DPhil in International Relations | Research Degree | Degrees | Teaching

DPhil in International Relations

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 their transfer from Probationary Research Students 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. Probationer Research Students therefore spend the first year in the development of, and early work on, the thesis topic; in improving knowledge of research methods; in attendance at relevant lectures, seminars and classes; and in preparing their transfer to DPhil status. You must be resident in Oxford in term time throughout the probationary period (including weeks 0 and 9), and should not normally undertake fieldwork until after you have successfully transferred to full DPhil status.

Student profiles

In addition to work for your supervisor, as a PRS you are required to complete or attend as follows in your first year:

(i) Monday of Noughth week, Michaelmas Term:

All elements of the Induction Programme.

Note: there is an optional ‘R ‘Workshop on the Thursday and Friday of 0th Week.

(ii) Michaelmas Term:

1. PRS Advanced IR Theory Class

In many cases first-year PRS students in International Relations will have already covered a good deal of IR theory in their previous academic courses and degrees. This course is not designed to replicate a first-year theory course. Rather the class aims to provide a forum for the discussion of relevant topics in IR theory and important current theoretical debates; to bring first-year PRS students together to discuss theoretical approaches relevant to the broad areas within which their research topics fall; to discuss how their own work relates to developments within the field of IR -- and within broader debates on inter-disciplinarity; and to fill in gaps in what has been studied before.

2. Research Design and Approaches to Research in International Relations

In Michaelmas term the RDM course is taught in two parts. The first consists of series of lectures, taken together with Politics students.

Lecture series (Michaelmas Term)

  • Lecture 1:Introduction to Comparative Political Science
  • Lecture 2:Concepts and Indicators
  • Lecture 3:Small-N Comparisons: Strengths and Pitfalls
  • Lecture 4:Process Tracing in Case Study Research
  • Lecture 5:Causal Inference and the Credibility Revolution
  • Lecture 6:Quantitative Analysis: Strengths and Pitfalls
  • Lecture 7:Method Triangulation
  • Lecture 8:Research Design in Comparative Political Science

In addition, there are three IR-specific classes (with the first-year IR cohort divided into two MPhil groups and one PRS). They are likely to cover: Topic selection and concept specification; large-n research; and mixed methods and case selection. The core purpose is to link with the general issues discussed in the lectures by focusing on two or three concrete pieces of actual IR research.

PRS Students will be assessed on an essay (2,000 words, excluding bibliography) based on questions drawn from the three classes. Students must submit their essays no later than noon on Friday, 0th week of Hilary Term.

3. Statistics

This is taught on the base of a mixture of lectures and labs at both Introductory and Intermediate levels. Students are requirement to self-select into one of these levels. Assessment will be via assignments within the course. You will receive an email notification from the DPIR asking you to indicate your choice between Statistical Methods and Intermediate Statistics. If you fail to reply to that email you will be automatically enrolled in Introduction to Statistics. You must bring your own device to the lab sessions.

4. IR DPhil Research Seminar

This is a compulsory seminar for all PRS and doctoral student working in Oxford.

(iii) Hilary Term

1. Research Design and Approaches to Research in IR

The class will be led each week by a faculty member, with a convener providing discussion of the links between the various topics. The aim is to provide an overview of some of the major approaches to research in International Relations; to familiarize students with debates and controversies in the field; and to explore the methodological and analytic issues underlying them. Topics will include: Approaches to the Study of International Orders; Intellectual history in IR and critical theoretical approaches to the study of discourse; Studying Ideas and Ideology in International Relations; International Normative Theory and Ethics; Models, Simple Game Theory; Applications of Rationalist Approaches; International History and International Relations; Global History and Global Historical Research in International Relations.

PRS students are required to write a critical review essay of one book included in the list of suggested books in the reading list. The essay should be around 3000 to 4000 words and should interrogate the approach to research taken by the author, the way in which the research programme has been constructed and conducted, and the strengths and weaknesses of the study. The review essay is due at 17.00 on the Friday of 8th Week of Hilary Term.

2. At least one of the research methods long courses: Qualitative Methods for Political Science; Causal Inference; Formal Analysis.

3. The continuation of the IR DPhil Research Seminar.

(iv) Trinity Term

1. At least : Area Studies and Fieldwork for Politics and IR; Studying technology and global politics; Archival Research; Experimental Research; Case Study Research; Survey Research Design and Analysis; Longitudinal Data Analysis; Computational Tools for Social Sciences; Technology and Global Politics – Approaches and Methods.

2. The final sequence of the IR DPhil Research Seminar.

(v) All Terms:

PRS students are expected to participate in the Oxford IR Research Colloquium. It involves research presentations by faculty, senior researchers, academic visitors and DPhil students). The Department attracts many of the world’s leading figures in International Relations – as visiting scholars, speakers in the regular IR Colloquium, and participants in research conferences and workshops, often organized via the Centre for International Studies.

PRS students are required to pass the assessments set in the above courses, including the RDM and statistics tests. Any unsatisfactory assessments must be revised and resubmitted.

Your goal should be to submit papers for Transfer of Status during Trinity Term, you should at the very least ensure that you provide your supervisor with an up-to-date thesis outline and draft introduction, so that the broad direction of your work can be agreed with your supervisor before the Summer Vacation.

If you already have relevant research training at this level (for example, in quantitative methods), you may be granted exemption from specified parts of these first-year requirements or allowed to substitute an alternative or higher-level course. You should discuss this matter both with your supervisor and with the Director of Research Training in International Relations, whose approval in writing is necessary.

If you are undertaking fieldwork as part of your research, you should consider taking the short Trinity Term course on Area Studies Research for Politics and International Relations, or, at least, the week of this course devoted to Fieldwork Safety.

Recent Successful DPhil Theses in International Relations

  • Constructing South East Europe: The Politics of Balkan Regional Cooperation, 1995-2003.
  • Reagan’s ‘Democratic Crusade’: Presidential Rhetoric and the Remaking of American Foreign Policy.
  • Transnational Activism and its Limits: The Campaign for Disarmament between the Two World Wars.
  • Passion, Politics, and the Past: The Role of Affect in U.S. Decision-Making during the Korean War.
  • Continuity and Change in Soviet and Russian Missile Defence Politics, 1969-2002.
  • Azerbaijan’s Foreign Policy: Perceptions and Strategic Choices of a Small State in Great Power Politics, 1991-2003.
  • Ruling Global Cyberspace: Institutions, Interests and Non-State Actors in the Creation of Rules for Electronic Commerce.
  • Russian Arms Transfers in the Post-Cold War Era: China, India and Iran, 1992-2002.
  • Explaining Change in Russian Foreign Policy towards the West, 1994-2004: The Impact of Collective Ideas.
  • Russia as an Aspiring Great Power in East Asia: Perceptions and Policies.

A complete list of successful theses in International Relations since 1971 may be found here.

The majority of graduates from our DPhil programmes move on to careers in academia. But there are other career paths: some proceed to careers in the law; in public service, whether with national civil services or international organisations; in thinktanks or NGOs; management consultancy, the media, banking, and business. Whatever the career choice that those who gain a DPhil make, the combination of intense preparation, closely-focussed analytical abilities, rigorous research methods, and clarity of exposition are qualities which are as desirable in many other demanding professional careers as they are necessary in academia.


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