The Ph.D. in Strategic Studies at SAIS

This memorandum is written for students who are considering applying to the Johns Hopkins SAIS PhD program, with a view to working with me, Dr. Eliot Cohen, in Strategic Studies.

To do a PhD at the school a student must first complete a master's degree program. This will take two years and includes some six courses in economics, mastery of at least one foreign language, and a set of oral (and in some cases, written) exams. Students with MA degrees from other institutions may have some of their coursework waived, but no more than one year's worth, and usually considerably less, and they must complete all other requirements. All PhD students must take at least three sets of comprehensive exams, and have five years to complete the degree from the date of taking the first of these examinations. All PhD students that I supervise must take a number of Strategic Studies courses, including the Research Seminar.

Comprehensive exams take a full year or slightly more (three sets at six month intervals). The writing of a dissertation normally takes more than one full year without other distractions. My doctoral students are required to undertake original scholarly work, using primary sources. The level of effort they will be expected to put out is at least the same as that required to write a scholarly book. A prospective PhD candidate should, therefore, expect to do at least three years of full-time graduate work, quite apart from the time required to complete the dissertation. It is, furthermore, virtually impossible to write a dissertation while holding down even a half-time job, no matter how supportive one's employer.

The PhD is in international relations, not political science or history, which are the university departments in which a prospective student may wish to teach. There is no opportunity for apprentice teaching in Strategic Studies, since all classes are taught by me or by adjunct faculty. I therefore discourage students interested in a purely academic career from applying to Strategic Studies for a PhD Mid-career students, moreover, often underrate the extreme difficulty of breaking into an academic career late in one's thirties or forties. Those who see a PhD as merely a useful credential for getting a job, winning a promotion, or becoming involved in the making of government policy should not apply to the program.

Who should apply to the PhD program with a view to working in Strategic Studies? Obviously, someone who can take the minimum of three years to work on it, as a precondition. Military officers who will go on to alternate field and educational assignments may be good candidates, as would be students holding the school's MA degree who are beginning, say, to become established in defense consulting. These are, of course, only suggestive cases: the central point is that few potential students are a good match for the program.

I take on a maximum of two PhD students a year, more often one, and will have no more than eight at any given time. The competition to get in is extremely keen, with some fifteen potential applicants for each opening. Students interested in applying for a MA or a PhD should contact the Admissions Office (202-663-5700 or via email) or visit the school's Admissions page. If you wish to discuss the PhD with me, please send a curriculum vitae and a cover letter to me, and I will call you for an interview if and only if that seems a productive thing to do.