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.
- Coursework credits and dissertation. The student must complete 39 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, plus the successful defense of a dissertation. A minimum grade point average of 3.00 in all coursework is required to remain in good academic standing and to earn the degree.
- Proficiency in a modern foreign language: The student must demonstrate research competence in English and another modern foreign language relevant to the student's career objectives. Prior to advancing to candidacy, the student must be certified in this foreign language by presenting evidence of previous coursework or successfully completing the required competency exam.
- 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.
- Satisfactory completion of two written and two oral comprehensive examinations.
- The first examination is a qualifying examination, and both the written and oral components are normally taken at the end of the first year. The qualifying exam requires the demonstration of competency in 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 second examination is in a student's chosen field of specialization. This written and oral field examination evaluates the student's preparation in a major field of study selected by the student from the graduate concentrations offered by the School of International Service as PhD-level fields of study. With the permission of the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies and the advice of at least three qualified scholars, the student may also construct a special field. Two of these scholars must be members of the American University faculty; all three must agree in writing to serve on an examining committee. The written and oral field examination is normally given at the end of the second year and require demonstration of competency in the theoretical, epistemological, and methodological literatures from that field. To prepare for this examination, the student must have successfully completed three courses in the field of concentration, as well as master additional literature, as identified by SIS and associated faculty in that major field.
- A student who fails a comprehensive examination may apply to the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies for one additional attempt. If approved, the retake of the exam should occur within six months of the date of the first attempt. Students who fail a retake attempt will be dismissed from the doctoral program.
- Pass an oral defense of a dissertation prospectus. A student must write and defend a dissertation prospectus that provides a justification for hte dissertation research, reviews relevant to literature, identifies relevant theoretical, epistemological, and methodological issues, and provides a detailed research design, including a timetable for completion of the work.
- The SIS Director of Doctoral Studies chairs the prospectus defense. The examiners also include the student's dissertation committee, which is comprised of 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 member of the School of International Service faculty to serve as the chair of his or her dissertation committee. At least two members of the dissertation committee must be full-time, tenure-line members of the American University faculty. The members of the committee must be approved by the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies and the American University Doctoral Council.
- Students are normally expected to complete their prospectus defense no later than the end of the sixth semester after entering the program. For details on scheduling comprehensive examinations of and examination procedures, consult the director of the PhD 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, complete all coursework, be certified as proficient in a modern foreign language in addition to English, have passed their written and oral examinations, have submitted certification of completion of Responsible Conduct of Research training, and have successfully defended their dissertation prospectus.
- 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. This dissertation is defended orally before the student's dissertation committee. At the time of the defense, one additional member will join the committee as an outside reader and for the purposes of providing a review of the dissertation to determine if it meets general standards in the field, but not necessarily to critique the work in detail. The entire American University community is also invited to the oral examination, customarily with two weeks prior notice.
- Students must present a completed draft of their dissertation for defense. They are responsible for ensuring that 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 Prior to the expiration of that time limit, a student may petition for an extension of candidacy. Under compelling circumstances, students may apply for one-year extensions beyond the expected time to degree, with a maximum of three extensions. Students must petition the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies for each one-year extension; each extension must also be approved by the SIS Associate Dean for Faculty Affairs and Graduate Education and the Vice Provost for Graduate Studies and Research.
International Relations Theory Core (12 credit hours)
- SIS-801 Schools of Thought in International Relations (3)
- SIS-802 Comparative and Regional Studies (3)
- SIS-803 Advanced Seminar in International Relations (3)
- SIS-804 Social Theory in Comparative and International Perspective (3)
- Approved non-credit proseminar in theory, research and policy (0) (meets biweekly for two semesters)
Social Science Research Methodology (12 credit hours)
- SIS-806 Quantitative Methods in International Relations (3)
- SIS-807 Qualitative Methods in International Relations (3)
- SIS-808 Policy Analysis for International Affairs (3)
- SIS-809 Seminar on Advanced Research Design (3)
- Each student must identify a major field of concentration from among those offered by SIS or, in consultation with the Director of Doctoral Studies (as specified above), construct one of their own. Specific course requirements as well as additional preparation for the field examinations are determined by each field.
- Fields of concentration include:
- Comparative and Regional Studies
- Global Environmental Policy
- Global Governance, Politics, and Security
- International Communication
- International Development
- International Economic Relations
- International Peace and Conflict Resolution
- United States Foreign Policy and National Security
Elective Courses (6 credit hours)
- Two additional courses that are relevant to a student's program of study and approved by the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies
Research and Writing Requirement
- A student is required to maintain full-time status until they successfully defend a dissertation.Upon advancement to candidacy, a student maintains enrollment status by registering for SIS-899 Doctoral Dissertation. For each semester, up to 9 credit hours of SIS-899 is priced at the equivalent of one graduate credit hour.