PhD in International Relations
Engage in problem-driven research with a truly global focus
The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) program in International Relations trains scholars to conduct cutting-edge, interdisciplinary research across key areas of international affairs and political science. A combination of in-depth hands-on fieldwork and comprehensive theoretical study enables Fletcher's PhD students to uncover the meaningful questions that ultimately shape both their future research and their careers.
Developing tomorrow's thought leaders
With approximately 50 students engaged in coursework or research, the PhD program is an integral and vibrant component of the Fletcher community. Working alongside our world-renowned faculty, Fletcher doctoral candidates acquire the theoretical and practical skills needed to produce research that will help shape future discourse on international relations. After completing their degrees, graduates go on to successful high-level careers in academia and research, and in the non-profit, government, and private sectors.
Fletcher’s PhD candidates come from around the world, bringing perspectives and experiences that inform their research and goals. Get to know their stories and learn how they plan to shape the future of international affairs.
After completing their degrees, doctoral graduates go on to successful high-level careers in academia and research, and in the non-profit, government, and private sectors. They make their impact on an array of fields, often maintaining a presence in both academia and practice.
Fletcher PhD students move through three program phases on their way from admission to graduation. They start with classes, arranged within a structured curriculum that still allows significant flexibility in course selection. When their class requirements are complete, students take comprehensive exams, and then move on as PhD candidates to research and write a dissertation.
In shaping their curriculum, students start with a primary field of study, through which they develop a depth of expertise unique to their interests. The primary fields of study that support PhD studies are:
- Comparative and Regional Studies
- Gender and Intersectional Analysis
- Human Security and Humanitarian Affairs
- International Business
- International Development and Environmental Policy
- International Security
Students build on their primary field of expertise by developing a breadth of foundational knowledge in a second field of study, which can be any of the fields offered at Fletcher or might be a self-designed field. Regardless of their choice of field, all students also pursue foundational courses in international relations theory and in research methodology. The two fields of study later become the basis for comprehensive exams.
Students seeking additional opportunities to individualize their studies may cross-register for up to a quarter of their classes at another graduate school at Tufts University or at Harvard University.
Students who have received their master's degree at another institution generally pursue twelve courses at Fletcher, with limited opportunities to have prior coursework applied to their degree. Those who possess a MALD generally pursue an additional four courses, for a total of twenty courses for the two degrees.
Students demonstrate mastery of their subjects through comprehensive examinations, composed of a written exam in each of the two fields of study and an oral exam that integrates the material from the two areas. Students generally sit for their comprehensive examinations within a year of completing their coursework.
Once they have passed their comprehensive exams and achieved PhD candidacy, students move on to propose, research, and write a dissertation. The completed dissertation should bear evidence of independent research and constitute a substantial contribution on the subject. When the dissertation is complete, the PhD candidate participates in a public oral defense of the dissertation.
In addition to the steps detailed above, students in the PhD program:
- Demonstrate proficiency in a second language.
- Submit a master's thesis for evaluation by a Fletcher faculty member. This could be a master's thesis written prior to enrollment at Fletcher, or a thesis written during the first year at Fletcher.
Once they have completed their coursework, PhD students generally take about five years to complete the degree, but the exact time varies according to the scope of each candidate's research, the amount of time devoted to PhD studies, and the time needed to research and write the dissertation.
Fletcher's Office of Career Services works with PhD students interested in a career in international relations practice. Our graduates have pursued careers at a wide range of institutions and organizations. For those focused on the academic job market, Fletcher offers support at a variety of levels. Fletcher faculty and the Office of Career Services support job candidates with career advice, professional development, and general assistance.
To develop teaching skills, students can participate in Tufts University’s three-week summer intensive Graduate Institute for Teaching and then to co-teach a class with a faculty mentor. Many students have also developed and taught classes in the University’s Osher Institute or Experimental College.