Planning a PhD application?

Hi folks! Former blogger-in-chief Jessica here — occupying the Admissions Blog while Dan is taking a walk through the Hall of Flags.

This is the moment in the fall semester when we start hearing regularly from prospective applicants to Fletcher’s PhD program in International Relations. In some ways, they’re just like applicants to our master’s degrees, with questions about where-to-put-what in the application form, but their focus on their planned research is what makes them stand out. They often pose questions that challenge me to figure out which member of the faculty might be interested in a particular sub-specialty.

But let me back up a bit.  Most blog readers aren’t interested in a PhD.  Whichever master’s-level program they’re applying to at Fletcher will be their final academic foray. That’s as it should be. A PhD is a serious and long-term academic endeavor, involving an extended period of solitary research. Those who decide to embark on this path should have a clear sense of where the degree will take them. What is the international relations-related question that keeps you up at night, and can only be answered with extensive research? And what is the career prize on the other side of the dissertation that makes it all worthwhile? If you can’t answer those questions, a PhD might not be the right step for you.

If you do have a ready answer to the “why PhD” questions, then I’d like to tell you a little more about Fletcher’s program and the application process. Unlike most doctoral programs in (for example) political science, this is a multidisciplinary program that will require you to select two Fields of Study as your areas of focus. For the first three semesters of the program, PhD students look much like MALD students, but then they turn to comprehensive exams and the dissertation.

You can read about two students’ experiences on the blog. Gary is a current student who entered the program with a master’s degree from another university and is completing his dissertation while also working in Washington, DC. Roxani wrote mostly about her MALD experience, but she moved from the MALD to the PhD, from which she graduated in 2020. Both paths to the program can be considered typical, with about a third of students holding master’s degrees from outside Fletcher and the remainder having graduated from Fletcher with a MALD or an MIB.

PhD students at Fletcher play all sorts of special roles (teaching assistants, conference organizers, etc.) but today I’ll to point out the research and writing that they contribute (to the school and to the world!) on current topics. You can read selected articles on the PhD website, and their work is also well represented on the websites of Fletcher’s research centers. And when you’re done reading what they’ve written, meet a few students and alumni.

As for the application process, there are a handful of differences between an application to a Fletcher master’s program and the PhD application. First, the December 15 deadline for September 2022 enrollment puts the program at the front of the deadline queue. Second, PhD applicants are asked for a third essay, in which they’ll describe why they’re interested in a doctorate from a multidisciplinary program such as this one. Third, they need to submit a dissertation proposal of about five pages — just long enough to allow the faculty to figure out if the research focus described is a good match for what we do. And finally — this is more of a tip than a requirement — PhD applicants are encouraged to submit two academic recommendations, with an option to also submit a letter from a professional setting.

From here, I’ll invite your questions. You can reach me via the Admissions Office. And I’ll give the final word to Phoebe Donnelly, a recent graduate of the program.

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