Doctorate in
International Relations – PhD (Online)*

A doctorate for international affairs professionals seeking to analyze, critique, and improve responses to conflict, displacement, and human security.

At a Glance

For the program beginning summer 2025





Residency Locations

Serbia, Jordan

Priority Deadline

November 1, 2024, followed by rolling admissions

Final Deadline

January 31, 2025


4 Years

Critical Global Issue of Study

Geopolitics & Power

Geopolitics & Power Icon


Citizens around the world are witnessing major shifts in world order as new centers of power arise, populist movements grow, and political instability and conflict drive people across national borders. SIT’s PhD in International Relations is a professional doctorate designed for those eager to better understand and tackle these challenges, while also advancing their careers.

This part-time PhD is designed for working professionals in international affairs with an interest in peacebuilding, conflict and refugee response, and humanitarian affairs. Across four years, students critique traditional approaches to geopolitics and offer evidence-based approaches to improved human security.

The program includes two 10-day international residences. During the first-year residency in Serbia, you will examine the refugee crisis and the rise of illiberalism. During the second-year residency in Jordan, you will examine the landscape of conflict and the power of regional and global alliances in shaping foreign affairs. Specialized online courses on forced migration, peace and conflict studies, and global governance and human security complement each residency and provide you with the skills to lead complex projects and influence policy and practice through original research.

Featuring professors, advisors, and diplomats from across the globe, this program draws upon SIT’s 60-year history of experiential education and global partnerships to provide a unique global perspective students can apply, in real-time, to their work contexts as they earn their doctoral degree.

Career Paths

Working professionals who complete this PhD may expect to expand their careers as:

  • Foreign affairs specialist

  • Crisis response or operations specialist

  • Security analyst for intelligence agencies

  • Policy advisor and consultant

  • Director of policy for refugees and conflict response agencies

  • Senior leader in humanitarian and emergency affairs organizations

  • Risk analyst and early-warning consultant

  • Crisis operations specialist for international humanitarian agencies

  • Think tank researcher

  • University faculty

Read about SIT Graduate Institute alumni careers through the SIT blog and our Career Impact page.


First-Year Residency: Belgrade, Serbia

This 10-day residency focuses on the refugee crisis and the rise of illiberalism. Engage with EU policymakers, local activist organizations, and scholars to learn about the shifting power relations of contemporary Europe in the context of forced migration, war, and shifting European identity.

Second-Year Residency: Amman, Jordan

This 10-day residency focuses on peace and conflict in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region. Through visits with academics, government officials, local NGOs, and international organizations in Amman, students will examine the landscape of conflict in the MENA region and the power of regional alliances in shaping foreign affairs.

Please note that in order to take advantage of dynamic learning opportunities, program excursions may occasionally vary.


Program Learning Outcomes

Upon completion of the PhD in International Relations, students will be able to:

  • Identify, analyze, and critique contrasting approaches to international political order through the lens of foundational theories, both mainstream and critical.
  • Contribute professional scholarship related to discourses on international relations, international peace and conflict studies, refugee and forced migration studies, and human security via presentations at professional conferences and publication of academic scholarship.
  • Design and conduct original, ethical research informed by relevant literature and grounded in appropriate methodologies and approaches.
  • Interpret original and secondary data to produce actionable findings with a capacity to improve the way policymakers approach critical global issues, particularly those related to conflict, refugees, and crisis response.

Read more about Program Learning Outcomes.


Students complete 64 credit hours of work across four years (12 semesters) of study in small personalized cohorts. Courses focus on theory, research methods, applied practice, professional development, and dissertation preparation. Throughout, you will learn from professors and advisors from across the globe. This PhD draws on SIT’s 60-year history of experiential education and global partnerships to provide students with a unique and powerful learning experience.

Students can request to transfer up to 15 credits of relevant previous graduate coursework upon admission, thereby reducing the overall credit requirement from 64 to 49.

With approval, students can pursue an accelerated pathway to complete the degree in 10 semesters. The research and dissertation writing phase of the program may vary, dependent on individual student progress, outside commitments, and type or scope of research.

Please expand the sections below to see detailed course descriptions and admissions information.

This is SIT

  • We value active togetherness, reciprocity, and respect as the essential ingredients for building a sustainable community.
  • With open minds, empathy, and courage, we facilitate intercultural understanding and respect for the commonalities and differences between people.
  • We champion social inclusion & justice in all that we are and all that we do, from ensuring our community and our programs amplify the voices, agency, and dignity of all people to deliberately instilling the principles and practices of inclusion in all of our work.
  • We are committed to human and environmental well-being through sustainability and contributing to a better world for all living and future generations.

Theories and Polemics of International Relations (3 credits)

This course explores the role theory plays in shaping our understanding of international relations and global affairs. Dominant theories which make up the cannon of the field—such as realism and neorealism, liberalism and neoliberalism, constructivism, and Marxism—are explored, as well as critical theories such as feminism, post-colonialism, and indigenous approaches.

Global Governance and Human Security (3 credits)

This course examines the complex field of global governance, focusing on the theoretical underpinnings, institutional structures, and contemporary challenges of designing systems of international governance without international government. Students will engage with advanced literature, conduct original research on a topic related to global governance of their choosing, and critically analyze issues related to global governance, including perspectives from critical theories, realism, and constructivism.

Forced Migration and Humanitarian Response (3 credits)

Conflict-induced and disaster-induced displacements are impacting hundreds of millions of people around the globe annually. In response, humanitarianism—the promotion of the general welfare of people impacted by conflict, disaster, environmental disruption, famine, and political and economic collapse—has become a dominant feature of international affairs. Unfortunately, the international political system remains a flawed vehicle for satisfying global humanitarian demand. Carefully guarded national sovereignty, the relatively weak power of international institutions and non-governmental organizations, and growing skepticism about a liberal global order now threaten the international humanitarian aid system. This class considers these developments as well as the drivers of forced migration, the history of humanitarian response, and the search for new evidence-based frameworks to improve it.

Seminar in Peace and Conflict Studies (3 credits)

This seminar will give students an in-depth understanding of the origins of intra- and inter-state conflicts, the debates over why such conflicts emerge, escalate, and de-escalate, and the pathways and possibilities for sustainable peaceful transformations. Simulations, case studies, and scenario-based exercises are used to give students a realistic understanding of the drivers of violent conflict and the challenges and possibilities of building peace across a variety of settings and contexts. Of particular interest is considering how dominant theories about the nature of conflicts connect to the conflict management strategies adopted by various stakeholders in international politics.

Preliminary Review (0 credits)

At the conclusion of year one of the program, students must pass a preliminary examination. Preliminary exams demonstrate mastery of content covered in core courses and demonstrated progress towards the dissertation research proposal. Upon completion of all coursework, students must pass a comprehensive examination and begin a prospectus (proposal) for their dissertation research.

Quantitative Research Methods (3 credits)

In this course, students will be introduced to statistical concepts and procedures as prerequisites for conducting quantitative and mixed-methods research. Students will learn how to display data distributions using graphs and describe distributions with numbers using measures of central tendency and dispersion. Additionally, students will examine relationships among data and learn how to produce data using various quantitative designs. This course will introduce students to inferential statistics, including simple linear and multiple regression analyses and ANOVA. Students will develop knowledge and skills using and interpreting descriptive and inferential statistical data and will use Stata software to analyze data.

Qualitative Research Methods (3 credits)

In this course, students will be introduced to a range of approaches and methods used in qualitative inquiry. Among the approaches covered are process tracing, discourse analysis, ethnographic research, case studies, comparative historical analysis, archival research, interviewing, ethnography, content analysis, ethnographic research, political profiling, and agent-based modeling. Students will deepen their knowledge about these approaches and enhance their data collection skills by conducting surveys, analytical frameworks, designing case studies, and reflecting on each method’s strengths and limitations. Students will also learn how to code data inductively and deductively, develop codes, look for patterns emerging in data, develop overarching themes, and interpret findings.

Research Colloquium (3 credits)

The Research Colloquium gives a platform for doctoral students to present and discuss possible PhD research projects, exchange ideas, receive constructive feedback, and workshop ways to prepare and improve their dissertation research proposals. Across 10 days, students interact in a conference format, presenting their research ideas, the literature and debates attached to those ideas, and the methods they are considering using in their inquiry process. Students are also expected to critically evaluate the work of their peers, providing constructive criticism to help them advance their research agenda, operationalize their research questions(s), and identify and develop plans for overcoming challenges in the data collection and analysis phases of their research. Prior to the in-person colloquium, students will work with their advisor as needed to develop their presentations.

Electives and Transfer Credits (15 credits)

Students must take 15 credits of elective courses prior to sitting for comprehensive exams. Elective credits can be fulfilled by two means: transferring prior graduate credits earned at SIT or another accredited institution or completing an advisor approved elective offered through one of SIT’s course offerings in the master’s or PhD programs.

Comprehensive Exams (0 credits)

Comprehensive exams confirm the students’ mastery of their chosen field of study and serve as the basis for their doctoral dissertation literature review. After passing the comprehensive examination and prospectus defense, students enter candidacy.

Proposal Defense, IRB approval (3 credits)

The proposal defense is designed to evaluate the feasibility, significance, and originality of each student’s proposed dissertation research project. It serves as a critical checkpoint to ensure that the research project is well-structured and has a high likelihood of success. The defense is conducted in front of the student’s three dissertation committee members: their primary advisor and their first and second reader. It consists of a formal presentation followed by a question-and-answer session. After the questioning, the committee deliberates, then provides feedback to the student regarding the strengths and weaknesses of the proposal. The outcome of the defense will be one of the following: 1) Pass: the student may proceed with their research, 2) Conditional Pass: the student is allowed to proceed, but they must address specific issues or complete requested revisions to the proposal before doing so, or 3) Fail: the proposal does not meet the required standards, and the student will be required to revise and redefend it at a later date. *Requires successful completion of comprehensive exams.

Doctoral and Professional Development Seminar 1-4 (1 credit each)

The Doctoral and Professional Development Seminars 1-4 seek to build a community of practice of IR PhD students as they work to complete their doctoral dissertations. Students meet bi-weekly with each other and their advisors to share their dissertation progress, problem solve, and share drafts of their work for feedback. The seminar will also feature occasional guest speakers who will share their own doctoral dissertation journeys and their professional transitions after receiving their PhD.

Dissertation (20 credits across 4 semesters)

At least 20 credits of the PhD program of study consists of research and dissertation. After completion of the dissertation, the student must pass an oral examination in defense of the dissertation. The culminating experience for the doctoral degree program is publication of the dissertation. The non-coursework portion of the program usually lasts 2 years.

Dissertation Defense (1 credit)

In this course students will prepare for an oral defense working closely with their primary and secondary advisors, and deliver and defend their work. Students will be able to present their dissertation remotely.

Admissions Criteria

Our admissions staff work one-on-one with every applicant to facilitate a highly informed and multidimensional admissions experience: applicants are required to undertake an interview with SIT faculty during the application process.   

As applicants become familiar with the attributes of an SIT education—grounded in the experiential learning model and focused on social justice and leadership skills in intercultural environments—they determine for themselves how SIT can help them meet their educational and career objectives. 

For the PhD in International Relations, admissions will evaluate candidates to ensure they meet the following criteria:

  • Bachelor’s or master’s degree in a related field from a regionally accredited institution
  • Strong academic writing and scholarly potential, as evidenced by a statement of purpose
  • Demonstrated English language proficiency (see details below)
  • Intercultural and professional experience
  • A minimum preferred cumulative grade point average of 3.5 on a scale of 4.0
  • Demonstrated ability to use experience as a source of learning
  • All applicants are required to interview with program faculty

All applicants must submit:

  • graduate admission application and application fee
  • official transcripts
  • statement of purpose
  • three letters of recommendation
  • resume or curriculum vitae
  • proof of English proficiency

Additional Application Information
The statement of purpose should not exceed 600 words and should describe how the applicant’s experience will contribute to success in the program; describe how completion of the degree will support long-term professional goals; and expand on key research questions the applicant aims to address as part of the plan of study. Letters of recommendation must be from three people who can attest to the applicant’s academic and professional achievements. At least one letter should be academic in nature.

Applicants will be able to transfer up to 15 credits of related graduate coursework toward the PhD program. Please contact us for more information.

English Language Ability

Applicants whose first language is not English and who did not graduate from an English-speaking institution must demonstrate English language proficiency.

*This new program is pending accreditation from the New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE) in accordance with the Commission's Policy on Substantive Change. The approval process is anticipated to be finalized in fall 2024.

Faculty & Staff

International Relations – PhD (Online)*

Bruce W. Dayton, PhD
Chair and Associate Professor
Orli Fridman, PhD
Affiliated Faculty
Imraan Buccus, PhD
Assistant Professor
Bayan Abdulhaq, PhD
Assistant Professor
Victor Tricot, PhD
Assistant Professor
Kimberley Coles, PhD
Sonalini Sapra, PhD
Associate Professor
Joseph Lanning, PhD
Assistant Professor

Discover the Possibilities