Sara M. Usher | Student | Profiles
Sara M. Usher

Ms Sara M. Usher

Research topic:
Political Transformation and the Misconception of Stability
Degree course:

Research Themes:
Civil wars  Human nature International relations International security Methods Peacekeeping and Peacebuilding Violence security and conflict 

Academic Profile

Sara is reading for the DPhil in International Relations at St Antony’s College after returning to higher education from employment in the pharmaceutical industry. Her current research involves an interdisciplinary theoretical and methodological approach to understand intrastate conflict. Drawing on a background of anthropology, biology, and psychology, she aims to apply evolutionary-biology theory, applied mathematics, statistical analyses and process tracing methods to better understand various types of conflict and violence. As a proponent of interdisciplinary and collaborative research, Sara collaborated with the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology (EEB) at Princeton University on analogies between epidemic models and models for insurgency warfare and on complex adaptive systems as failed states. Additionally, Sara collaborated with the National Institute for Mathematical and Biological Synthesis (NIMBioS) at the University of Tennessee on developing novel methods within the field of political ecology. Recently, she interned at the RAND Corporation as an analyst and conducted qualitative and quantitative research in security and defence, counterterrorism, and cyber security to help improve policy and decision-making for policy makers domestically, within Europe and globally. Clients included the UK Ministry of Defence, the European Commission, the European Defence Agency, various European governments, and the US Department of Defense. Other research interests include irregular warfare, private military and security contractor relations with state armed forces, and wider research interests such as cooperation, coercion and violent conflict. She is currently a research assistant for Oxford's Changing Character of War Programme.







Teaching specialism, interests and experience

Teaching experience

Graduate Level

Policy Evaluation, The Blavatnik School of Government   

International Politics, St. Antony's College and the Department for Continuing Education

Undergraduate Level

Development Studies, Wadham College and Sarah Lawrence College (USA)

Government and Politics of the United States, Brasenose College



Advanced training


Developing Learning and Teaching Seminars, advanced certified teaching methods training, the Social Sciences Division, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Developing Learning and Teaching Training, certified teaching methods training offered by the Social Sciences Division, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK



Conflict Dynamics, advanced graduate course and training on theoretical and empirical studies of civil war, Research School on Peace and Conflict (PRIO) and the University of Oslo, Oslo, Norway

Developing Critical Expertise in Peacebuilding, Mediation & Prevention: Global Experiences, Key Lessons and Developments in the Field, Oxford Department of International Development (ODID) University of Oxford, Oxford, UK

Modelling Critical Transitions in Nature and Society, Environmental Sciences Department, Wageningen University, Wageningen, The Netherlands




DPIR Writing Up Grant (2016)

PRIO Student Grant Recipient (2016)

NIMBioS Visiting Fellow Grant Recipient (2015)

ECPR General Conference Grant Recipient (2015)

St. Antony’s College STAR Grant Recipient (2014-2016)

DPIR’s Cyril Foster and Related Funds recipient (2014-2016)

DPIR’s Studentship (2013-2015)


Usher, S. (in-preparation) "Is it Recurrence or Persistence?: The Fallacy of Intrastate Conflict Coding Practices"

Usher, S. (in-preparation) "Complexity Theory, Rational Choice and Intrastate Conflict: A Review"

Usher, S. (in-preparation) "Perceptions and Experiences of United States Military Servicemen and Women Towards Private Military Contractors"

Usher, S., et al. (2015) “Understanding the Value of the Offer to Individuals”. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory (Dstl), United Kingdom Ministry of Defence

Usher, S. (2012) “Iran So Far Away” ; “Human Security Report” ; “Syria is Inching Closer to Civil War; “Syria, and "The Case for an Arms Trade Treaty”. Peace and Justice News.

Conference Papers and Presentations

2016       Political Transformation and the Misconception of Stability, International Studies Association (ISA), Annual Convention, Atlanta, GA, US

2015       Evolutionary Approaches to the Understanding of Decentralized Warfare, NIMBioS Investigate Workshop: Evolution and Warfare, University of Tennessee, Knoxville, TN, US

2015       Political Transformation and the Misconception of Stability, European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), General Conference, Université de Montréal, Montreal, Canada

2014       Political Transformation and the Misconception of Stability,    EEB Seminar, Princeton University, NJ, US

2014       Political Transformation and the Misconception of Stability, Graduate Research Seminar in the Social Sciences, Nuffield College, University of Oxford, Oxford, UK             

2014       Political Transformation and the Misconception of Stability, DPIR, Seminar, University of Oxford, Oxford UK       

2013       Critical Transitioning into Irregular War: Understanding Conflict from the Bottom Up, DPIR Seminar,  University of Oxford, Oxford UK

2012       Assessing Unexpected and Unpredicted Outcomes of Conventionally Trained Militaries in Irregular War Environments, EEB Seminar, Princeton University, NJ, US

2012       Why Stronger Powers Lose: An Adaptive Dynamic Theoretical Approach to Asymmetric Warfare The University of Edinburgh, School of Social and Political Science, Co-Organizer, Annual Seminar,  Edinburgh, UK