You are here: American University School of International Service Doctor of Philosophy International Relations

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Expertise, rigor, & excellence

The challenges currently facing our world are numerous and varied. Successfully handling these issues requires the brightest and best-trained minds. The School of International Service's (SIS) PhD in International Relations provides qualified and dedicated students with the training, knowledge, and experience necessary to pursue careers in the scholarly and policy worlds and to contribute game-changing solutions in international affairs as emerging thought leaders.

With its large and diverse faculty, SIS offers a broad, interdisciplinary, and policy-relevant approach to the study of international affairs. We value theoretical diversity, intellectual breadth, analytical rigor, and scholarly excellence. SIS is committed to maintaining, both among its faculty and within its doctoral program, the expertise needed for the rigorous analysis of critical issues in international affairs.


The PhD program requires 39 credit hours of approved graduate coursework, plus the successful defense of a dissertation. The first year is devoted to core courses and methods training. In the second year, students complete one of the concentrations offered by SIS, or construct one of their own.

Students must also successfully complete two comprehensive exams - a qualifying exam at the end of their first year and a concentration comp at the end of the second year. Students are also asked to demonstrate competency in a modern foreign language.

The dissertation must advance knowledge in the field of international relations, broadly defined. Students select and design their own research project in consultation with a committee of at least three experts in their chosen field of study. Students advance to candidacy upon the successful defense of a dissertation prospectus, usually in their third year. A public defense of the dissertation is required for graduation.

The PhD degree
Full degree and admission requirements

SIS has more than 120 full-time faculty from across the social sciences, including anthropology, economics, geography, law, political science, and sociology. Our faculty research and write on a variety of geographic and intellectual areas; many have extensive experience in the public and private sectors, both in the United States and internationally.  

SIS PhD students use rigorous training in both qualitative and quantitative methods to pursue a variety of research topics including:

  • The sources of cohesion in alliance relations.
  • The interaction between state and local fisheries management practices in Uganda and how this effects compliance and legitimacy.
  • The role of public diplomacy in US-China relations.
  • Transitional justice and its relationship to governance in Poland.

Unless students bring their own external funding, normally those admitted to the program are offered a Dean's Fellowship, which is renewable for up to four years for full-time students who maintain good progress toward completing the degree. The Dean's Fellowship provides full tuition remission plus a stipend that requires the student to work for a member of the SIS faculty as a either a Research or a Teaching Assistant for a maximum of 20 hours per week during both the Fall and Spring semesters.

Other sources of funding are available for summer research, travel for conference presentations, and additional methods training.

PhD Placements

SIS PhD Alumni hold appointments at top schools and organizations, including:

  • Georgetown University
  • University of Warwick, Britain
  • Fudan University, China
  • Towson University

More PhD placements

Challenging Oppressive Hierarchies

K. Melchor Hall, SIS/PHD '14

At SIS, I was transdisciplinary, challenging boundaries of borrowed traditions.

I lived in Chocolate City before attending SIS, the experience deepened my understanding of the layering of cartographies of struggle and imperial maps. It was both disorienting and transformative to arrive where I started and find myself un-mapped. Studying international relations has deepened my commitment to challenging the oppressive hierarchies of Borderlands.

Frequently Asked Questions

In order to be considered for admission, applications and all supporting materials are due by December 15. New students begin in the fall semester. The program is designed for full-time study only and is not offered online. Students may not defer admission into the program.

View required application materials

Our graduates go on to careers in university teaching and research, government, and non-government organizations in the United States as well as around the globe.

Recent PhD program graduates are now on the faculty at a wide range of colleges and universities, including Virginia Tech, the University of Warwick, and the University of Denver. Graduates also hold government and industry positions, including with the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Foreign Service.

Looking for more information or help? The SIS PhD has a dedicated placement officer to assist current students and alumni.

Applicants who are admitted to the SIS PhD program as full-time students and who maintain good progress towards completing the degree are granted a Dean's Fellowship, unless they have their own external funding.

Need-based aid is available through AU Central Office and generally takes the form of a federal low-interest loan package.

Federal loan and work study information for graduate students

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