is satisfied by completing 12 credit hours of courses in research methods, as described under Course Requirements, below.
- Regular participation in the semi-monthly Ph.D. research seminar during the first three years of residency. Students are expected to present the results of their ongoing research and to serve as discussants for papers presented by faculty and visiting scholars to the university.
- Satisfactory completion of two written and two oral comprehensive examinations.
- The oral qualifying examination, normally given at the end of the first year, examines students on theoretical, epistemological, and methodological literature and issues in international relations, comparative social theory, and comparative and regional studies. These areas are addressed in the core seminars that students normally complete during their first year of residence, although the scope of the examination is not limited to topics covered in the seminars. The oral qualifying examination evaluates students’ preparation in subjects that are considered to be an essential foundation for doctoral study and research in the School of International Service.
- Written comprehensive examinations are taken in two major fields of study selected by the student. One field must be designated from the graduate examination fields offered by the School of International Service as Ph.D. level fields of study. A second field may be selected from offerings of SIS or from the offerings of other teaching units of the university that provide doctoral instruction. As an alternative, students may construct a special field, with permission of the director of the Ph.D. program and the advice of at least three qualified scholars. Two of these scholars must be members of the American University faculty; all three must agree in writing to serve on an examining committee. Students are normally expected to complete their written doctoral examinations no later than three years after entering the program.
- The oral defense of the prospectus examines students on their dissertation proposals and on substantive issues, literature, theory, epistemology, and methodology relevant to the proposed dissertation research. Examiners are qualified scholars designated by the director of the Ph.D. program, who chairs the examination. Two of the examiners must be members of the American University faculty. Examiners will usually be prospective members of the student’s dissertation committee. Students are normally expected to complete their prospectus defense no later than the end of the seventh semester after entering the program.
- For details on scheduling comprehensive examinations and examination procedures, consult the director of the Ph.D. program or the SIS Graduate Office.
- Advancement to candidacy: to be advanced to candidacy, students must remedy any deficiencies specified at the time of admission, be certified as proficient in a modern foreign language in addition to English, complete their social science research methodology requirement, declare their comprehensive examination fields of study, and pass the oral defense of prospectus.
- Acceptance by the faculty of the School of International Service of a dissertation proposal. The dissertation proposal must provide a justification for the dissertation research, review relevant literature, identify relevant theoretical, epistemological, and methodological issues, and provide a detailed research design, including a timetable for completion of the work.
- The dissertation proposal is first presented at the oral defense of the prospectus. However, successful passage of the defense of the prospectus and approval of the dissertation proposal are separate but overlapping processes. After the defense of prospectus is passed, the dissertation proposal must be formally approved by the dissertation committee and by the dean.
- Usually, the scholars selected as examiners also review the dissertation proposal and are the prospective members of the student’s dissertation committee. Two members of the reviewing committee must be members of the American University faculty and one must be a faculty member of the School of International Service.
- Completion of the doctoral dissertation and successful defense of the dissertation in an oral examination. The dissertation must consist of high quality original research, directly relevant to the student’s doctoral program. Dissertation committees comprise a minimum of three members, one of whom serves as chair and as the primary supervisor of the dissertation research. It is the responsibility of the student to secure the agreement of a full-time tenured or tenure track member of the School of International Service faculty to serve as the chair of his or her dissertation committee. At least two members of dissertation committees must be full-time tenured or tenure track members of the American University faculty. The members of the committee must be approved by the dean of the School of International Service. Students must successfully defend their dissertation in an oral examination on an occasion to which the entire American University community is invited, customarily with two weeks prior notice. Students must present a completed draft of their dissertation for defense. They are responsible for having the final draft of their dissertation meet university style requirements. Dissertations must be approved by the dean of the School of International Service.
- Statute of limitations: American University’s Academic Regulations provide that all work for the doctorate must be completed within five years from the date of first enrollment as doctoral student (seven years if the student entered a doctoral program with a bachelor’s degree). Prior to the expiration of the time limit specified (or to the expiration of approved extensions) a student may petition for an extension of candidacy. Extensions are approved by the dean of the School of International Service, upon recommendation of the student’s advisor and the director of the Ph.D. program. In any event, the totality of extensions will not exceed a three year period beyond the applicable duration of five or seven years.
International Relations Theory Core (9 credit hours)
- SIS-700 Comparative and Regional Studies Proseminar (3)
- SIS-701 International Relations Proseminar (3)
- SIS-705 Social Theory in Comparative and International Perspective (3)
Social Science Research Methodology (12 credit hours)
- SIS-714 Conduct of Inquiry in International Relations (3)
- SIS-715 Seminar on Advanced Research Design (3)
- SIS-716 International Relations Quantitative Methods Proseminar (3)
- One other course in social science methodology appropriate to the student’s field of study and dissertation research, selected in consultation with and approved by the director of the Ph.D. program.
Graduate-level methodology courses taken at other universities may be counted in fulfilling this requirement only with permission of the director of the Ph.D. program.
- Additional requirements as described for Comparative and Regional Studies (CRS), Global Environmental Policy (GEP), International Communication (IC), International Development (ID), International Economic Relations (IER), International Peace and Conflict Resolution (IPCR), International Politics (IP), and United States Foreign Policy (USFP).
- Doctoral-level course preparation in two other comprehensive examination fields. Other options for meeting this requirement must be made in consultation with and approved by the director of the Ph.D. program.
Research and Writing Requirement
- 12 credit hours of SIS-799 Dissertation Supervision and successful completion of the dissertation.