DPhil in International Relations | Research Degree | Degrees | Teaching

DPhil in International Relations

About the course

The DPhil programme is a full-time programme of doctoral research in the academic study of International Relations with an expected length of three to four years.

As a DPhil student you will be a member of a distinguished academic community that is renowned for its cutting-edge research and its intensive and individualised teaching and supervision. The programme has received the highest level of recognition in UK national and global assessment exercises. It is a community from which you will draw support and guidance but which will also learn from your own contribution to its work.

You will have rich opportunities for connecting with fellow-students, postdoctoral fellows, and temporary and permanent academic staff involved in disciplinary and cross-disciplinary research programmes. The department attracts many of the world’s leading figures in International Relations (IR) - as visiting scholars, speakers in the regular IR Colloquium, and participants in research conferences and workshops.

Doctoral students spend the first year in the development of, and early work on, the thesis topic; in improving knowledge of quantitative and qualitative research methods; in attendance at relevant lectures, seminars and classes; and in preparing to transfer from Probationary Research Student (PRS) to full DPhil status.

You will be assigned an Academic Supervisor who will advise and guide you as you progress through the different stages of your doctoral research. The department also appoints a departmental assessor who takes the lead on the two internal assessments that doctoral students have to pass prior to the final submission of the thesis. Your college will also assign you an adviser upon whose general pastoral advice and support you will be able to call.

In addition to work for your supervisor, you will be required to take a range of coursework. In the first term this includes: Research Design and Methods, Advanced IR theory, and basic or intermediate statistics, as well as attendance at the regular IR Research Seminar which runs through the year and at which doctoral students present their work. In the second term students continue with Research Design and Approaches to Research in IR and take one of Formal Analysis, Causal Inference, Qualitative Methods, or Reasoning in Political Theory. In the third term, there are a series of short, specialised methods courses. Exemptions from particular elements of the coursework can be sought on the basis of previous training. PRS students are required to pass the assessments set in the above courses. Subsequent years are largely devoted to the development of the thesis project.

Doctoral theses will normally require substantial original research, often involving archives, fieldwork, interviewing or other forms of data generation and collection. For the doctoral degree the most crucial requirement is that the thesis makes a ‘significant and substantial contribution to the field of knowledge within which it falls’. There are many ways of achieving this.

The department is committed to the rigorous use of a plurality of methods. There are many different ways of conducting research for a thesis. Any or all may be valid in a given case, depending on the subject of the research and the questions addressed. Some theses may involve an analytical-descriptive attempt at understanding different events, perspectives and traditions of thought. Others may have a strong historiographical element – exploring, for example, the relation between events and ideas, or involving an original and expert use of sources. Others may involve advancing a hypothesis about a subject and then testing it with a range of qualitative and/or quantitative approaches. Apart from meeting the highest scholarly standards, there is no set template. There is also a strong and successful tradition of normative and critical work. Oxford IR seeks to combine the best of North American political science with deep engagement with the international relations of different parts of the world and with the history of different traditions of thought on the subject.

As a doctoral student of the department, you will have access to outstanding library and computing resources within the Social Sciences Division (of which the Department of Politics and IR is a major part), elsewhere in the University and, in most cases, in your college. The Division runs network events to enable DPhil students to meet and network with their colleagues not only within Politics and IR but with other social science disciplines.

Successful completion of an Oxford DPhil requires an intense and sustained level of personal motivation and focus within a world-class research and teaching environment. A complete list of successful theses in International Relations since 1971 may be found here.


Graduate destinations

International Relations has an outstanding placement record. The largest group of DPhil students go on to careers in academia or research. Many move on to post-doctoral fellowships in the UK, continental Europe and North America. Our doctoral students have a distinguished history of winning thesis and other prizes and of publishing their work in leading journals and with major university presses. The universities at which IR graduates have gained academic positions over recent years include: ANU, McGill, Waterloo, Sciences Po, Amsterdam, Groningen, The Graduate Institute Geneva, SAIS/JHU, ETH Zürich, The New School, Swarthmore, LSE, Oxford, Cambridge, King’s College London, University College London, Queen Mary London, St Andrews, Exeter, Reading, Warwick, PUC Santiago, and FGV São Paulo. Oxford IR DPhils also work at all levels in many of world’s leading think-tanks and research institutes in Europe and North America but also in Brazil, South Africa, and Singapore. Others still have moved to achieve leading positions in the policy and political world. The department runs regular courses on professional training, including on interviews, research grant applications and academic publishing.


For more information, please visit the University of Oxford's page.

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