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    Dec 08, 2022  
American University Catalog 2022-2023 
    
American University Catalog 2022-2023

International Relations (PhD)


Offered by the School of International Service , the International Relations (PhD) program enables students to produce knowledge for careers in university teaching and research, government, and non-governmental organizations both in the United States and internationally. The curriculum provides training in international relations that is both multi-disciplinary and policy-relevant. The core courses in international relations, comparative social theory, comparative and regional studies, and methodology provide a foundation that allows students considerable flexibility to pursue additional coursework, research, and writing in international affairs. Major emphasis is placed on research and all students are required to successfully defend an original dissertation of their own design that makes a contribution to knowledge in their chosen area. 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.

Admission to the Program


Applicants for the PhD degree program must hold an accredited bachelor’s or master’s degree, or its equivalent, in a field related to international relations. Applicants must have a prior cumulative grade point average that is substantially above B (3.00 or higher on a 4.00 scale) for coursework relevant to international relations.

The program is designed for study on a full-time basis. Applicants for the PhD 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 PhD program 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). Non-native English speakers 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 US-accredited institution before enrollment at SIS. The minimum TOEFL score for full admissions consideration is 100 on the Internet-based test (iBT) or 600 on the paper-based test (PBT). The minimum IELTS score is 7.0. Applicants should plan to take the appropriate test well in advance of the December 15 deadline.

All applicants must submit at least three letters of reference which evaluate their suitability for undertaking doctoral study in international relations. At least one of those letters must assess their academic performance. Cultural factors are considered in making admissions decisions and in evaluating transcripts and examination results.

Doctoral students may transfer up to 6 credit hours of previous graduate coursework earned at accredited institutions with a minimum grade of B in each course. Such credits must have been earned within five years of admission and must be relevant to a student’s program of study. Requests for transfer of graduate credit are considered during the student’s first term.

Degree Requirements


  • 39 credit hours of approved graduate work
  • Minimum 3.00 cumulative GPA in all graduate work is required to remain in good academic standing and to earn the degree
  • Proficiency in a modern foreign language: Research competence in English and another modern foreign language relevant to the student’s career objectives must be certified
  • Satisfactory completion of two comprehensive examinations, each of which has a written and oral component
    • The first or qualifying examination is 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
    • A second examination, the Field Comprehensive Examination, is in a student’s chosen field of specialization. This Comprehensive Field Examination is a scholarly paper in which students must demonstrate knowledge of the scholarly literature related to a research question approved by their Field Concentration Chair. 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
  • Pass an oral defense of a dissertation prospectus: A student must write and defend a dissertation prospectus that provides a justification for the dissertation research, reviews relevant 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 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 graduate work, 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 and oral defense of dissertation: 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 graduate work for the doctorate must be completed in no more than nine years after 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

Course Requirements


Concentration (9 credit hours)


Note: Specific course requirements as well as additional preparation for the field examinations are determined by each field.

  • 9 credit hours in a major field of concentration from among those offered by School of International Service  or approved by the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies. Students may also construct their own field of concentration, with the approval of the SIS Director of Doctoral Studies and the guidance of at least three faculty from the School of International Service. Fields of concentration include:
    • Development Studies
    • Global Environment
    • Global Governance and International Organizations
    • Peace and Conflict Resolution
    • Security and Political Violence
    • Technology, Security, and Social Change
    • United States Foreign Policy

Electives (3 credit hours)


  • 3 credit hours of coursework 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 advance to candidacy, a student maintains enrollment status by registering for SIS-899 Doctoral Dissertation (9) . For each semester, up to 9 credit hours of SIS-899  is priced at the equivalent of one graduate credit hour